The concern regarding the need for immigration reforms have been brewing for several years now, not because of the misperception that more and more people are coming and settling to work in the United States but simply because of the increasing number of illegal immigrants and incidence of related social problems such as crime and terrorism (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
There is a general sentiment that the current immigration system is not only poorly enforced but, more importantly, flawed. The problem seems to be rooted in the fact that there are many unskilled workers aspiring for appropriate positions in the US but do not have legal options for entry due to the low number of visas awarded for such group of immigrants (Marshall 1-10; Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
The Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress and the Bush administration are looking for ways to tackle this problem and come up with a comprehensive program to replace or amend the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) 1986. The challenge is how to convert illegal immigration, which is estimated to smuggle 400,000 to 500,000 persons to the US each year, into legal immigration, keeping in mind the legitimate need of local companies to hire qualified workers while at the same time safeguarding the country’s economy, security and interests as a nation (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
This paper aims to look into the nature and status of illegal immigration in the United States, more importantly on the presumed need for reform, the type of reform, and its consequences on the workers, employers, and the government as a whole.
Immigration and Manpower in the United States
The movement of people into the US was already recorded as early as the 1820s when the average number of immigrants per 1000 US residents was only 1.3. A sharp increase was observed in the preceding decades, which peaked in the 1860s at 9.5 and 1910s at 10.5. There was a dramatic decline in immigration in the following decades, with the lowest in the 1940s at 0.4 clearly due to the war. The rise gathered momentum again from the 1950s until 2005 but stayed at 5.1 per 1000 US residents (US Census Bureau).
If the above figures are to be believed, the rate of immigration at present cannot be considered alarming as described by groups concerned about foreign nationals competing for work and resources with US-born citizens. Neither is the data indicative of a trend of unabated entry since the rate was almost two-fold around the start of the 21st century compared to recent years (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
Immigrants are an integral part of the US economy during its early days up to today. Immigration enabled the nation’s population to augment a declining growth rate. Ironically, despite the economy’s rise and pouring in of immigrants, America’s population growth rate averaged only around 1.3 from 1900 to 2000 and is currently observed to be still falling from the year 2001 onward. In other words, instead of blaming immigration for the perceived population explosion, leaders should even be grateful to immigration for preventing a population implosion due to the steady decline in population growth rate (US Census Bureau).
The current situation is just a fine manifestation of the dynamics of the supply and demand trends. The fact is that the US is creating more and more jobs for unskilled workers while the US-born residents cannot cope up or fill up this demand (Marshall 1-10; Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
The bulk of illegal immigrants are clearly unskilled workers, and they do not simply go to the US because they simply want to. There is great demand for their type of workers. Their movement is simply a reaction to the gap that is left when US-born residents cannot satisfy the local companies’ needs. Jobs requiring relatively low-level skills are generated each year in hundreds of thousands of numbers. This does not necessarily indicate that jobs are being converted to this type since there is also a corresponding increase in managerial, high-paying, or jobs requiring skilled workers (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
The types of jobs that are lacking in applicants include the following: salespersons, maintenance and cleaning personnel, food preparation, care aide, laborers, and other menial positions. Some claim that US-born residents may not be inclined to take up jobs like the ones listed above, but experts believe the real reason is that natives are simply getting old and better educated. A huge chunk of the native population have gone or going into retirement the last few decades while their children and subsequent generations are apparently getting a better education, thus giving them more options in the type or level of jobs to apply for (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
Illegal Immigration in the United States
If native US citizens cannot fill up unskilled positions in American companies, but unskilled foreign workers are ready to accept the job, then there would not seem to be any problem at all, and yet there is a pressing issue regarding illegal immigrants (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
The main reason why there are large numbers of illegal immigrants in the US is that there is no clear provision for unskilled immigrant workers in the immigration system. There is no specific law that facilitates or takes care of the unskilled workers that local companies legitimately need for their operations (Marshall 1-10; Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
This means that there is no visa particularly applicable for unskilled workers wanting to honestly earn money by scrubbing hotel floors or waiting on people in fine dining restaurants. And yet, there are appropriate provisions for highly skilled workers and relatives of US citizens (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
Skilled workers such as scientists, professors, and engineers can avail themselves of the H1-B program, while relatives of legal immigrant workers already in the US can avail of other categories to petition their relatives in their native countries. Simply put, there is no legal option for unskilled workers to be able to work in the US (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
As more and more companies relay their insatiable demand for unskilled workers, more individuals are enticed to find alternative avenues to be able to enter the US. This resulted in the proliferation of illegal recruiters who conceptualize various mechanisms for smuggling people through borders for an equivalent sum of money (Marshall 1-10; Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
Current Solutions to Illegal Immigration and their Consequences
The government’s answer to the increasing number of illegal immigrants in the US and the surprising number of people still aspiring to enter illegally is to implement existent laws as provided for by the ICRA. In addition to tracking and cracking down on illegal immigrants, the government has also resorted to setting up border fences and beefing up border patrols. Companies are also under target for hiring illegal immigrants and instructed to pay fines for the said violation. Although raids and similar efforts have been stepped up in recent months, no particular indications on the reduction of illegal immigrants or on weakening their resolve are seen in the near future (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
The consequences are as clear as the broad daylight. Illegal immigrants, conspirators, and recruiters have become even more cautious in conducting their business. This implies that these people are devising more ingenious and sophisticated ways to smuggle people in. On the other hand, deaths and other accidents can also befall unsuccessful individuals along the borders. In fact, there is a noticeable increase in people dying because of dehydration and heatstroke while crossing borders and evading patrols, reaching 3,500 in the past decade. Moreover, illegal immigrants tend to stay longer in the US due to intensified border controls which do not only prevent these people from contacting their families but also interrupt the bi-directional movement of people along borders (Montes).
Proposed Reforms in Immigration System
There is no denying that there is a very large deficit in the number of visas given each year compared to the number of workers trying to enter the US to work as unskilled workers. The growing US labor market is estimated to churn out 400,000 to 500,000 job opportunities each year, and there must be sufficient visas to match this demand (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
The proposed type of visa is a temporary worker visa which, with enough numbers, can practically solve the immigration problem with the following assumptions. One is that appropriating the same number of visas for the number of available jobs will result in the filling up of all available vacant jobs. Since the root of the problem is the high demand for skilled workers, it means that once these jobs are filled up, people will no longer come since there are no more jobs to apply for (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
Another is that as to the temporary worker visa, this does not pose much of a problem. Since immigrant workers usually work in a foreign land for temporary reasons, they are expected to come home after earning enough to have a comfortable life or for retirement. Fears of increase and unabated settling into the US are deemed unfounded since past experiences indicate that widening the visa coverage did not necessarily lead to flooding of immigrants as learned in the expansion of the Bracero program in the 1950s (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10).
A study of the Congressional Budget Office estimated that for the proposed immigration reform bill S 2611, there would be an average of 800,000 immigrants per year if implemented. These figures are considered more realistic in terms of the number of jobs that will be generated yearly, which have a range of 400,000 to 500,000 jobs (Congressional Budget Office).
Included in the immigration reform proposal is the provision for better mobility for immigrant workers and the reduction of red tape for the processing of related working permits. The aim is to enable immigrant workers to freely move and choose the type of work for them in order to improve salary and working conditions. Immigrant workers are not the only ones who will benefit from this but also companies and the whole region and US economy as well. If immigrant workers are given the freedom to move or travel towards available or better working conditions, they will be able to satisfy the needs of companies that are in dire need of manpower. During economic or political changes, workers can adapt easily to suit the employers’ needs and consequently lessen the time for the search for appropriate workers in both parties. This entails a reduction of expended resources and time for the company that can be invested for more important ventures such as diversification and expansion, which in turn can create more jobs and enhancing economic sectors in any part of the US (Marshall 1-10; Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8). Another positive impact of this proposal is a trend toward better education for native US citizens. Although some critics would claim that unskilled immigrant workers will compete with native US citizens, studies indicate that this situation is nowhere near if not insignificant. This is because native US citizens do not generally apply for unskilled positions to compete with immigrant workers. Those who do are generally in smaller numbers and do not constitute a significant portion of native US citizens. There is also minimal effect on the salary of unskilled native US citizens due to competition with unskilled immigrant workers. Instead, other native US citizens are even expected to benefit indirectly from lower service and good prices, and a stable economy (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
There are also predictions in the improvement in the status of native US citizens in terms of education and salary. Since immigrant workers are expected to dominate the unskilled worker’s sector, native US citizens will be encouraged to study more and attain higher education levels to be able to qualify for skilled work positions. This does not only result in better-educated natives but also to the improvement in their working and social status (Griswold 1-8; Marshall 1-10). The last area of concern for the proposed immigration reforms is the current illegal immigrant workers in the US. There are approximately 12 million illegal immigrants in the US who, in the current situation, have no other choice but to hide and continue working or perish. Since they are already in the country, it would be easier for the government if they would surface and contribute to the economy legally by appropriately paying taxes. Providing legalization pathways would enable them to be more productive and is surely a sign of recognizing their importance and contribution to the US economy (Marshall 1-10; Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8). This also implies that companies will no longer have to resort to illegal ways just to satisfy their needs to operate properly. A gain for every company translates to a healthy business environment and a stable US economy as a whole (Golub 1-5; Griswold 1-8).
In summary, reforming the immigration system of the United States will greatly impact immigrant workers, business owners, and the government in several positive ways. Immigrant workers would be able to work and settle properly in the US through the proposed changes, including avoidance of dangerous treks through borders. Business owners would no longer have to resort to illegal means to hire unskilled workers. This situation would enable easier monitoring and provision of services by the government and, more importantly, focus on more pressing concerns such as terrorism. Overall, the proposed reforms would contribute to a more stable and robust US economy.
- Congressional Budget Office. “CBO Cost Estimate for S. 2611: Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006.”
- Golub, Judith. “Immigration Reform and the Current Debate.” 2007. Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
- Griswold, Daniel. “Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Finally Getting It Right.”2007. Center for Trade Policy Studies, Cato Institute. Web.
- Marshall, Ray. “Getting Immigration Reform Right.” 2007. Economic Policy Institute. EPI Briefing Paper #186.
- Montes, Eduardo. “Migrant Deaths Down Slightly along Border in ’06 Fiscal Year.” Seattle Post-Intelligencer 2006.
- U.S. Census Bureau. “2005 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.”
- U.S. Census Bureau. “Population Estimates Program.”
- U.S. Census Bureau. “Components of Population Change.”