Illegal Immigration

Immigration, legal or otherwise, is a huge issue right now. Debates rage
about how many immigrants should be allowed into the country and how zealously
we should guard out border from illegal intruders. To a point, these people are
correct, illegal immigration is something that should be stopped. People should
not cross the border illegally or overstay on visits. The important question is,
however, does illegal immigration deserve the massive amount of attention it
receives? No, it does not. By looking at the respected immigrants of the past
and thinking about the issues in a clear and objective way, it becomes apparent
that illegal immigration (and legal immigration, for that matter) is not as
vital an issue as many consider it to be.
A key point in this discussion is that many of those who are vehemently
opposed to illegal immigration are also opposed to large amounts of legal
immigration as well. These thinly hidden agendas mean that often the debate on
illegal immigration cannot be separated from the debate on legal immigration.
According to Negative Population Growth (which is a suspect source),
Americans are firmly believe in tough laws against illegal immigrants and that
70% of Americans want no more than 300,000 legal immigrants to enter the U.S.
per year. In fact, N.P.G. says that 20% of Americans want immigration
completely stopped. Taking these numbers as the truth, it is clear that America
thinks that we have too many immigrants.
Such a dislike of immigration is interesting considering the success of
past immigration. Many people would say that today's immigrants are somehow
different than those of the past. However, the truth is that the
similarities between the immigrants of today and those of the past are numerous.
Their reasons for coming to this country are often similar. Many of the
immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were compelled to leave
their homes by the rapidly changing nature of their countries. In the Europe of
the 19th century, this meant quickly growing population and a rapidly
industrializing economy. In nations like Mexico and Vietnam, the same thing is
happening today, they "are undergoing the same convulsive demographic and
economic disruptions that made migrants out of so many nineteenth century
Europeans" (Kennedy p.64).
Those who are against the immigration of the 1990's also say that the
European immigrants of the past were culturally similar to Americans, and that
they were more willing to assimilate and become "American." Neither of these
things are true. Old immigrant groups like the Italians and may be seen as
generically "white" and "American" now, but when they first began moving to the
United States, they were as alien as the immigrants are today are. They were
seen as culturally (and even physically) inferior to native Americans. Old
immigrant groups had significant cultural differences that caused friction
between them and the natives. Those immigrants of the past also did not come to
America and instantly throw off all semblances of their and language and society.
On the contrary, according to David Kennedy, "many...exerted themselves to
sustain their religions, tongues and ways of life" (Kennedy p. 64). Current
opponents of mass immigration also point to the large numbers of crimes
committed by immigrants. They are forgetting that the immigrants of past had
similar problems.
When illegal immigration is not confused with legal immigration, debate can
take place in a sane matter. As George Borjas noted on page 77 of his article,
the economic consequences of illegal immigration are unclear. Convincing cases
can be made that illegals hurt and help the American economy. I have heard that
the United States needs the cheap and undiscriminating labor of illegal
immigrants to do the "dirty work," and that illegals take jobs away from natives.
Until more convincing data is available, the approach to illegal immigration
should be sensible. Outlandish solutions like building a huge 2,000 mile-long
fence and gathering a virtual army to defend the border from Mexicans are not
the answer. Making legal immigration easier and more common is the best
solution that we have now.