Is an excessive influx of immigrants hurting Americans financially? Immigration is a frequent subject of heated debate. Immigration has been and continues to be an issue in the United States. The main variations of immigration are early immigration, current immigration, and illegal immigration.
At first, there were no people in the Americas. Around 30,000 BC, Paleo-Indians began their trek from Asia. While they were clearly the first people, they did not originate here (Elson 28). Thus, everyone in the United States is either descended from immigrants, or an immigrant themselves. For this reason some people find it hypocritical for us to restrict or ban immigration. According to Marcus Hansen, the pioneering historian of U.S. immigration, “The immigrant was to enjoy no special privileges to encourage his coming; he was also to suffer no special restrictions” (Elson 31). This was common thinking in the nation’s beginning, as 30 million Europeans left their homes and came to America (Elson 28). Note that immigration increased drastically after America became independent (only 450,000 Europeans came to America from 1700-1776). The 13 colonies became so diverse that in one town of only 8,000 18 languages were spoken (Elson 30). The people coming to the United States were mostly poor, in terms of both wealth and education, as well as young (2/3 were between 15 and 39 (Elson 31)). Some were discriminated against, such as Chinese laborers, who received 1/3 less pay on average, and hostility from other workers forced them to give up many jobs. They were deemed ineligible for citizenship by law in 1790, and were banned from entering the U.S. in 1882 (Elson 33). Additionally, immigrants were troubled by thieves, cheated by ship’s captains, and, until the age of steam, often did not know what their exact destination would be (Elson 31). This probably added to the diversity of the early United States, where Welsh, Germans, Scotch-Irish, French Huguenots, Swedes, Finns, Sephardic Jews, and Dutch were already living (Elson 30.) Some people consider this ability of US immigrants to retain their identities a characteristic unique to US immigration. A final way people came to the United States was slavery. In Virginia from 1670 to 1770, the slave population increased 7,500%, most of which came from West Africa (Elson 30). At first whites worked with them in the fields, but by 1650 the workers were almost all blacks, one reason being that they are less vulnerable to malaria.
Immigration is more complicated now than it has ever been. “It is almost impossible to deport [immigrants] even if they have no valid documents. Thousands of those who enter illegally request asylum only if they are caught. The review process can take 10 years or more, and many applicants simply disappear while it is underway.” Asylum applications suddenly jumped from 200 ever, to 103,000 in one year after 1975, which has caused 61% of Americans to favor tightening up of asylum qualifications (Nelan 11,12). Similarly, 85% of Americans favor laws to reduce illegal immigrants (Nelan 11). This shows that “Americans [are] increasingly concerned that their country is under siege...” This is justified by the fact that a group of Mexicans who believed they had the right to enter the US and find jobs blocked an international roadway in protest of efforts to stop illegal immigrants. This is coming from one of the groups of immigrants Americans view least favorably, the other being the Middle Easterners (Nelan 10). The immigrants from Latin America come in such vast numbers that some areas have road signs warning motorists to watch out for them (Walsh 17). Currently, immigrants also come from Canada, Poland, China, and Ireland (Walsh 16). 64% of the American people believe that most of these immigrants are illegal (Nelan 10). This sentiment (which is inaccurate) has caused many legal immigrants to seek citizenship so they can be sure they will be able to stay if regulations change. This resulted in the number of immigrants becoming citizens more than doubling between 1995 and 1996. (Hopfensperger B1). Lawmakers are uncertain of their positions on immigration, and frequently take positions contrary to their political group (Nelan 12).
Illegal immigration is a final major subject of immigration. While it is a problem, it is typically greatly exaggerated. It is also not everywhere in the United States. They cluster together in groups when one finds work. “Though many of the workers bound for meat packing plants in Iowa are legal, their presence seems to attract illegal immigrants by word of mouth,” said Jerry Heinauer, an Immigration and Naturalization Service director (Brack 2). Factories like the illegal immigrants because they receive ˝ to 1/3 what a documented worker would earn, assuming Americans would do the same kind of work (Walsh 16). Many of these illegal immigrants are men from Mexico who have left their families behind to find jobs here, with dreams of bringing their families to live with them once they have some money (Walsh 16,17).
Immigration is a very controversial issue in America, and there are no easy answers. The answers we find will be based in our roots, and in our values. We, the people who have already become citizens of America, must decide the fate of all those waiting and struggling to get in. Perhaps we should consider other ways of dealing with these issues, for immigration will not be an option forever. At some point, we will be forced to stop running and deal with the issues facing us, and it would serve us well to think ahead. We must keep in mind our own history in this decision, as well as what is best for the country.