May 21, 2007


I only had to read the first point in the Cedar River Gazette's story on the newest immigration legislation to realize that this is not a good reform, if it is reform at all. For the first eight years under this plan we would allow 1.1 million family visas a year. Up from the current 980,000, for spouses, children and "extended family" (what ever that means) We are talking tens of millions of new arrivals.
For the first 50 years of our nation's existence immigration was relatively small. By 1880 the last great wave of immigration most comparable to the current situation was underway and 584,000 new immigrants were entering American for the promise of freedom and jobs in the industrial age. By 1887, with the influx of immigrants at record heights, American citizens were questioning the effects immigration was having on wages and the social fabric of the country, and they were asking for change. Like today, politicians, influenced by big business to maintain cheep labor and protect what was becoming an important bloc of voters, kept the doors open. Finally with overwhelming support of the public, the 1924 Immigration Act returned the number of immigrants to the levels of the late 1870’s. The effect was a tightening of the labor market, elimination of sweatshops, rising numbers of middle class workers, and the ability of blacks to enter the new industrial workforce (Beck 37). The numbers of immigrants entering the country after 1924 averaged 170,000 per year. That was all to change in 1965.
President John Kennedy in his 1958 book "A Nation of Immigrant" wrote that a system that was weighted heavily toward Europeans was unfair to Asian populations wishing to migrate to American. In the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination and with the country in the midst of the civil rights movement, Congress, with Kennedy’s book as a blue print, enacted the 1965 Immigration Act, with promises that immigration numbers would remain stable and that the racial makeup of the country would not change. Senator for life Edward "Teddy"Kennedy stated:

"Out of deference to the critics, I want to comment on … what the bill will not do. First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same … Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset … Contrary to the charges in some quarters, S.500 will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and economically deprived nations of Africa and Asia. In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think. Thirdly, the bill will not permit the entry of subversive persons, criminals, illiterates, or those with contagious disease or serious mental illness. As I noted a moment ago, no immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge … the charges I have mentioned are highly emotional, irrational, and with little foundation in fact. They are out of line with the obligations of responsible
citizenship. They breed hate of our heritage."(Senate Part 1, Book 1, pp.

But change it did. A system that was based on quotas was now based on the reunification of families. With the implementation of chain immigration the numbers grew exponentially. In 1966 323,000 arrived, 454,000 in 1968, and the numbers have continued to rise. Kennedy’s promise of maintaining the ethnic mix also turned out to be incorrect. A recent Rand Organization report states:

Another trend reshaping the U.S. demographic landscape is the growing diversity of an already ethnically diverse nation. Recent Census Bureau projections show a population in which people of Hispanic origin will shortly outnumber African Americans. Non-Hispanic white (Anglo) persons will themselves eventually become a "minority," shrinking too less than half of all Americans (probably before 2060) (Rand).

Riding this wave of legal immigration is a flood of illegal immigrants. The US Census Bureau estimates there were 7 million illegal aliens in the country in 2000. Others put that number as high as 11 million. Varied estimates put the annual influx at 350,000 to 1 million per year (NumbersUSA). There are those willing to discount these reports and embrace unlimited immigration and invoke the notion that we are after all a nation of immigrants. The term melting pot is the romanticized cliché from the beginning of the last century. But it doesn’t get anyone nearer to a consensus to what to do about the 11 million people that have broken the law to come to the United States. Perhaps the answer lies in the argument used most often, that illegal immigrants are just coming here to do the work that Americans refuse to do.
For some segments of the economy shortages of workers is a reality. Legal immigrants are increasingly filling jobs needing highly educated and skilled workers. On the other end of the spectrum is the low skilled, low paying jobs. The most well known of these jobs have traditionally been filled by migrant workers, an important part of the labor force in the agricultural sector for decades.
Today a shortage of farm workers exists as the itinerant farm workers increasingly move into jobs once reserved for middle class. Not only service sector jobs in the food and lodging industries but also jobs such as construction and meat processing. The effect of employers illegally hiring these workers are depressed wages and the loss of jobs in sectors that for decades were the mainstay of middle class America.
An Iowa example of these phenomena can be found in the story of Iowa Beef Processors. For years a job at the Storm Lake, Iowa packing plant was a prize. High pay, good benefits and safe working conditions were the norm. All that was to change in the 1980’s when changes in the industry forced the closing of the Storm Lake plant. The plant was to reopen under new management but immigrants replaced the local meat-cutters at half the pay. The ripple effect of the change was felt throughout the entire community as the money dried up and the locals moved away to find jobs in other areas (Beck).
As author Roy Beck explains, "The importation of hundreds of thousands of foreign workers each year is unnecessary. It ruins good occupations, it rewards callous business management, it penalizes businesses with a strong sense of corporate citizenship, and it creates sweeping changes for the communities that never requests and seldom approves them" (Beck).
Analogous to the situation affecting the country in the 1920’s, we find a labor market overwhelmed by workers willing to work for low pay with little regard for the safety. A return to the era of sweatshops, with the lowering of middle class incomes, and increased competition for jobs in the workforce that have traditionally been held by minorities.
The second argument for immigration is that the immigrant adds to the economic prosperity of the country. A study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that immigration delivered a significant positive gain to the economy. It found that the typical immigrant and their children, depending on education level, would pay between $80,000 and $198,000 more in taxes than they collect in government services in their lifetime (Griswald). But the illegal immigrant population is not typical in education level or earning potential.
Economic studies in California, the state with the largest illegal immigrant population, indicate a staggering burden on the residents of that state. It is estimated the state spends $7.7 billion a year to school illegal alien children that now make up approximately 15 percent of the students. The states spends $1.4 billion to provide health care to illegal aliens and another $1.4 billion to the prison system to incarcerate illegal alien criminals Closer to home it is estimated that the state of Iowa now has an illegal population of 24,000. Data on the impact to education and healthcare are not available, but in 1999 Iowa asked the federal government to reimburse the state $2.4 million for the costs incurred in the incarceration of illegal immigrants in the states penal institutions (FAIR). In a report to Congress, Steven A. Camararta from the Center for Immigration Studies stated:

"Households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 and paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of $10.4 billion, or $2,700 per illegal household. With nearly two-thirds of illegal aliens lacking a high school degree, the primary reason they create a fiscal deficit is their low education levels and resulting low incomes and tax payments, not their legal status or heavy use of most social services (Fitzgerald).

There is no question that immigrants, legal and illegal, have become an intricate part of a growing America. But the illegal worker is part of an underground economy that ads economic benefit for some and burdens for many others. The question arises, how do you bring that underground economy to the surface?
The current immigration bill working its way through congress is seen by some as a way to integrate illegal workers into the mainstream while others only see another amnesty. Camarata’s report warns, "that granting legal status to illegal immigrants would dramatically increase their cost, causing the net fiscal deficit to rise to nearly $29 billion because, as Camaratta argues, unskilled immigrants would have access to more government services while continuing to make modest tax payments" (Fitzgerald).
All these facts and figures are all interesting, and they are important for Americans to know in forming their opinions about immigration, but they are merely the overt effects of an immigration policy that is in disarray and it is doubtful that the new legislation would be an improvment. The problem most people have with the immigration debate, like the issues of abortion or gun control, is how to responsibly frame the argument in such a way as to avoid getting drowned in statistics and mired in rhetoric. Unfortunately, to frame the argument for stopping illegal immigration in any way other than statistics, no matter the intent, runs the risk of being labeled racist.
Tom Krannawitter of the Claremont Institute suggests a starting point in a reasoned, civil discussion of immigration needs to be based on the basic principles on which our country was founded:

The United States is a sovereign nation…Our government rests on our social compact, and its only purpose is to protect the rights of those who have given their consent to the compact. Intrinsic to the idea of sovereignty is the distinction between those who are and those who are not part of the social compact. We may invite others from around the world to join our compact, and in fact America has a long and noble tradition of welcoming millions from around the globe who have come in search of civil and religious liberty and economic prosperity. But whether we admit one person or one million persons is a question to be answered entirely at our discretion. The distinction between those we welcome and those we want to keep out—say, terrorists whose purpose are to kill Americans—requires first and foremost that the American government secure our borders. Without secured borders, the American people cannot decide who will partake in the social compact they formed among themselves for their mutual protection (Krannawitter).

This new immigration bill is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Nothing more than another amnesty, rewarding those that have broken the law while playing lip service to the demands of the citizenry. Ronald Reagan once said: "The simple truth is we have lost control of our borders, and any country that does that can not survive." (Presidential News Conference, June 14, 1984) Washington must realize that the nation is demanding that the flow of illegals be stopped. Then after that is done we can all take a collective deep breath and decide the best way to integrate or remove eleven million people from our shores.

  • Beck, Roy. The Case Against Immigration: The moral, economic, social and environmental reasons for reducing U.S. immigration levels back to traditional levels.
    New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996.
  • Buchanan, Patrick. The Death of the West: How dying populations and immigrant invasions imperil our country and civilization. New York: St. Martins, 2002.
  • Daugherty, Jon E. Illegals: The imminent threat posed by our unsecured US- Mexican border. Nashville:WND Books, 2004
  • FAIR. "The Effect of Illegal Immigration to Californians" Federation for American Immigration Reform. November 2004. 12 December 2005.
  • Fitzgerald, Mary. "Illegal Immigrants’ Cost to Government Studied." Washington Post. 6 August 2004.
    12 December 2005.
  • Fonte, John D. "Does America Have an Assimilation Problem? Yes it’s not 1900 Anymore." The American Enterprise Online. 12 December 2005
  • Griswald, Danial. "Immigrations Have Enriched American Culture and Enhanced Our Influence in the World" Taking Sides. Ed. George McKenna and Stanley Feingold. Dubuque: McGraw-Hill 2005. 356-359
  • Hsia-Chang, Maria. "Multiculturalism, Immigration, and Aztlan." Population Action Conference. Breckenridge, Co. 6 August 1999.
  • Numbers USA. Illegal Immigration. 12 December 2005
    Krannawitter, Tom. " What is an American." The Claremont Institute. 21 December 2004. 12 December 2005
  • Morrison, Peter. "Demographic Trends Foreshadow Major Economic and Social Challenges." Rand Corporation. February 1999. 12 December 2005.
  • Simon, William E., "On Becoming American: Reasserting citizenship into the immigration debate." The Heritage Foundation. 21 July 2005. 12 December 2005
  • U. S Census Bureau, Summary File 3 (SF 3) Detailed Tables.12 December 2005
  • Wall, Allan. "Immigration Safety Valve Does Mexico Little Good." Albuquerque Journal 23 August 2004. 12 December 2005.
  • Zogby, John. "American Views of Mexico and Mexican Views of the US". Zogby International. 6 June 2005. 12 December 2005.

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