In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart–Celler Act was signed in to law, changing the national origins quota system. The national origins quota system excluded Asians, Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern ones.
The national origins quota system was replaced with the preference system that focused on immigrants skills and family relationships with citizens or US residents. After passing the Hart-Celler act the United States was now more inclusive to anyone seeking democracy, freedom and the American dream, true to its founding principles.
The following is a reflection on some of the social impacts immigration has and continues to have as well as my attempt at expelling some of the misconceptions surrounding immigration.
Immigration transformed America’s demographics. The Hart–Celler Act of 1965 opened the doors to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. As of 2013, the U.S. foreign-born population (legal and illegal) was 41.3 million, or 13.1 percent of the total U.S population according to the Migration Policy Institute tabulation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 and 2013 American Community Surveys. (Zong & Batalova 2015) The analysis of the immigrant foreign-born population of the USA as of 2011 is displayed below.
Note: Latin America includes: South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean; Northern America includes Canada, Bermuda, Greenland, and St. Pierre and Miquelon Source: 2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, Office of Immigration Statistics
These demographic changes in American society have several major implications in the areas of culture, education, and politics. These changes have given birth to subcultures in certain parts of the USA. Jacksonville Florida for its Cuban and Latin American population or Dearborn Michigan for its strong Muslim communities is an example of this. While most of these subcultures are integrated into society some have had a harder time or taken longer for cultural assimilation. For example, newly arrived and non-English proficient parents often have trouble navigating the school systems and other community health and social service resources. Thus, bilingual children often act as interpreters for the family when interacting with the outside community. It is worthwhile noting that by the second generation these immigrants are better assimilated and most of these immigrants even with the language barrier become active contributors in societies.
Figure 3: Projected U.S. population with and without migration, Source: U.N., “World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision,” File POP/7-1 (medium fertility and zero migration)
Another positive effect of these demographic changes is its ability to offset population decline in some areas of the country. Figure 3 is an evidence of how this offset contributes to the labor force in America. In addition to having the potential to offset population decline, immigrants can also compensate for the aging of the native-born population. The median age of the total U.S. population is rising, and the ratio of seniors (ages 65+) to working-age people (ages 25-64) is increasing. (Myers 2012) Immigration mitigates these trends by adding working-age adults to the U.S. population. Nearly half of the immigrants admitted between 2003 and 2012 were between the ages of 20 and 40, while only 5 percent were aged 65 or older. (Immigration Task Force 2014) These changes in demography change the fabric of society and our communities.
New Americans In The Voting Booth
“There were 18.1 million New Americans registered to vote in 2012, totaling 11.8 percent of all registered voters. This amounts to an increase of 10.6 million (or 143.1 percent) since 1996.
As of 2012, 13.7 million Latinos accounted for 8.9 percent of all registered voters, while 4.8 million APIs (API: Individuals who self-selected either “Asian” or “Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander” as their race, but did not select “Hispanic or Latino” as their ethnicity.) accounted for 3.2 percent.
Between 1996 and 2012, the number of Latinos registered voters increased by 7.1 million (an increase of 108.4 percent).
Figure 4 New American Share of Registered Voters, 1996-2012 (Ewing, Guillermo 2014)
Registered voters increased in number by 2.7 million (an increase of 125.5 percent). Between 1996 and 2012, the Latino share of all registered voters increased by 3.8 percentage points and the API share by 1.5 percentage points. In contrast, the non-Latino white share declined by 8.0 percentage points.” (Ewing, Guillermo2014)
New Americans, Latinos, and APIs account for large and growing shares of registered voters in many electorally important states. Politically, this means that candidates for public office will have to be responsive to the needs and interests of these voters if they hope to win elections.
Till 2016, I believed that Race-baiting and immigrant-bashing were unlikely to appeal to voters, but it did. The fear of these changing demographics and the influence wielded by minority ethnic communities and their effects in the 2012 presidential election, ironically gave rise to a nationalism in a country that has always had a national identity rooted in being a country built on the back of immigrants.
Community Coherence and Undermined Sense of National Identity
“While the public debate has focused disproportionately on questions of who, how many, and what kind of noncitizens should be admitted to the United States, unlike other traditional immigration countries, such as Canada and Australia, the United States does has not had a federally driven immigrant integration policies or an agency responsible for making sure immigrants effectively become part of U.S. society. Instead, integration policies are limited, underfunded, largely ad hoc, and often target narrow immigrant groups, such as refugees or migrant workers.
Federal policies that affect immigrant integration outcomes include the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001 that required schools and funding for states to ensure that limited English proficient (LEP) children become proficient in English. In 2009, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was expanded to cover authorized immigrant children. Additionally, the federal Adult Education program funds English education and GED preparation”(Hipsman 2017).
Without systematic integration programs and systematic assimilation into American culture, popular society has come to view immigration as a divisive factor in society. Immigrant populations have created subcultures that separate themselves in some cases from mainstream culture and community. The lessons of the recent past, in countries such as France, that has had a harder time dealing with the different cultural characteristics of its immigrant population has led to community tensions and rioting.
“The late historian Timothy L. Smith famously called migration to the U.S. a “theologizing experience” that forced newcomers into the existential dilemma of having to “determine how to act in these new circumstances by reference not simply to a dominant ‘host’ culture but to a dozen competing subcultures, all of which were in the process of adjustment.”
This dilemma of having to find your place in a landscape both shifting and unfamiliar has played a powerful role in forging both the American character and our institutions. Diversity and continuous migration both foreign and domestic make it difficult to forge a long-lived unspoken cultural consensus. In its absence, people must articulate their positions in as straightforward a way as possible to avoid misinterpretation.
In a changing landscape of cross cultures, there is a fear in the American public of the changing national identity and how America view itself.
Long Term Social Value
The social effects of immigration also reach into creating social value to society and communities. A few contemporary examples of immigrant entrepreneurship are, Aditazz, which aims to revolutionize building construction, was co-founded by Deepak Aatresh from India and Felicia Borkovi from Romania; Cellworks, designing new therapies that target a range of health issues, founded by Taher Abbasi, Shireen Vali, and Pradeep Fernandes, all foreign-born and U.S.educated. High-def videowall maker Prysm was started by Amit Jain from India and Roger Hajjar from Lebanon, who studied at Boston University; and big data innovator Guavus was launched by Anukool Lakhina, another immigrant entrepreneur. These entrepreneurs create jobs and add value to their communities as community leaders and their prosperity trickles down to their respective communities.
“U.S. Census data also reports that immigrants are more likely than native citizens to choose self-employment—5.1% are self-employed in their own incorporated businesses as compared to only 3.7% of native-born U.S. entrepreneurs. In 2011, two of every three electrical engineering Ph.D. degrees in the U.S. were awarded to foreign nationals. Nearly as high a ratio of all electrical engineering Masters degrees were too”, (Hohn 2012)
Immigration also contributes to diversity in society. Values from separate cultures from around the world contribute to adding different cross sections of cultural values and norms. they add up to a diverse experience within America.
Impact on Crime
One of the strongest arguments against immigration has been the impact immigration has had on crime.
“In 2010, 22,230 non-U.S. citizens in federal prison were serving a sentence for a drug-related commitment offense (47%), followed by immigration offenses (43%) and other offenses (10%) (Figure 5).
The growth in drug offenses among non-U.S. citizens occurred from 1985 to 1993, when drug offenses increased an average annual 21%. About the time that the growth in drug offenses among noncitizens incarcerated in federal prison slowed, the growth in immigration offenses among non-U.S. citizens incarcerated in federal prison increased. From 1992 to 2000, immigration offenses as the commitment offense for non-U.S. citizens incarcerated in federal prison increased at an annual average rate of 31%. The growth rate for noncitizens incarcerated for immigration offenses slowed to an average annual 5% from 2001 to 2010” (Motivans 2013)
As illustrated by figure 6(a) (bellow), the 70s and 80s saw a very rapid increase in the immigrant share of the population and a dramatic increase in the national crime rate. The crime rate fell in the 1990s and the early part of this decade, while the immigrant population continued to grow dramatically.
“The reasons for a decline in crime include a generally strong economy, new methods of policing, an enormous growth in the incarcerated population, a large increase in the number of policies, a stabilization of drug markets, and a fall in the size of the crime-prone age group”. (Blumstein & Wallman 2006)
The bottom line remains that increased immigration has coincided with both periods of rising crime and periods of falling crime. Analysis of the combined (immigrant and native) national crime rate is not of any real help in understanding the issue of immigrant criminality.
The nation’s incarceration rate has increased almost proportionately with the level of immigration for nearly four decades. Figure 6(b) shows that from 1970 to 2007 the increase in the immigrant share of the overall population paralleled the increase in the share of the incarcerated population.
So, it would be correct to say that the share of the population incarcerated went up as immigrants became a larger share of the overall population. But like the above discussion of the combined crime rate (immigrant and native), the combined incarceration rate is of no real help in understanding any possible link between immigration and crime.
As such while, we can clearly state that Drug-related offenses are high among the immigrant population there are no direct correlations that can be associated with crime and rates of immigration.
Immigrants: A weight on the country and a drain on the welfare system
One of the vehement oppositions to immigration in recent times has been the notion that immigrants are a drain on the welfare benefits and other social programs that should only be available to native-born citizens. That immigration and immigrants are a burden on the taxpayer.
Public schools in America serve children regardless of immigration status. The U.S Supreme Court decided in 1982 that non-citizen children must get free public schooling through the 12th grade. The question then becomes why would one not want these future Americans to be able to obtain an education and be able to be productive contributors to society. Whether they are refugees, children of illegal immigrants, or legal immigrant, would in not be societies responsibility to educate them regardless of whether they were born in the US. For example, DACA recipients are almost as likely as U.S. adults in the same age group (15-32) to be enrolled in college (18 percent versus 20 percent)
One of the concepts not weighed in, in this argument is that legal and illegal immigrants still have the same tax burdens as native-born citizens. If they are drawing a paycheck, or are on a payroll, they do make social security and Medicare contributions and contribute to the taxes. If they hope to have a path to citizenship they are still obliged to make sure that they have and continue being tax paying individuals.
In regards to welfare benefits, “The federal government hasn’t distributed welfare checks to eligible people in poverty for almost 20 years. That approach was replaced in the late 1990s by targeted aid programs jointly administered by the federal and state governments that provide assistance with cash, food, housing, and healthcare. That act, the 1996 Personal Responsibility, and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, also barred unauthorized immigrants from drawing benefits.”(Hipsman 2017)
The second opposition in regards to immigrants is that Illegal aliens not eligible directly for welfare assistance living in the country without permission can sign up qualified children for aid. All U.S.-born children are automatically U.S. citizens, even if born to unauthorized immigrants, and Medicaid eligibility rules specify that unauthorized immigrants “may apply for coverage on behalf of documented individuals.” Eligibility rules for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) say that a person who is ineligible because of immigration status “may choose to apply only for his or her U.S. citizen children in the household.”
The Child and Adult Care Food Program, which provides food aid to care centers for low income children, elderly or disabled adults; the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program, which subsidizes in-school meals for children from low income families; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, which provides nutritional supplements and health education for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and their infants up to five years old who are deemed “at nutrition risk” by a doctor are all eligible regardless of their immigration status. This is an effort to aid those most vulnerable regardless of their immigration status.
This again comes to a question of morality and identity. Does the US believe children who are rightful citizens by birth should be persecuted for the status of their parents? Are they the biggest threat to the American way of life? The biggest drain on the US budget? As a developed country, the humanitarian welfare that is made available regardless of immigration status are basic humanitarian aid.
Refugee Resettlement Program.
With the escalating turmoil in the middle east refugee resettlement has become a point of contention in domestic policy. The roots of the notion of refugee resettlement were established in 1951 when hundreds of thousands of European refugees were displaced across Europe. The 1951 Refugee Convention defined what refugees are — those who are seeking refuge from persecution. “It also gave them a very important rights — the right to not be sent back home into harm’s way, except under extreme circumstances. Since, by definition, refugees are not protected by their own governments, the international community steps in to ensure that they are safe and protected,” The treaty was amended in 1967, in part to include refugees from around the world. 142 developed and developing countries have signed on to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 protocol, taking on the responsibility of resettling refugees who are legitimately fleeing persecution.
In addition to not getting sent back to their home countries, refugees have several other rights, including:
- The right to not be punished for illegally entering countries that signed on to the treaty
- The right to housing
- The right to work
- Access to education
- Access to public assistance
- Access to courts
- The right to get identification and travel documents
“The hardest way to come to the U.S. is as a refugee. Every refugee is hand selected for resettlement by the Department of Homeland Security and screened by security agencies in an exhaustive process—and one that was further strengthened by the current administration. Despite restarting the resettlement program after the travel ban, refugees are arriving in the U.S. at a glacial pace with no explanation.”
The U.S. refugee resettlement program helps refugees achieve self-sufficiency, not just provide them with aid or welfare. In 2016, over 80 percent of refugees in the International Rescue Committee’s early employment program was economically self-sufficient within six months. And refugees pay on average $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in government benefits.
It’s also noteworthy recognizing that these refugees go on to become citizens of America, they go on to work, start businesses, get an education, and become productive citizens of America.
In reference to the social impact of immigration, we as a community must not be misled by misinformation and manipulation of data to fit a political narrative in regards to the immigration issue. A quick search online will yield plenty of organizations that provide skewed data and misleading information, depending on the stance they take on immigration.I am aware of my own biases in my writing but have tried to state facts and back my opinions.
With the economic and social challenges America has faced in recent times, immigrants have become a likely target and scapegoat. The most noticeable changes for the average American has been the changes they see in their own backyards. Peoples fear of this changing face of America, and the misinformation by our leaders have to lead to immigration and immigrants being treated as a national threat.
There is no doubt that the face of America is changing. With globalization and increased immigration, America is becoming more of a multicultural diverse nation. Prosperous nations such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom have always attracted immigrants that are in search for a better life, they too have had challenges adapting and finding the right balance.
The problem of many immigrants not following proper immigration channels does exist. This is mostly due to the difficulties in the immigration processors. While our leaders and the media portray an open door policy in regards to legal immigrants, the processors are arduous. There is clear evidence that the current immigration system, laws, and methods of enforcing these laws need to be reformed. It is an outdated system that has made it harder for the US to attract talented individuals while the impracticability of the border control system has only led to an increase in illegal immigration.
As a nation, America will need to determine what their values are in regards to immigration. Will it recognize that other than for the native American population, every other American has benefited from immigration? That a part of each of its citizens heritages still relied on a welcoming country to call home. Similar to the many new immigrants hoping to do the same. America is a country of laws, and these laws do need to be upheld. But at what cost do we compromise the values of a nation to do so.
Throughout America’s history, America has grappled with the fears held by old immigrants against new immigrants. But lately, the issue of immigration has become toxic and divisive in our discourse, more than any other issue. Its impacts are very real, affecting real peoples lives and real families in catastrophic ways.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
The New Colossus” is a sonnet that American poet Emma Lazarus (1849–1887) wrote in 1883 to raise money for the construction of a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty.
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- Hipsman, Faye, et al. “Immigration in the United States: New Economic, Social, Political Landscapes with Legislative Reform on the Horizon.” Migrationpolicy.org, 2 Mar. 2017, www.migrationpolicy.org/article/immigration-united-states-new-economic-social-political-landscapes-legislative-reform.