[Meeting the Demands of Businesses Fueling Illegal Immigration]
Being a nation founded on democracy for the people and by the people, America, in its essence, maintains a unique philosophy regarding human rights. The founding fathers recognized the importance of freedom and established a revolutionary government in an age of authoritarian rule. The new nation declared its creed of equality and opportunity to the rest of the world, calling on those seeking these inherent human rights to accept the free gift of a new life and make the journey to a new world. Inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of a country standing tall to light the way, are the word’s of Emma Lazarus that resonate within the hearts and minds of immigrants abroad:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, the tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door (9).
Why, then, has a xenophobia persisted to pervade its way into our society? If this is a country of freedom, established by immigrants seeking refuge from oppression, why is America so fearful about letting people in?
A scare has swept the United States in the wake of recent immigration issues. The issue of homeland security presses American priorities as politicians address the massive influx of illegal immigration. American’s have become fearful of their Mexican neighbors, afraid of an imposing threat to their economic security and cultural identity. What American’s don’t realize is the problem of illegal immigration stems from the very policies intended to keep us safe.
The American economy is one of the strongest and most powerful in the world, ranked 10th in gross national income per capita (8). More than ever before, Americans are becoming educated and pursuing demanding professions requiring a high level of education and therefore high compensation. According to the US Census Bureau in 2006, 86% of Americans age 25 and over had completed high school and 28% had earned a bachelors degree, the highest percentage in history (1). But while Americans seek the high paying competitive professions that make America powerful, a demand for minimum wage workers has grown, and continues to grow, to meet the demands of American consumers and corporations alike. Where does America turn to find such low paid workers in such an educated society?
American unemployment has seen an ever increasing drop throughout the past twenty years. Even in its most recent recession, American unemployment is still lower than most countries in the world, sitting at 4.8% as of February 2008 according to the US labor statistics (5, 6). This is with the addition of 4.2 million illegal immigrants entering the country from January 1st, 2000 to January 1st, 2006, an increase of 36% (3). In addition, while many think the rise in job outsourcing is a threat to Americans jobs, research indicates that it increases our need for more laborers (14, 15). Currently foreign born laborers compose 15.7% of the civilian workforce in America (16). According to the Department of Labor, “In terms of educational attainment, 27.4 percent of the foreign-born labor force 25 years old and over had not completed high school in 2007, compared with 6.0 percent of the native-born labor force” (16). America is hungry for workers to fill the jobs that fuel the economy. The problem with business demands is that American’s have become, as a whole, too pricey compared and educated compared to their foreign counterparts trying to immigrate to America. The proportion of foreign born laborers in manual labor and service industries is greater than native born laborers (16). In addition, while foreign born laborers with a higher education earned proportionately the same as Americans, those with less education earn far less (16). America depends on much of its low wage workforce from immigrants coming to America for a new a life and new job opportunities.
However, while American businesses maintain the enticing jobs offers as incentives to come to America, immigrants pursuing the American dream find that the unique freedoms and opportunities they seek are fiercely defended, and hardly free at all (17). The confusion is compounded when we make the entry process more difficult with increased security and application costs and discuss building walls on our borders. The very essence of tightening borders undermines the foundations of American ideals not only by preventing immigrants from achieving a better life, but also inhibiting businesses from finding much needed immigration labor. Foreigners desiring the opportunities of America are forced to wait patiently in line, in some cases over ten years (10). For the poor and unskilled laborers seeking entry, there is even less hope.
In recent times, the US has been facing two priorities for our nation’s success. One is the issue of economic stability. The other is homeland security. Both have direct implications on the issue of immigration. The more we increase homeland security, the more problems America will face with illegal immigration. Homeland Security reported a backlog of over 329,000 immigrant cases created by pending FBI name checks in 2007, 93,000 more pending than in 2006 (13). Of those, approximately 64% have been pending for over 90 days and 30% have been pending more than a year (13). To compound the backlog situation, when the government announced a 66% fee increase for the naturalization application starting July 30, 2007, applications rose sevenfold in July compared to the year prior, causing the process time for naturalization to rise from seven months to 18 months (10, 11). Due to increased security measures, gaining residency has turned into an extensive and costly process, taking many years and providing no guarantee. Nevertheless, while we’re tightening our borders and building our walls, the demand for cheap labor in the US economy persists.
Waiting with open arms, businesses throughout America are eager to hire anyone willing to work for a competitive wage. Closest to hear our call is our neighbor Mexico, brimming with people poor and desperate for a better economic situation. Mexico is ranked 73rd for gross national income per capita, a stark contrast to America’s ranking as 10th (8). Separated by only a few hundred miles of desert, Mexicans eagerly cross our borders each year seeking to fill the surplus of job opportunities offered here. Of the purported 1.2 million who make attempt to cross American borders each year, over 400,000 are successful at slipping by undetected (18). Of the 11.6 million illegal immigrants residing in America in 2006, Mexicans composed 57%, a 27% rise from 2000 (3). Illegal Mexicans not only fill the void of labor, they do it cheaply. Due to the illegality, Mexicans are typically paid far below the minimum wage. The result of this exploitation causes other businesses to look for illegal immigrants in order to compete and stay in business. The overall effect is an increased demand for illegal immigrants.
Solving the problem of illegal immigration is difficult, requiring many years and many new policies. To put an end to illegal immigration, the US must reform the naturalization policies and streamline its immigration process in order to make it easier for people to immigrate. The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) have already taken steps to reform the immigration process as stated in their 2007 annual report (13). For the USCIS, funded entirely off application costs, the price increase will provide the necessary staffing and resources to handle the severe backlogging (13). Once the issue of backlogged immigration cases is resolved, and the naturalization the process is streamlined, the USCIS needs to consider the demands in specific work sectors and adjust the immigration flow accordingly. By supplying legal immigrants more readily, America can effectively eliminate the demand for illegal labor as well as help eliminate exploitation.
Additionally, America also must enforce tougher border control policies for several reasons. One is to send a clear message that coming to the US illegally will not be tolerated. The other is to prevent and deter Mexicans from risking their life crossing the desert. The President and the Department of Homeland Security have already begun the Secure Border Initiative (7). The plan calls for $7 billion in additional funding that will contribute to a variety of key factors needed to increase border control. These factors included increased staffing, re-engineering the detention and removal process of illegal immigrants, improving border control technology, strengthening interior enforcement, and working more closely with international communities, specifically Mexico and Canada (7).
It’s interesting to note that all the presidential candidates are in support of building a wall across the America’s border with Mexico (19). Having a wall on the American border not only keeps illegal immigrants from coming into the US, it allows the US border patrol to monitor very definable boundaries instead of vast amounts of desert in between. The problem with a fence is the issue of tunneling under borders. Already 40 such tunnels have been discovered since 9/11, posing the question: Is spending 3.4 million dollars per mile to build a 2,000 mile fence practical or affordable? (18). The intuitive answer is no, and as long as an income gap as large as the one between Mexico and the US exists, illegal immigrants looking for work and a better life will find ways of getting in.
A key component to eliminating the 7 million illegal Mexicans living within US involves the strengthening of interior enforcement. This means more consequences to employers who hire illegal immigrants, and the removal of those immigrants. Because of the huge volume of illegal immigrants, this process will take many years after the citizenship reform takes place. Currently the American economy is too dependent of the illegal workforce to crack down hard. The costs of any large scale extraction would not only hurt businesses, but funding such a project would only compound expenses even more. The alternative, also proposed by President Bush, is to provide current illegal aliens with a temporary work visa while they’re in America. The inherent problem with such a visa is that it is temporary. The only businesses benefiting are those with temporary work. Other businesses in industries requiring labor year round will be forced to retrain and rehire every few years. In addition, temporary work visas give rise to racism and prejudice, as seen in Germany during the 1970’s, (20). Because of their temporary status, state and local governments do little to help immigrants assimilate into society. Planning to stay only a few years, immigrants little effort to learn the native language and adapt to the culture. It seems the only hope for illegal immigrants within the US is to make the path for naturalization easier for those who apply.
Although America is undoubtedly in need of laborers, hiring illegal aliens is an unethical practice that gives incentives to those who immigrate illegally and perpetuates the trend of hiring illegal aliens to stay in business. In order to combat illegal immigration, America must address the issues of unethical business behavior. While we cannot simply change the ethical reasoning of American culture, we can pass and enforce stricter laws that make unethical decisions more costly than they’re worth. This, combined with the improvement on the naturalization process, will provide businesses with sufficient labor and remove the acceptability of hiring illegal aliens, thus removing any reason for Mexicans to immigrate illegally.
1. “Earnings Gap Highlighted on Educational Attainment.” March 15, 2007. US Census Bureau Data. March 30, 2008. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/009749.html>.
2. “Underscore Value of College Degree.” October 26, 2006.US Census Bureau Data. 25 March 2008. <http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/www/releases/archives/education/007660.html>.
3. Hoefer, Michael; Rytina, Nancy; Campbell, Christopher. “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2006.” August 2007. Homeland Security: Office of Immigration Statistics. 25 March 2008. <http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/ill_pe_2006.pdf>.
4. Rytina, Nancy. “Estimates of the Legal Permanate Resident Population in 2006.” Feb. 2008. Homeland Security: Office of Immigration Statistics. 28 March 2008. <http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/LPR_PE_2006.pdf>.
5. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.” 1 Jan. 2008. . 28 March 2008. <http://data.bls.gov/PDQ/servlet/SurveyOutputServlet?data_tool=latest_numbers&series_id=LNS14000000>.
6. “World Unemployment Rates.” 6 Aug. 2006. Global Career New. 28 March 2008. <http://www.globalcareernews.com/publish/article_6.shtml>.
7. “Fact Sheet: Secure Border Iniative.” 2 Nov. 2007. Homeland Security. 28 March. 2008. <http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/press_release_0794.shtm>.
8. “GNI per capita 2006, Atlas method and PPP.” 14 Sept. 2007. World Development Indicators database, World Bank. 25 Mar. 2008. <http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DATASTATISTICS/Resources/GNIPC.pdf>.
9. “Emma Lazarus Famous Poem.” 28 March. 2008. Statue of Liberty National Monument. 28 March. 2008. <http://www.libertystatepark.com/emma.htm>.
10. Preston, Julia. “Surge Brings New Immigration Backlog to US.” 23 Nov. 2007. International Herald Tribune. 30 Mar. 2008. <httphttp://www.iht.com/articles/2007/11/23/america/23immig.php>.
11. “Behind the Naturalization Backlog: Causes, Context, Concerns.” Feb. 2008. Migration Policy Institute. 30 Mar. 2008. <http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/FS21_NaturalizationBacklog_022608.pdf>.
12. Chertoff, Michael.“Meeting Challenges and Looking Forward.” 14 Dec. 2006. Homeland Security. 30 March 2008. <http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/speeches/sp_1166137816540.shtm>.
13. “2007 Annual Report Highlights.” 11 June 2007. Homeland Security: Citizen and immigration Services Ombudsman. 30 March 2008. <http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cisomb_annualrpt07__June_11_2007_highlights.pdf>.
14. Kirkegaard, Jacob. “Outsourcing—Stains on the White Collar?.” 2005. Institute for International Economics. 30 March 2008. <http://www.iie.com/publications/papers/kirkegaard0204.pdf>.
15. Amiti, Mary. Wei, Shang-Jin. “Demystifying Job Outsourcing.” Dec. 2004. Finance and Development 30 March 2008. <http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2004/12/pdf/amiti.pdf>.
16. “Foreign Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics in 2007.” 26 March 2008. United States Department of Labor. 20 March 2008. <http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/forbrn.pdf>.
17. Navarrette, Ruben. “America’s Mixed Messages to Foreigners at the Gate.” Global Issues, Local Arguments. Ed. June Johnson. New York: Pearson Education, 2007. 148-150.
18. “US- Mexico Border Fence/ Great Wall of Mexico Secure Fence” 9 March. 2007. Global Security. 30 March 2008. <http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/systems/mexico-wall.htm>
19. “The Issue: Immigration” 31 March 2008. New York Times. 30 March 2008. <http://politics.nytimes.com/election-guide/2008/issues/immigration.html>