The United States is a country built on immigration, both legal and illegal. One of the most influential groups in terms of immigration in America is the Latin American demographic. Latin Americans influence everything from their local economies, politics, culture and society in general. There are a number of arguments made both for and against continued immigration by Latinos, from the fact that all Americans are descended from immigrants to the fact that they provide needed labor in areas that many American citizens are less inclined to work in.
The argument against immigration is that allowing Latin Americans in steals jobs from U.S. citizens, they contribute unduly to crime statistics or that they take advantage of social services reserved for legal Americans without paying the taxes that keep these programs in service. In this paper, I will present a brief history of Latin American immigration and present arguments both for and against continued movement into the United States. The close of the paper will be reserved for my opinion on what the best course of action would be to curtail the problems facing immigration in the United States.
“The first significant wave of Mexican workers coming into the United States began in the early years of the twentieth century, following the curtailment of Japanese immigration in 1907 and the consequent drying up of cheap Asian labor. The need for Mexican labor increased sharply when the Unites States entered World War I. The Mexican government agreed to export Mexican workers as contract laborers to enable American workers to fight overseas. After the war, an intensifying nativist climate led to restrictive quotas on immigration from Europe and to the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol, aimed at cutting back the flow of Mexicans.
But economic demand for unskilled migrant workers continued throughout the Roaring Twenties, encouraging Mexican immigrants to cross the border—legally or not.” This early need for labor, stemming both from a lack of available men due to the war effort and a distrust of Asian immigrants, became the catalyst for Mexican workers to begin migrating into the U.S. The ready work, better wages compared to those in their home country and promise of a better life either in the United States or back in their home countries, led many Latinos to cross the border
and begin settling and working in America.
The early influx of Latino laborers helped combat the loss of American men to the war effort in Europe. World War I and World War II diverted a great many American males to Europe and the Pacific to serve in the military, which left businesses short on labor. Although women started entering the work force at this time, there still was a dearth of labor to fill all the roles that had opened up with the mass exodus of American males into the military.
Following the return of the United States military after the war effort subsided, there was less need for immigrant labor and so a great many of the Latino workers returned to their home countries. The desire for legal immigrant labor to fill necessary position started evolving into its current state, whereby businesses supplant legal workers with illegal workers, thus gaining access to the labor that their businesses require while only paying a fraction of the wages that legal citizens would demand.
“One of the tools conservatives have used very successfully over the past 25 years to drive down wages, bust unions, and increase CEO salaries has been to encourage illegal immigrant labor in the US. Their technique is transparently simple. Conservatives well understand supply and demand. If there’s more of something, its price goes down. If it becomes scarce, its price goes up.
They also understand that this applies just as readily to labor as it does to houses, cars, soybeans, or oil. While the history of much of the progressive movement in the United States has been to control the supply of labor (mostly through pushing for maximum-hour, right-to-strike, and child-labor laws) to thus be able to bargain decent wages for working people, the history of conservative America has, from its earliest days grounded in slavery and indentured workers from Europe, been to increase the supply of labor and drive down its cost.”
The Latino people who immigrated here had motives different from those of the businesses bringing them here; to an immigrant, America was a land of endless opportunities, where they could either settle their families and begin a new life or earn enough money to return to their country of origin and live a comfortable life there. While some immigrants were no doubt coming to America to accomplish criminal goals, the majority were everyday people looking for a better life for themselves and their families.
The problems facing illegal immigrants in the United States today are numerous. There are many who seek nothing more than to legalize their status as American citizens, while others would be happy to simply receive work visas that would legalize their status within America and allow them to work without fear of harassment, arrest or deportation. Among the many problems that immigrants face are the following:
The type and quality of education available to these new residents—desperate to learn English—and to their children. Economic issues: the lack of secure jobs that pay an often undocumented population, and their resulting poor or crowded housing. Isolation in immigrant and refugee communities: isolation from services that could help them, as well as the emotional isolation caused by the stress.
Prejudice and discrimination that new immigrants and refugees report they face, as well as the cultural differences that may deter them from seeking and receiving services.
The language barrier is perhaps the most important barrier facing these immigrants. The inability to speak English in America is a warning sign the person may be an illegal immigrant, it is harder to read signs or directions, many services are staffed by English speakers and therefore may be unable to understand what the Spanish speaker wants and it is harder to apply for jobs if the person is unable to decipher what the application is asking of them. For most Americans, this isn’t an issue facing them, but for an illegal immigrant with limited access to educational opportunities or translators, it is a major hurdle that they may be unable to overcome.
The inability to speak English is a major hurdle in areas with robust law enforcement and laws that are in place to detain and deport illegal immigrants. In Arizona, laws are on the books that allow police to “check the immigration status of anyone pulled over. This could be as simple as an officer walking by a group of Latinos speaking in the native tongue and asking for papers.
If they can’t provide documentation, they could be arrested as illegal aliens, creating an atmosphere where people are afraid to be caught using their own language, but are unable to communicate effectively enough in English to get the help they need to master it. The major problem with this is that people oftentimes complain that immigrants don’t want to learn English, but the ones that do are unable to access the tools or services they need to meet this requirement.
The inability to read signs is another enormous hurdle facing immigrants; many signs are in English only and may contain important directions or warnings that people who are unable to speak or read in English won’t be able to understand. Road construction warnings, directions to important buildings like hospitals or hazard warnings due to inclement weather will be beyond the ability of these people to either follow or fathom. If an immigrant is injured while working on a remote job site and is unable to speak English, they won’t be able to call emergency services for a paramedic.
If this occurs, the only recourse is for another worker to drive the injured party to a nearby hospital. If the person is severely injured, possibly bleeding heavily and neither person in the vehicle can read the English language directions, valuable minutes may be wasted while they drive aimlessly looking for a hospital that would be easily reached by someone with the ability to read the signs directing them to the hospital’s location.
Another important hurdle is that non-English speakers have fewer labor protections than English speakers do. An unscrupulous business owner could take advantage of the fact that these people are unlikely to go to the authorities if they are taken advantage of and then under pay, force them to work in unsafe conditions or work hours that an English speaker would know were illegal and would be able to get the help to put a stop to it. A non-English speaker may be afraid to come forward and risk arrest or deportation and will then simply endure the miserable conditions and continue to work for less than fair pay.
“Immigrants are often identified as a “vulnerable population”—that is, a group at increased risk for poor physical, psychological, and social health outcomes and inadequate health care.(healthaffairs.org) Vulnerability is shaped by many factors, including political and social marginalization and a lack of socioeconomic and societal resources. Addressing the health care needs of immigrant populations is challenging both because of the heterogeneity of this group and because recent federal and state policies have restricted some immigrants’ access to health care.
These policies have exacerbated existing differences in access (for example, legal residents versus undocumented and long-term residents versus recent arrivals). The stigma associated with some forms of immigration status (for example, undocumented versus refugee) can also contribute to vulnerability.” This is a different issue than that of reading signs adequately; the inability to properly speak in English puts immigrants in a dangerous situation where they are oftentimes working in unsafe conditions but are unable to obtain health care in case of an injury. A debilitating injury could not only cost the immigrant their job, but put them at risk of further harm when they can’t get the medical care that would be required to properly nurse them back to health.
This puts an enormous strain not only on the families of the injured workers, but on the low cost health care alternatives available in the areas that immigrants live in, as they won’t be able to afford proper care at a hospital and are relegated to seeking recourse at a free clinic or some similar institution. When this occurs, these institutions are unable to keep up with the demands placed on them by their normal clientele and are forced to back log cases resulting in even more harm to the health of all the affected individuals. This spiraling problem could conceivably become so dire that entire areas are denied health care access while the back log is cleared out.
The next hurdle facing immigrants is the quality of education available to both themselves and their families. Non-English speakers in areas where their native tongue is not used frequently may be unable to gain access to schools or teachers who could either teach the English or provide education at a level befitting their intelligence instead of teaching them more basic information because it is assumed that the inability to speak English denotes a learning disorder instead of simply being a problem caused by coming from a country where English is not the language spoken most frequently.
“Much of the participation gap can be explained by just a few economic and socio-demographic factors, the authors find. To some extent, the factors that affect disadvantaged immigrant children resemble those of their similarly disadvantaged native counterparts. Affordability, availability, and access to ECE programs are structural barriers for many immigrant families, as they are for disadvantaged families more generally.
Language barriers, bureaucratic complexity, and distrust of government programs, especially among undocumented immigrants, are unique challenges that may prevent some immigrant families from taking advantage of ECE programs, even when their children might qualify for subsidies. Cultural preferences for parental care at home can also be a barrier.
Housing is another major issue facing immigrants, especially illegal ones. These people are forced to live in the most destitute areas due to the low paying jobs they take and since they have no formal status as American citizens, will often times crowd into homes too small for the number of people living there, creating dangerous situations such as fire hazards or the spread of disease.
These houses may also lack basic amenities, which can lead to sickness in the weaker members of a family or to a lack of hygiene which will further impair the immigrant’s ability to secure work or better housing. “Like all renters, immigrants have faced an economic squeeze over the past decade, as rents have risen while incomes have remained flat. The median income for households headed by foreign-born New Yorkers is $35,500, significantly less than the median income of native born–headed households.
Even as the city has seen high levels of new construction, the number of units that are affordable for low- to middle-income families has decreased precipitously. From 2002 to 2005, the city lost more than 205,000 units affordable to the typical household. The median monthly rent for unsubsidized apartments in the city increased by 8 percent, while the citywide median income fell by 6.3 percent. For unsubsidized low-income renters – a group that includes a disproportionate share of immigrants – the typical share of earnings spent on rent rose from 43 percent to more than half of income, in just three years.
The foreclosure crisis is exacerbating the problem, and even drop in real estate prices is providing little relief. Rent declines are concentrated in Manhattan luxury housing, the only part of the market with a high vacancy rate. In the outer boroughs, where most New Yorkers and most immigrants live, widespread foreclosures are leading to the eviction of tenants and homeowners alike.”
The next major issue is that of isolation in immigrant communities. Many immigrants are very aware of the negative public opinion of illegal immigrants and even if they are here legally, may be afraid they will be viewed in the same light as those who did not arrive in the appropriate manner.
This isolation can result in depression, drug use or an inability to access medical and social services that they are in dire need of. An immigrant who feels isolated by public pressure may pull his or her children from public schools, further exacerbating the educational crisis facing many of them and creating another generation of immigrants unable or seemingly unwilling to assimilate into American culture.
“Past research on immigration has conceptualized the adaptation of immigrants to their new cultural and social environment as a multifaceted process involving different patterns and strategies. From a broad perspective, adaptation is a process of change and adjustment to new environmental conditions. Although there is no agreement in research on how to define and measure adaptation while moving from one culture to another, it has been suggested that most migrants go through initial “culture shock”, which has significant consequences for their wellbeing.
The extent and outcomes of this “culture shock” and following adaptation may depend on many factors, from cultural distance to migration motivation and expectations. Adaptation of immigrants can be defined as the process of “fitting in” to the society of settlement and functioning successfully in a new environment. Two distinct aspects of intercultural adaptation have been identified on the basis of past research. The first is socio-cultural adaptation, which is based on the culture learning approach and reflects the ability to engage in constructive interaction with a different culture.
The other is psychological adjustment, which facilitates the individual’s sense of wellbeing, positive appraisal of situations and general satisfaction with life.” This as noted is with Russians into New Zealand but American immigrants face the same challenges as does any immigrant anywhere.
The final major hurdle facing immigrants is that of prejudiced attitudes by the citizens of the host country. As seen in some parts of America today, there are a number of people with negative attitudes towards all immigrants, legal or illegal. When added to the problems already facing immigrants, this last obstacle can prove almost insurmountable. An immigrant may have the best intentions of assimilating into the host countries society, but find the avenues to do this blocked by people in positions of power who do their utmost to prevent them from making headway, either by creating laws to hamper immigrants from arriving or becoming successful, to denying them basic services and amenities that they need in order to become part of the culture or to take care of their families.
“We’re highly dependent on people in our own groups. In fact, one could argue that our highly ultra-social, interdependent form of group living may be the most important human adaptation. People tend to be invested in members of their groups, to have ongoing histories of fair exchanges and reciprocal relations, to treat one another reasonably well, to create and follow a set of agreed-upon norms, and thereby build up trust.
Outsiders aren’t going to have that same built-up investment in us or our group. Because of this, we tend to believe that people who are foreign to us are more likely to pose certain kinds of threats: We believe they may be more interested in taking our resources, more likely to cheat us in exchanges, to violate our norms and values, to take more than their fair share, and the like. These perceptions of threats are linked to negative emotions such as anger and moral disgust that contribute to anti-immigrant prejudices.
The solutions to these problems are as varied as the problems themselves. In order to help alleviate the problem of illegal immigration, an easier to utilize and more streamlined policy for legal immigration is a must. A good system would involve fast tracking candidates who possess skills needed in America, while providing a system for normal laborers to get in quickly as well.
A way to help new immigrants would be to set up camps where they could learn English and important facets of American culture and law while waiting for their paperwork to process. The system could be set up to require that these new immigrants show a basic competency in English and maneuvering through American society before they are granted full citizenship. There have been a number of programs and ideas put forth to help immigrants, with such as the Dream Act.
“Over three million students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Most get the opportunity to test their dreams and live their American story. However, a group of approximately 65,000 youth do not get this opportunity; they are smeared with an inherited title, an illegal immigrant. These youth have lived in the United States for most of their lives and want nothing more than to be recognized for what they are, Americans. The DREAM Act is a bipartisan legislation ‒ pioneered by Sen.
Orin Hatch [R-UT] and Sen. Richard Durbin [D-IL] ‒ that can solve this hemorrhaging injustice in our society. Under the rigorous provisions of the DREAM Act, qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a 6 year long conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service.”
An example of one policy that aims to help immigrants shows how much added pressure is put on immigrants in order to satisfy the political views of prejudiced voters, “A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday unveiled long-awaited landmark legislation to remove the threat of deportation for millions of illegal immigrants, giving them an opportunity to apply for permanent legal status within 10 years and eventually for U.S. citizenship.
Under the proposal, undocumented immigrants who came to America before Dec. 31, 2011 and stayed continuously could apply for “provisional” legal status as soon as six months after the bill is signed by the president. But beyond that, they would have to wait, perhaps for a decade or more without receiving federal benefits, while the government meets a host of tough conditions for securing U.S. borders and enforcing current immigration law.
The bill’s sponsors – four Democrats and four Republicans -felt such conditions and enforcement “triggers” to be necessary in order to help it succeed where similar measures have failed, mostly because of opposition to what opponents see as “amnesty” for law-breakers.”
This policy at first seems like a great start towards helping immigrants, but the hurdles and the number of caveats attached make it so difficult for these people to attain that a great many of them, especially those of limited education, may simply continue subsisting the way they have instead of doing all the work required knowing that there would still be a long wait until they were recognized as full citizens.
In closing, my opinion is that the Dream Act is the basis that elected officials should use to craft future immigration reform. It offers attainable goals, the timeline is short and if the goals are met, the immigrants will have proven that they are as “American” as those born here. While the Dream Act only helps children of illegal immigrants, similar provisions could be added into such a law to help the adult members of this community become full citizens.
Rather than viewing immigrants as an obstacle that we must overcome, we should instead remember that at one time, all Americans were immigrants and that this country was founded on the ideal that it would provide safety and respite to those in need and those who wanted to become a member of this society. An influx of vibrant people from other cultures only opens the doors to new ideas, new business opportunities and potentially new friends.
Peter Morton Coan, Toward a Better Life: America’s New Immigrants in Their Own Words–From Ellis Island to the Present. Prometheus Books 2011.
Stephen Yale-Loehr, Green Card Stories. Umbrage Editions 2011. Common Dreams. Stop Allowing the Wealthy to Treat Undocumented Immigrants Like Slaves https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/03/13-10
Kathryn Derose. Immigrants And Health Care: Sources Of Vulnerability
Brad Lander. Confronting the Housing Squeeze: Challenges Facing Immigrant Tenants, and What New York Can Dohttp://prattcenter.net/sites/default/files/publications/Confronting%20the%20Housing%20Squeeze.pdf Randal Archibold. Arizona Enacts Stringent Law on Immigration.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/24/us/politics/24immig.html?_r=0 Lake Snell Perry Mermin. Challenges Facing New Immigrants and Refugeeshttp://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/bitstreams/21623.pdf Harvard Magazine. Uneasy Neighbors: A Brief History of Mexican-U.S. Migration
http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/05/uneasy-neighbors-a-brief-html Dream act FAQS. http://dreamact.info/faq/1#1n5252
Karoly, LA. Early care and education for children in immigrant families
Sophie Bushwick. What Causes Prejudice against Immigrants, and How Can It Be Tamed? http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=what-causes-prejudice-aga Elise Foley. Dream Act To Be Reintroduced In House As Immigration Push Grows