5) Jaime Ortega: Illegal immigration has been an historic problem in American since the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty. Back in the 1950’s the American economy was booming and in great shape with an unrestrained border and illegal immigration did not seem to be much of an issue as today. What is sinking the economy more into a sinkhole, the US citizens who are exploiting the welfare state or illegal immigrants who don’t pay taxes but do work to help market production rise?
JVK: Undocumented workers are not so much an issue about economics but rightwing populist and often racist politics. Throughout history immigrant labor had very solid benefits to the US economy and society and informed critics know this to be the case. Nevertheless, politicians and the media present the immigrant issue as a problem in the economy, though after 9/11 they link it to terrorism. Some rightwing analysts link undocumented workers who are nothing more than economic refugees to security and by implication terrorism, although there is no empirical evidence of such linkage. The following excerpt is typical of how rightwing analysts are using terrorism to instill fear in politicians and the public when it comes to undocumented workers.
“They (illegal aliens) also take away value by weakening the legal and national security environment. Even though they pose no direct security threat, the presence of millions of undocumented migrants distorts the law, distracts resources, and effectively creates a cover for terrorists and criminals. In other words, the real problem presented by illegal immigration is security, not the supposed threat to the economy.” (Tim Kane and K. A. Johnson, The Heritage Foundation). The linkage between terrorism and undocumented workers is as absurd as the one that undocumented workers are a destructive force in the economy; they sponge off the welfare system, pay no taxes, spread diseases, and commit crimes. Critics of immigration policy are driven by ideology, xenophobia and racism. Above all, they are hypocrites because they would never advance the same arguments in case of illegal immigrants is they came from northwest Europe.
Immigration has political, social, racial/ethnic, and cultural dimensions and it has been around since the founding of the Republic. John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 to limit the rights of immigrants because the Federalists in power viewed immigrants as part of the popular base of Thomas Jefferson who supported the French Revolution at the time. Half a century later the “Know Nothing” movement revived the “ethnic purity” argument in a country that was predominantly Anglo-Saxon but clearly one of immigrants, with African slaves and American native population whose lands were colonized. Coinciding with the Spanish-American War (1998), once again the anti-immigration elements organized against Asians resulting in the limitation of Chinese immigrants. This too was a reaction to the depression of the 1890s and the search to find a scapegoat for structural problems in the US economy.
The upward mobility of immigrants phenomenon doing better than “natives” pertains more to the second generation immigrants and not so much to first generation that encounter problems integrating fully into society. One explanation for the immigrants tending to grab at any opportunity and crave upward mobility is their fear of finding ahead of them what they left behind in the old country. The spirit of competition is much higher because they are outsiders whose psychology is very different than that of the native population. In fact, the American Dream has a much greater appeal to the immigrant worker than it does to the college student who has doubts about the institutional system delivering what politicians and the media advertise.
While the immigrant aims toward integration into the institutional mainstream, a segment of the native population regards it with suspicion. All immigrants, including black immigrants who know the history of racism in America, are actually driven by the same sense of excelling through conformity whereas the same people would not do as much in their own countries. However, as the chart below indicates, recent and long-term immigrants lag far behind the native population in every respect from housing ownership to income. The same holds true for Hispanics, who actually lag even more than the overall US immigrant population according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies.