Immigrant Labor

Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (the SKILLS Act), which allows more lenient immigration policies for STEM graduates. I saw this as an action very reflective of an attitude we’ve held towards immigrants for at least the past 100 years. Consider that while there is much anti-immigrant sentiment in American public opinion, there is also a high demand for skilled labor which we often fill with immigrants, since Americans don’t often enough have the skillsets for jobs that require an advanced degree. This is very similar to the political cartoon Scarlett posted, which depicts the immigrant as both a burden to the workforce for American workers (by taking a job that an American could theoretically take) but at the same time as a blessing for business owners, who were looking for cheap and plentiful labor. This attitude persists today, as we often hear anti-immigrant sentiment in terms of lost jobs for Americans, and all the while employers benefit from immigration due to their advanced skillsets in the STEM fields.


The Proposal


The Proposal is a 2009 movie about Margaret, an executive editor in chief of a book publishing company in the United States. She learns that she is being deported to Canada, her home country, because she has an expired visa. The following video clip shows the moment when Margaret is informed that she faces deportation.

Source: YouTube

As a result of this revelation, she convinces (or, rather, forces) her assistant, Andrew, to marry her. An immigration agent suspects that Margaret and Andrew are not in love and that they are solely getting married to prevent Margaret from being deported. Margaret and Andrew repeatedly deny this accusation, even though it is true.

The immigration agent informs Margaret and Andrew that he will question them separately about one another to determine whether their marriage is legitimate. If their answers are incorrect, Margaret will be deported to Canada and Andrew will be fined $250,000 and will spend five years in prison for committing a felony. This type of situation is one that happens frequently. An American citizen marries an immigrant so that the immigrant can remain in the country and become a legal citizen. Thus, instances like these make it easier to understand why Americans are rather hesitant to welcome immigrants into the country. If immigrants are successful in outsmarting Americans on their soil, there is likely to be a sense of fear and anger that generates within American citizens because they cannot even maintain authority over their own land.

American Immigration Losing its Appeal?

In an essay written in Forbes magazine, Paul Maidment discusses how immigrants today and in the early 1900s may not have sought permanent residence in the U.S. We often hear about immigrants coming to the U.S., but we don’t hear much about what happens after they arrive. Do they always establish lives on American soil and stay?  Maidment addresses how people immigrate to the U.S. for political or religious reasons, but mostly he claims they seek to make money and support their families.  He also talks about how a lot of early immigrants came to the U.S. to make money, and once they had collected their fill, returned to their home countries.  Has this trend continued to modern day? Do immigrants view America as a permanent home or just a temporary residence? Are those immigrants that have stayed in America motivated by other reasons–such as religious freedom or democracy?

Maidment also acknowledges, “There is little new in the distrust generated by each incoming wave of immigrants,” suggesting an underlying suspicion with which immigrants are regarded. Yet it seems most Americans in general regard immigrants positively. Are some immigrants treated differently than others, depending on the countries from which they’re from? Could this distrust be contributing to immigrants’ desire to return home? Perhaps some immigrants arrive with the intention to return to their home countries, but certainly others consider the possibility of staying permanently. In a Gallup poll ranking countries on their Potential Net Migration Index (PNMI), or the percentage of immigrants who move out of their country compared to the number who choose to move to that country, America scores a 60%. This means there is a strong desire for immigrants to come the U.S., but it is definitely not the highest. In fact, countries like New Zealand and Australia boast PNMIs over 150%. Perhaps immigrating to America is not all that desirable today as it was in the early 1900s. We must ask the question then, do immigrants  seeking the American Dream find it, or are they disappointed by what they find in the U.S. and return home?

The PNMI of the U.S. is 60%, whereas other countries score significantly higher, some even above 150%.

The PNMI of the U.S. is 60%, whereas other countries score significantly higher, some even above 150%.

sources: (PNMI data)

Immigration Conditions Then and Now

Frank B. Lenz’s 1916 article “The Great War’s Effect on Immigration” examines the effect World War I could have on immigration. He notes that immigration into the U.S. from countries in Europe has declined over the course of the war, but he speculates that it will increase dramatically after the war concludes and peace is restored.  Considering there is war occurring today, it is enlightening to consider claims made in this article and compare them to current worldly conditions. For example, Lenz asserts, “The economic conditions in the United States have always been superior to those in the countries of emigration.” It seems a lot of immigrants come to the U.S. under this premise. They think there are better jobs and more money to be made than in the U.S. and so immigrate under any conditions in order to obtain those. But is this really true? The economic conditions in the U.S. are not superior to other countries today, but it seems there is a prevailing idea that the U.S. is always better off economically than the rest of the world. 

Another statement Lenz makes still rings true today. He notes an “attractive force” driving immigration, mainly the “belief and hope that the new land offers opportunities to relieve the uncomfortableness that is felt at home,” or worse conditions in one’s home country. Immigrants in the past have come to the U.S. to seek new opportunities and a better quality of life and continue to do so today. In addition, Lenz proposes that immigration is one of the “biggest, most difficult problems this nation has to deal with,” but is this still true ? It would seem that immigration legislation has been put on the back burner lately as the U.S. deals with more pressing problems, even if the public thinks it is more of a priority than Congress does.

Finally, Lenz thinks the U.S. should focus on the assimilation of immigrants into life in the U.S. by instituting programs to “Americaniz[e]… the immigrant.” Although some may think this is still a prominent issue today, it is arguably less so than in the early 1900s. Immigrants today are left to learn English on their own before becoming citizens, often without the help of the government. Considering there are similar conditions in the world today as there were at the time of the Great War, mainly political and economic turmoil among many countries, some of the same problems surrounding immigration are still in place. It’s interesting to note that some of the same language and calls to action are in place to day as they were in the past, suggesting concerns about immigration were the same in the past as they are now.Great WarGreat WarGreat War


A Different Viewpoint on “The New Colossus”

Source: The Joshua Blog

In one of my previous posts regarding immigration in the early 1900s, I found a poem written by Emma Lazarus. It is titled, “The New Colossus”. The poem is engraved into a plaque on a pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. In the past, this poem was a symbol of hope for immigrants as they entered America. It assured them that their journey was well worth it and that they were on their way to becoming accepted as citizens of America.

I found the above picture from a blog (published in 2010) regarding progressive political news. The picture shows several lines from the poem as a means of depicting the changing public opinion on immigration. While Americans were rather welcoming in the past, people are currently much more hesitant to allow immigrants to enter our country and eventually become citizens. For example, one of the lines above is corrected to read the following: “After eight years, send these, the homeless, back to their home country”. Thus, it appears that many Americans are not keen on the idea of allowing immigrants to eventually become legal citizens. The negative views toward immigration are largely evident in this particular moment, but it is worth noting that positive views regarding immigration are currently prevalent in the United States as well.

U.S. Immigration Policy Since 9/11

To add to one of my earlier posts, I’m posting a link to a paper published in 2011 by Marc Rosenblum. What I didn’t realize before reading this was that America was poised for major progressive changes to immigration policy immediately preceding the events of 9/11. I guess I would have been too young to have remembered what the climate was like in regard to the ongoing immigration debate. There was even a proposal on the table very similar to what we’ve seen in the news lately. For illegal immigrants who would otherwise qualify for a green card, there was a proposed path to citizenship rather than the enforcement policies of deportation that followed 9/11. With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the expansion of power in the government on border-related issues, and the increased attention to border security in the wake of counter-terrorism, it naturally became much more difficult to enter the country, especially for those of Middle Eastern descent. Many became victims of racial profiling as anti-immigrant sentiment skyrocketed across America. It’s difficult to believe that it took over a decade to get past this sentiment and pick up the immigration debate where we left off back in 2001.

Immigration: Lack of Importance in Presidency


In thinking about public opinion surrounding the issue of immigration, it appears as though there is not a sense of urgency for immigration reform. While Americans do acknowledge that there are insufficient laws in place regarding immigration, they do not view it as a top priority for Barack Obama to attend to in his second term of presidency. In a poll conducted right after the election by Gallup in November of 2012, Americans were asked the following question: “How important it is that President Obama provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants living in the U.S.?” In response, 37% said that this is extremely/very important, 33% said that this is somewhat important, and 29% said that this is not too/not at all important. Thus, it appears as though immigration reform is not a major concern for Americans. In fact, on a list of twelve different issues, immigration reform ranked as number eleven in importance.

On a similar topic, 67% of Americans said that it was extremely/very important that President Obama stop illegal immigration into the U.S., whereas only 14% said that it is not too/not at all important. While this issue still only ranked number eight out of twelve, it was still a higher priority than that regarding immigration reform. Why is it that Americans feel the need to stop illegal immigration altogether rather than finding a path to citizenship for these illegal immigrants?  I wonder if it is simply out of fear, laziness, or a combination of the two.