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.
Author Archives: jakejclark
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.
I found this article earlier this week in my Thursday copy of the New York Times and decided to scan it in. While we argue about whether or not illegals should receive citizenship, some could care less what we decide. This divide speaks to the dire situation many find themselves in upon immigration to America. Many are more concerned with making their living and providing for family outside of the states than they are about whether or not they receive the full benefits that those around them receive. “They aspire to become Americans… but would settle for less if they could work and drive legally, and visit relatives outside the country.” On the other hand, there are those who think that the matter requires more attention. Immigration reform supporters insist that “any alternative would create a disenfranchised underclass.” Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, posits that “to codify a person who lives in this country but will never have an opportunity for citizenship creates a second class. It seems completely un-American.”
After seeing the difference in photographs of the U.S./Mexican border in the past and present, I decided to take a closer look at how 9/11 impacted American public opinion on immigration. I’m linking an article that brings up some interesting points about discriminatory government policies that take place after 9/11. Here are some highlights:
“In 2001, there were roughly 18,000 criminal deportations compared to a projected 91,000 in 2012 — roughly a 400 percent increase, according to data from TRAC.”
“With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security came an avalanche of federal funding. Last year, a pair of economists estimated that the creation of Homeland Security cost the U.S. $589 billion from 2001-2011. Immigration enforcement increased dramatically after September 11. Immigrant removals — including deportations and so-called voluntary departures — went from roughly 200,000 people in 2001 to nearly double that in 2011.”
“An investigation by The Huffington Post into private detention centers in Arizona found a discomforting relationship between corporate profits and private prison growth. Chris Kirkham reports:
In Washington, the industry’s lobbyists have influenced policy to secure growing numbers of federal inmates in its facilities, while encouraging Congress to increase funding for detention bedspace. Here in this southern Arizona community, private prison companies share the spoils of their business with the local government, effectively giving area law enforcement an incentive to apprehend as many undocumented immigrants as they can.
This confluence of forces has contributed to a doubling of the ranks of immigrant detainees, to about 400,000 a year. Nearly half are now held in private prisons, up from one-fourth a decade ago, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The two largest for-profit prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, Inc., have more than doubled their revenues from the immigrant detention business since 2005, according to securities filings.”
To add to this, I also think back to an article I read a while ago. It referenced a futuristic movie, Airplane II: The Sequel, released in the 80’s with a comedic scene that takes place (obviously) in an airport. The airport security use a body scanner that produces images of passengers’ naked bodies, and the joke lies in the male security guard checking out the female passengers. The author of the article brought up two points, saying that he never would have believed someone if they had told him that this technology would real in just a few decades. More specifically, it would be more surprising to learn that not only would we be made to display our naked body to airport security, but almost everyone who flies by plane would be ok with it. I completely agree that I would not have seen this as a possibility a couple decades ago, and I wonder whether 9/11 was the major influencing factor there. If the public couldn’t be persuaded by threats of a plane going down if everyone didn’t follow through with this process, I doubt that anyone would be on board for the current TSA policies in airports today.
Above is a photo of Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and I’ve also attached a copy of an evaluation of the act three years after it was signed into effect. Notably, the congressional evaluation marks a major change in immigration policy brought about by the Immigration Act of 1965: “The operation of the existing safeguards to the American labor market…was reversed. A nonrelative alien intending to take employment is now required to obtain a certification from the Secretary of Labor that (A) his employment will not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of those similarly employed, and (B) that there are not sufficient workers in the United States able, willing, qualified, and available for such employment.” This speaks to a long-lived belief that an influx of immigration will seriously damage the job market, and more importantly shows the discriminatory practices towards people with an outsider status. The fact that neither of these premises are a matter of objective evaluation is indicative of an exclusive practice meant to keep jobs from immigrants while guaranteeing the posterity of those with citizenship.
Interestingly enough, the new standards brought about by the Immigration Act of 1965 superseded those of previous acts that instituted strict quotas, most notably the provisions of the National Origins Act of 1924, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. This brought about a more open policy to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. So while this act in effect allowed more immigrants to enter the country, the makers of the law were still concerned with the loss of opportunity at home for citizens; a reflection of public opinion at the time regarding the view of immigrants and their effect on the country.
Even today, immigrants remain a particularly vulnerable group due to their lack of full-citizenship status or the fact that they are still establishing a foothold in a new country. Recently we’ve seen major events in the news that have adversely affected immigrants, namely the government shutdown and the issues with the Obamacare health insurance site. From the government shutdown article: “The stakes are high for uninsured people, individuals and families who buy their health insurance directly and the entire health care industry. Without a functioning health insurance exchange, many people too sick or too poor to get health insurance under the old rules will remain shut out of the system. The millions of Americans who already buy their own insurance will face major disruptions. Health insurance companies could experience a nightmare scenario where the bulk of the individuals who brave the frustrating sign-up process are those who are sick, desperate for coverage and expensive to treat.” The U.S. is home to more than 21 million immigrants who are not citizens, and for many of them, health coverage is a concern. That is partly because so many of them–both those who came here legally and those who do not have permission to live in the United States–work in low wage jobs that don’t include health coverage. There must be a focus on making government agencies more accommodating for immigrants. True equality should mean that no particular group of people is more vulnerable during government failures like these. Take a look at the articles above for a glimpse into some of the struggles that arise for immigrants.
Our boat reaches the harbor,
a missile gliding into its silo.
Is this “war” really over?
I wait with mama, hunched
beneath her shawl
over the antique samovar,
steeped in worry of our
receipt. Success would be
the best revenge.
A surprisingly peaceful end to a regime
we had hoped would end in a refreshingly
simple mass stabbing.
My country has
and what do you call yours?
At the railing’s edge I can tell that
isn’t as pretty as mama.
Especially with eyes like those,
having seen all walks of our sorrow.