To understand the origins of the conflict surrounding immigration reforms in the U.S. it is necessary to trace the history of immigration into the United States as it explains how the immigration reforms have been an on-going conflict. The foundation of the United States involved immigration of European people into what because the 13 original colonies. These were the English, Scots, Irish, Welsh, Dutch and Germans.
They wrote the declaration of independence, fashioned the constitution with its Bill of Rights and fixed cultural, economic and political pattern, of the country. (www.immigrationcontrol.com) the founding fathers were opposed to mass immigration but did not deter it by federal legislation. They left each state to control its immigration depending on its specific needs.
During the growing years of 1775 to 1830, immigration was increasing and even encouraged. America needed the able men to work in mines, farms, mills, to lay rails and build towns. Immigration brought with it some problems for instance; some entrepreneurs got immigrants to work for them, not because there was a shortage of American workers but to depress on the wages of American workers. The American citizen also became concerned with the increasing political power of the immigrants. (www.immigrationcontrol.com).
Immigration also arose from some changes that occurred in the 19th century in the world. Industrialization, contributed to immigration in the earlier part of the century. The second half of the country was characterized by wars and revolution leading many people to have their homelands as refugees or after having become exiles. At the time, advertisements that showed America to be a land of opportunity and high wages served to attract immigrants to the U.S.
Due to the problem that came with immigration as mentioned above, immigration reforms began and are going on presently. For instance some of the changes that occurred in immigration laws include the immigration Act of 1917 which excluded convicts, prostitutes, anarchist, contract laborers, those likely to become public charges and those advocating overthrow of the government from being possible American immigrants (www.immigrationcontrol.com).
Between the 1960s and today, liberal forces within the democratic party led change where America became more open to other immigrants and not mainly European immigrants. The problem with this is that it led to increased ethnic strife.
Parties to the conflict
The parties to the recent conflict surrounding the new immigration laws are immigrants, the U.S. government, Mexico and the American citizenry. The influx of Mexican immigrants into the U.S. has been fuelled by differences in economic opportunity, violation of human rights, wars and conflicts. To begin with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo extended US citizenship to many Mexican residents of the New Mexico Territory in 1848. Further in 1849, the California Gold Rush led to even more immigration from Mexico. (www.answers.com/)
The Mexican Revolution killed approximately 1 million Mexican and drove another million refugees to the States. This accounts for the legal immigrants.
High levels of poverty in Mexico have led the Mexicans to cross the U.S. Mexico border at whatever cost so that they can obtain jobs no matter how menial. One of the things that have compounded the poverty levels in Mexico is the privatization of Mexico’s banking and telecommunication sectors. This has led to the emergence of a few billionaires with very many poor people due to increased consumer prices, unemployment and wage and benefit reductions. The U.S. employers are also party to the conflict because they are the ones that create the demand for the immigrants.
The government has a stake in this because it does not want to lose the support of big business and also that of the illegal immigrants who form a large voting group. The government also should be seen to be working for the interests of the American public who see the illegal immigrants as a threat to their security and way of life.
Issues in dispute
The main issues in dispute are in this case the same factors that have led to the increase in illegal immigrants in the country. To begin with, there is the problem of the under-enforced Mexico-U.S. border. 10 million illegal immigrants live in the U.S. according to estimates by academic and government agencies (White, 2007). The bulk of these immigrants are Mexican-born.
The border is patrolled by agents of the INS which is understaffed. In addition the institutions mandated to be responsible for the Mexico- U.S border have been done away with by the present U.S. government. The border patrol is supposed to employ approximately 2000 patrol agents at the beginning of the year. In contrast, the Border patrol is provided with funds that can only employ up to 210 agents (White, 2007). This lack of adequate control definitely enhances illegal immigration because the US-Mexico border is left porous leading to increased lawlessness.
Another issue of immense important is the poverty among the Mexico people. World Bank reports poverty to be living at less than a dollar a day. This is the case for most Mexicans. Due to this poverty the immigrants are willing to work for very little pay, with no benefits and under poor working condition. In 1983, the devaluation of the Mexican peso led to the development of U.S owned factories along the Mexican side the U.S. Mexico border.
Corporations closed thousands of factories so they can take advantage of the cheaper costs of operations in terms of decreased cost of labor, little or even absent benefits for the works and poor working conditions. Many Mexicans went to work there for the Mexican side of the Mexico-U.S. border).
Later the same corporations moved to Asia where the cost of labor was even cheaper, he benefits and poor working conditions were acceptable to local government in Asia. The Mexicans were left without jobs and without severance pay. This put them ion a worse off condition. Between 1994 – 1995 privatization of Mexican banking and telecommunication made few billionaires and many more poor Mexicans. (www.usliberals.com,white,2007). These Mexicans are enticed by the promise of the job however low paying in the U.S.
One other issue that comes up in this conflict of immigration reforms is the fact that U.S. employers employ undocumented workers. If they did not hire them influx of immigrants would be slower but these U.S. employers know that the immigrants are desperate and the companies are out to get big profits.
Since the cost of doing business is decreased when the immigrants will take wages, no benefits and agree to work in poor conditions, most employees simply claim that they don’t know that their contractors hired illegal workers. These employers do so without much penalty from the government. If the government fined the companies for this practice of hiring undocumented the employment of illegal immigrants would be on the decline.
The employer gets away with this by simply not scrutinizing the identification cards of the workers well enough so worker with fake green cards, fake social security cards, and temporary employment authorization cards are able to find work. Eduardo Porter wrote that for about $150 on street corners in just about any immigrant neighborhood in California one can get a typical fake ID package including a green card and social security card. It provides cover for employees who if asked can plausibly assert that they believe call their workers are legal (New York Times, April 9).
The government looks the other way, while all this happens. This is another issue, more like a hidden agenda of the government. By allowing the influx of illegal immigrants and not penalizing employers for hiring undocumented works the government is encouraging illegal immigration. What is in it for the government?
The government sees the illegal immigrant community as a source of votes. In ignoring their undocumented state the governments seems to be doing the immigrants a favor which will be a means of enticing the Hispanics to join Republican ranks. In the areas where the Latinos have settled they are fast gaining in office holding position.
There has been an increase of migration into large cities example Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. (Suro and Singer, 2002). They have settled near African American neighborhoods. The result is segregation of the groups but within the same legislative and congressional districts as African-Americans. (Morris & Gimpel, 2007).
As they continue to increase in number they will eventually change the shape of the electrolate at these locations. Subsequently political interests will also change. With time African-American incumbents will be challenged for higher office. (Franklin & Seltzer 2002)
Changing the face of American is another issue that comes to the forefront in the conflict over immigration reforms. This is because with an influx of immigrants, Americanization does not always occur as the immigrants also bring their culture, language and way of life to America and the immigrants are not very open to assimilation. Security concerns in the post September 11 world have also been another issue of concern. (Alvin Powell, 2007)
Tactics employed by the parties against each other
Immigration has brought with it an emergence of multiethnic grouping in large cities in America. This has led to an increase in feelings of contempt for rival groups, leading to social strains within a community. This contributes to high levels of disorder, increased psychological stress and higher levels of mortality. (Morris and Gimpel,2007).
The increase in mortality levels is from violence between the immigrants and natives of American citizenry moreso the Africa Americans who are found in adjacent neighborhoods to the Latinos. This partly explains the deep anti-immigrant sentiments that arose around the 1990s. The government had to do something in response to the outcry from American citizenry. Tactics that U.S. government has used include developing an intensified border, policing militarized operation.
There was a rise in the amount of resources and methods devoted to intensifying border policing. The aim was to defer illegal immigration and establish control of the nations borders (Lopez, 2004). This however, did little to deter the immigration because by the year 2000, in spite of the massive operation, a total of 7.0million unauthorized immigrants resided in the USA (INS estimates).
The stringent border policing was characterized by a rise in human rights abuse. These included shootings, beatings and sexual assault. By making the illegal immigrant look like a dangerous threat to the American way of life, politicians aimed at garnering some votes because to the public it looked like they were doing something to control the menace that was the illegal immigrant. (Lopez, 2004).
Changes that have occurred as the conflict has developed
In 2003, President Bush called for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration Law. He proposed a guest works programme that would allow immigrants into the country for a temporary period of time (six years) so they can fill jobs that would otherwise be unfilled. The president’s plan was later rejected in December 2005. The House instead pushed for the deportation of all illegal immigrants and proposed that any person who assisted the illegal immigrants would be considered a felon (topics.nytimes.com/)
There were many protests organized by church groups and organizations over this proposal. Millions of people participated in protests opposing these reforms and pushing for the legalization of the illegal immigrants already in the U.S. and for fewer Immigration Services delays. Negotiations began again in the spring of 2007.
The plan was to focus on the national security concerns and law enforcement concerns raised by the conservatives, before moving on to address guest workers program and creating a route for illegal immigrants to try to gain legal status. The plan collapsed. Eventually senators on both sides said that at that time it was unlikely a bill could be passed before 2008 elections. (topics.nytimes.com/)
Enlargement of the conflict
The on-going conflict over immigration reforms enlarged especially around the 1990’s when there was a more than doubling in the numbers of illegal immigrants. This resulted in an outcry from groups seeking greater restrictions on immigration and tougher enforcement of immigration lows. (www.cbsnews.com). Steve Camarota, research director for centre of immigration studies was quoted, “these numbers again confirm that America has lost control of its borders.”
The September 11, 2001 terror attacks, resulted in increased scrutiny of the nation’s immigration laws and their enforcement. Americans also feared and still do that the increase in illegal immigrants will lead to a change in the face of the nation. Some Americans even go further as to suggest that should the country ignore the threat of the illegal immigrant, it does so at its own peril. The argument is that eventually America would become a country of two languages, two cultures, with Spanish being the second language.
Due to the increasing number of Hispanics they would fast become the largest minority group and with time Americans who do not know Spanish would be disadvantaged in getting jobs, and generally getting ahead in life. (Lopez, 2004).
Economic competition for jobs and housing among ethnic groups has increased inter-group and racial antagonism. Though there’s much segregation between the Anglo whites and Latino in suburbia, the Latino are better placed placed than the African-Americans in getting residential places. (Chong and Kim, 2006).
This has led to increased social strain among the two groups; the African Americans were there first, so how come the illegal immigrants are getting a better deal than them? American citizenry see the illegal immigrants as the cause of drain on public funds because they are also supported by welfare, get healthcare and get public education while the tax they pay is not adequate to cover these costs.
In addition there has been concern over the political costs of illegal immigration. Poston, Camarota and Baumle in the article “Remaking the Political Landscape” state that political costs to American citizens are something that ought to be considered when debating immigration policy. They argue that immigration redistributes seats because the foreign –born population is so large and so concentrated.
Two –thirds live in just six states. (Poston, Camarota and Baumle, 2003). The solution to this problem is not for the immigrants not to vote because that would infringe upon the rights of the legal immigrants. This problem, gives strength to the argument that the illegal immigrants should be deported and stricter immigration laws enforced as far as some Americans are concerned.
Roles played by other groups
Groups such as church groups went out to protest reforms to deport all illegal immigrants and legislation that would make penalties for illegal immigration higher and anyone who assisted the illegal immigrants a felon. (www.usliberals.com). These groups came out to support many immigrant workers and their families who in 2006 walked boldly through cities all over the nation carrying barriers that proclaimed, ‘We are America.’ These groups in support of the illegal immigrants called for the legislation of the illegal immigrants present in the U.S. and also for fewer immigration service delays (www.usliberals.com).
Other groups of citizens feel strongly against illegal immigration. The group ALIPAC (Americans for legal immigration) sees them as a contributory factor to increase in crime especially in Virginia County. The death of a 29 year old Marin Hazleton at the hands of two illegal immigrants has fuelled the campaign for deportation of immigrants in this area. In Prince William County supervisors have taken immigration reform into their own hands. They voted unanimously to require police officers to ask about immigration status if suspicious somebody may have violated federal immigration law. (www.alipac.us/article2192).
Those groups in support of legalization of illegal immigrants already in the U.S. and those in support of deportation of illegal aliens all seem to reject the president’s guest worker program. The guest worker program fails to realize that the immigrants during their stay in the U.S. will continue to have a life here and thus will have families and form roots. This will not be easy to uproot after the term for working is complete.
Others term the guest worker plan a sort of amnesty plan that will eventually grant illegal immigrants legal status. The center for immigration studies takes a stand slightly different from ALIPAC. They see that the way to repairing the broken down immigration system is to put tighter restrictions so that a smaller group of immigrants come in to the country but being smaller they can be accorded a warmer welcome.
There has been an increase of Minutemen groups made up of American citizens, They police the south American the south American border and confront illegal workers all over the nation. They are calling for higher control of the U.S. Mexican border and especially due to the threat of Islamic terrorists passing through. Some would like a wall to be created between Mexico and the U.S. but this for others would be more a sign of American racism than anything else. (Bruce A. Ritter, 2006)
Outcome of the conflict
The eventual outcome of the conflict is more or less an impasse because the problem of a broken down immigration system is still present; the illegal immigrants are still in the country living in fear of what will happen to them. The American public is still undivided on the issue. There are many unresolved issues for instance, the guest workers plan was rejected and the bill creating a route for illegal migrants to gain legal status was also not passed. If the illegal immigrants are deported both the employers and the immigrants lose because the immigrants will have lost their source of livelihood and the cost of business will increase for the employers.
Realizing that the immigration system has a problem is a step in the right direction and from there amendments can be made that will hopefully make it meet the needs of all the parties involved or at least reach an acceptable compromise.
In certain county’s the American citizenry has taken reforms into their own hands and are requiring policemen to ask the immigration status of individuals if suspicious that they may have broken federal immigration laws. Many Americans are of the opinion that employers who employ undocumented workers should pay a heavy fine or eventually go to jail.
Most believe that the fight for change against illegal immigration begins at the level of the communities by invoking discussions on the topic for example Republicans in Jessamine county hosted a discussion on illegal immigration over breakfast Saturday morning seeking to didn’t out how the government should deal with illegal immigrants some of the ideas they came up with included having employees fined for employing illegal workers. (www.alipac.us/modules).
Which party has emerged the winner?
No party can be said to be a winner because, to begin with much damage has already been done by the breakdown of the immigration system and it will take time to recover from it. This is in terms of depression of the American wages because of illegal entrance which has also led also led to a decline in quality of American life, increased public spending. By sending illegal entrants home, if they do go, not much of the problem is solved because their poverty will still remain with them, though public spending will decrease.
Also statistics show that the illegal immigration may not necessarily be the cause of decreased security and increased rate. The terror attack of September, 11 was done by people who had legal entry into the country (www.usliberal.com) and so deportation of the illegal entrants may not necessarily increase security levels.
The employer will definitely not be winners because they will no longer benefit from cheap labor should be illegal immigrants be deported and should they be legalized then they will expect to enjoy the same benefits as the American citizenry as they will then be legal.
There can only be a certain amount of taking here and giving there to ensure that the needs of all parties have been met and also that the American values have not been lost in the quest for economic sustainability.
Immigration is an issue affected by both economic factors and also American values, in the debate on the immigration reforms American cannot afford to be inhuman in their actions towards the illegal immigrants even though some consider them lawbreakers not innocent victims.
American Response to Immigration, retrieved from www.dextrer.com/articles/immigrationresponse Retrieved July 14, 2007
Alvin Powell, (2000) Immigration Issues are Bound to U.S. Values Harvard News Office.
Bruce A. Ritter, Why America Cannot Solve its Illegal Immigration Problem! The real Truth, June 2006 Issue retrieved from www.realtruth.org/articles/432-wacsiip.htm.
Chong Dennis and Dukhong Kim (2006), The experiments and Effects of Economic Status among Racial and Ethic Minorities, American Political Science Review pp 23-24
Development in the Immigration Debate retrieved from http://topics.rythms.com/top/reference Retrieved July 14, 2007
Diamond Seff 1998, African-American attitudes toward U.S. Immigration Policy International Migration Review.
Dudley L.Poston, Steven Camarota, Amanda K. Baumle, Remaking the Political Landscape, Retrieved from www.cis.org/articles/2003.
Evelyn Crystal Lopez. (2004) Low intensity Conflict – Doctrine Applied: A case Study of Chandler Arizona, Stanford University pp5-11
Franklin, Sckou and Richard Seltzer, (2002) Conflicts and Coalition: Challenge to Black and Latino Political Alliances Western Journal of Black studies Vol 26: 75-88,
Frank Morris and James G. Gimpel (2001) Immigration, Group conflict and the Erosion of African American Political Power in the 21st Century Centre for Immigration Studies: retrieved from www.cis.org/articles/2007/bak201-html. Retrieved July 14 2007
Suro Roberts and Andrey Singer, (2002) Latino Growth in Metropolitan America: Changing Pattern, New locations. Report of the Centre on Urban and Metropolitan policy and the Pew Hispanic Centre, Washington D.C.
www.usliberals.com.about/immigration retrieved July 14, 2007
www.alipac.com/articles/ Retrieved July 14 2007
www.answers.com/topic/immigration.html Retrieved July 14 2007.