MUSE Spotlight on Immigration
Immigration has been a hot button issue in American society and politics since before the Civil War. The Know-Nothing Party, also known as the American Party or the Native American Party, was a nativist party in the 1850s. Emma Lazarus’s poem celebrating immigration, “The New Colossus,” was written in 1883. Each group of new immigrants with different religious or ethnic backgrounds brought calls for immigration restrictions. The Immigration Act of 1924 set immigration quotas based on the United States population in 1890. Racism against Asians became a core element of immigration policy. These quotas remained in place until the Immigration and Naturalization Act was passed in 1965. Many new immigrants have come to the U.S. in the last half century from Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Unauthorized or illegal immigrants add several million to the population each year. This influx of persons of color is expected to result in a nonwhite majority by the middle of this century. Is it a surprise that xenophobia or racism is still a factor in American society?
What did the 1965 immigration law do and what didn’t it do? Maddalena Marinari, ““Americans Must Show Justice in Immigration Policies Too”: The Passage of the 1965 Immigration Act”, Journal of Policy History, v. 26, no. 2 (2014) describes not only the lifting of the quotas on Asians, but also the imposition of a ceiling on immigration from the Americas. Marinari argues that powerful southern Democrats and conservatives in Congress insisted on the restrictions on Western Hemisphere immigration. One result of this policy is the increase in illegal immigration from the Americas that is at the heart of our current politics.
Rhys H. Williams, “Immigration and National Identity in Obama’s America: The Expansion of Culture-War Politics”, Canadian Review of American Studies, v. 42, no. 3 (2012) argues that the culture wars of the 1990s and early 2000s over abortion and same-sex marriage have shifted during Obama’s presidency to include immigration. The combination of race, religion, and national identity has created a new element in American politics.
What is the economic impact of our current immigration policy? George J. Borjas, Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy, (Princeton, 2011) shows that the economic results of immigration are mixed. Borjas, a Cuban immigrant, reveals that the skills sets and economic performance of immigrants have declined, immigrant earnings will continue to lag behind, national origin matters, immigration harmed the economic opportunities of the least skilled natives, immigrants had a severe fiscal impact on their local states, net economic gains from immigrants are small, ethnic skill differentials may persist, ethnic spillovers influence social mobility, and ethnic ghettos slow down the melting pot. What kind of immigration policy should we have compared to our current policy?
Immanuel Ness, Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism (Illinois, 2011) describes the effects on labor markets of guest worker programs. These programs, developed in response to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1968, benefit business at the expense of low wage workers. Ness reviews the effects of current immigration policy, nativist xenophobia, and global capital on the working class. The author also discusses the role that organized labor plays, and could play, in this global economic environment.
Two articles look at the economic situation of American immigrants. Rubén Hernández-León and Sarah Morando Lakhani, “Gender, Bilingualism, and the Early Occupational Careers of Second-Generation Mexicans in the South“, Social Forces, v. 92, no. 1 (September 2013) describes the dynamics of Mexican American young adults working in the Dalton County, Georgia carpet industry. Finally, Samuel M. Otterstrom and Benjamin F. Tillman, “Income Change and Circular Migration: The Curious Case of Mobile Puerto Ricans, 1995-2010″, Journal of Latin American Geography, v. 12, no. 3 (2013) compares the economic status of Puerto Ricans who have been working in Orlando, Florida and returning to Puerto Rico versus new arrivals to the United States.
Immigration to the United States has been controversial for a long time. Update yourself on issues regarding American immigration policy and practice.