The concern about the impact that immigration impose on American society is not a new one. Since the discovery of the New World immigrants from all over the world moved to American continent in search of a better life, that this vast and rich in sources, yet scarce in population land had promised them. Soon the immigrants outnumbered the native population. They came from England, Europe and Asia. In addition, millions of Africans were imported as slaves. By 1700 the United States became a country of immigrants and more were still to come.
At that time America welcomed everybody who ventured to settle in the new country.
At the end of the last century, however, not all immigrants were gladly received. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 shut the door for Chines immigrants. It was followed by Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924 which restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 restricted the number of immigrants from every nation.
Today, as the United States experience “the fourth wave” of immigration, the debate about what to do about it heats up. According to Linda Chavez, “In 1993 […],over 800,000 legal immigrants were admitted to the United States and an estimated 300,000 illegal aliens settled here, more or less permanently. Over the last decade, as many as ten million legal and illegal immigrants established permanent residence…” (327). However, as Kenney David remarks the numbers by themselves, may not be so disturbing, for the foreign-born people represent only 8.7 percent of entire population of the United States (311). What bothers many Americans is the fact that the majority of immigrants comes from Latin America, predominately Mexico.
The main objective of so-called “nativists”, to whom one can refer Nicolaus Mills, is that the growing ratio of Hispanics leads to disintegration of the American nation as a union. In his article called “Lifeboat Ethics and Immigration Fears” he explores the issue of immigration and the problems it causes. Mills sees immigration as a threat to American nation as an ethnic group. He expresses his concern that high birth rates and liberal immigration laws allowing to bring relatives result in a high percentage of Mexican population in some areas. In his article Mills agrees with Peter Brimelow saying that “the current mass immigration from predominantly non-European countries threatens not ‘only racial hegemony of white Americans’ but the ethnic balance responsible for our social cohesion as a nation”(339).
The next issue that Mills rises in his article is the economic effect of immigration. Here, he agrees with many nativists that due to the character of the modern immigration which according to them consists mainly from undereducated and unskilled people and due to the liberal immigration laws, the society takes upon itself additional expenses to take care of their children and elderly relatives. And yet the illegal immigration is even bigger issue. He gives an example of California where “the cost to taxpayers of illegal aliens and their U.S. born children [is] at $3 billion annually” (340). Many of them receive the same aid from the government as the citizens do. According to Mills, “[m]ore than a quarter of all immigrants over the age of sixty-five now receive SSI, at a cost of $2 billion annually”, he points out and goes on to say that “it cost the seven states with the highest number of immigrants $3.1 billion to educate 641,000 undocumented children” (344). Mills insist the government should stop giving out favors to immigrants. Therefore, he supports the Proposition 187, which was “designed to cut virtually all state aid” to illegal immigrants (340). In addition, he is against the law granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants and their mothers. Mills calls this law a loophole and an invitation for exploitation (343). However, not only expenses on welfare and education worry Mills. He also opposes the impact of immigration on native workers, who have to compete with immigrants for jobs, wages and housing. “According to the economist George Borjas, a third of their [native workers] decline in wages during the 1980s was a result of immigration”, Mills point out (346). In addition, Mills argues with those who praise the immigrants for “revival of our inner cities” on expense of those born in the United States. “Are they to be pushed to still more neglected neighborhoods?”, he wonders (345). On the whole, Mills insists that the American society should take a better care of its own members before supporting the immigrants. He concludes his argument making a strong point by saying “There is no credible way to talk about compassion for those living beyond our borders when we have so little regard for the needs of our own poor’ (347).
Mills position is quite clear and coincides with a popular opinion that the immigration has a negative impact. He quots the results of 1993 Yankeovich poll reporting that seventy three percent of nation wants the government to take tougher sanctions on immigration (314). But Mills goes further expressing intolerance of any immigration whether it is legal or illegal and his article confirms the point of view of some radicals that the authorities of the United States need to sign the moratorium on the immigration. According to Mills “It is a lifeboat ethics that says we aren’t making it as a nation and that taking on even more people can only make our problems worse” (340).
Notwithstanding, that not everybody opposes immigration. The pro-immigration liberals argue that immigrants do not present any threat to the American culture and identity and that the society could only benefit economically by accepting more of them. David Kennedy, a professor of American history at Stanford University, is one of the defenders of pro-immigration policy. In his article “Can We Still Afford to Be a Nation of Immigrants?” he relying on historical evidence and contemporary statistics tries to convince the audience that America needs immigrants. Like Mills, Kennedy is also concerned about the impact of immigration on American culture and ethnicity. He even goes further supposing that Mexican-Americans could “challenge the existing cultural, political, legal, commercial, and educational systems to change fundamentally not only language but also the very institutions in which they do business” (314). But unlike Mills, who views the solution of the problem in abolishing immigration altogether, Kennedy suggests to be “less confrontational, more generous, and more welcoming than our current anxieties sometimes incline us to be”(315). He points out that, first of all, we can not predict the consequences of this phenomena, as there was no such precedent in American history when “[no other]immigrant group had the size and concentration and easy access to its original culture that the Mexican immigrant in the Southwest today” (315). Secondly, he acknowledges the possibility that the American Southwest may become “a kind of Chicano Quebec”, but he is convinced that we should help the immigrants “become as well integrated in the larger American society” as were the earlier immigrants, rather than step on the path of a “cultural warfare”(315). As one can see, although Kennedy express the same concern as Mills does, his way to deal with the problem is quite different.
The other aspect where Kennedy’s point of view is altered from that of Mills’ is the economic. Kennedy, unlike Mills who sees the immigration as a burden, tries to convince us that “immigration is a bargain for any receiving society”(311). First of all, in an attempt to support his argument Kennedy suggests to look at the numbers more thoughtfully. For example, the numbers of immigrants entering the United States given in the introduction of this article may seem very high, but taking into consideration that the population of the country also grows, “the relative incidence of current immigration to the United States is rather modest,” as Kennedy puts it (311). According to the U.S. Census Bureau reports in 1994 the foreign-born people represented only 8.7% of the American population (311). Secondly, in order to have a clear understanding of the economic impact of immigration on the nation, one should weight not only expenses, but profits as well. Here, Kennedy gives an example to support his argument, which Mills does not take into consideration when he criticizes pro-immigration enthusiasts for welcoming immigrants. Kennedy mentions the fact that many immigrants come to the country as well-educated productive workers. Their native country raised them and gave them an education, whereas the receiving country rips the fruits by using them, so to say. In this case, as Kennedy puts it, “the source society has in effect subsidized the economy of the host society” (312). As well as Mills, Kennedy explores the impact of low-skilled immigrants on the American economy, but two of them disagree on results . Although Kennedy acknowledges that “large numbers of unskilled immigrants may in the long run retard still higher potential outputs” and impose hardships on the low-skilled native workers, but as long as the host society needs them “the availability of unskilled immigrants may increase the economy’s overall efficiency by freeing significant numbers of better-educated native workers to pursue higher-productivity employment”(312). Furthermore, Kennedy also recognizes the fact that only 20 percent come to the United States under “employment-based” criteria (312). He agrees with Mills that much larger numbers of immigrants come as relatives of citizens and legal aliens and some of them do become dependents on Welfare, but Kennedy is certain that “immigrants are not parasitic on the “native” economy but productive participants in it” (313). He supports this statement by saying that unemployment rates among immigrants are not higher than among native workers (313).To support his reason that the country needs immigrants Kennedy refers to the numbers given by the Stanford economist Clark W. Reynolds who concluded that “The United States, in contrast, if its economy to grow at a rate of three percent a year, must find somewhat between five million and 15 million more workers than can be supplied by domestic sources”(313). Finally, summarizing the economic aspect of immigration, Kennedy returns to his question of whether the United States can afford to be a nation of immigrants and paraphrases it into Can it afford not to be? Thus, underlining his view that an immigrants an important economic resource and the American society needs them as much as they need it.
Despite the fact that both articles have more differences than similarities, there is no doubt that the compromise can be found. First of all, both Mills and Kennedy should realize that their propositions are too extreme. While to close the borders as Mills suggests is unrealistic, to increase the flow of immigration as suggests Kennedy may cause problems, which the author does not take into consideration in his article, such as overpopulation, dwindling resources, pollution and so on. Therefore, the compromise may be obtained in accepting the middle position, which is very well presented by Linda Chavez in the article “What to Do about Immigration.” She agrees with Mills that some immigrants burden the society with additional expenses. But she is only against those who come to the United States illegally and live on Welfare. She is against those who do not bother to learn language, demand bilingual education and oppose Only-English government policy. At the same time she does not deny that some immigrants become benefit the society. “Most immigrants still seem to personify the very traits we think of as typically American: optimism, ambition, perseverance – the qualities that have made this country great” (336). She gives examples of immigrants who were and are successful in their new motherland and who contribute to the prosperity of the country. Chavez talks about positive changes in urban America. She praises hard-working immigrants who “still take the difficult, often dirty, low-paying, thankless jobs that other Americans shun” (337). On top of that, she argues with Mills that even poor and uneducated immigrants “show few of the dysfunctional characteristics of unemployment, crime, welfare dependency, and drug use common among the city’s black and Puerto Rican underclass”(311). In one word, while she, unlike Kennedy does not see the urge to invite more immigrants, her position towards immigration is positive. At the same time she shares the same opinion that that due to liberal laws the flow of immigration gets out of control and agrees with Mills the officials need to implement tougher sanctions on immigrants. She suggests to admit more skillful and less unskillful immigrants, to limit Welfare benefits, to require from immigrants inviting their relatives “to accept full financial responsibility for up to five years”, to improve border control, to deny citizenship to children born from illegal immigrants and other measures (334).
Thus, Chavez offers the middle ground for both Mills and Kennedy, which can be formulated as following: We can not shut the borders, but we can improve border control and immigration policies to regulate the flow of immigration. We have to accept the fact that along with high-skilled and well-educated immigrants which can be an asset to the society, a certain amount of people comes, who become dependent on government aid. But this is the price the American society has to pay in exchange for higher profits. So instead of trying to get rid of the immigrants Americans will profit more in helping them to assimilate with American culture. According to Chavez “it is still possible to turn immigrants into what St. John de Crevecouer called ‘a new race of men’ provided the rest of us still want to do this’ (337).
In conclusion, I would like to point out that being an immigrant myself I see many problems with different eyes, but at the same time I am very concern about the American society, economics and culture, because I consider the United States my new motherland and I want it to prosper. To my opinion, the best the American society can do regarding immigration is like Kennedy concentrate on positive aspects of immigration, as Mills be aware of the problems, and work out the solutions like Chavez does. And regarding the ethnic and cultural imbalance that some Americans fear the problem seems to be somewhat exaggerated. Many Americans enjoy Mexican cuisine, like to dance salsa, and build the houses in Spanish stile, why not to accept people themselves?
Chavez, Linda. “What to Do about Immigration.” The Aims of Argument.
A Rhetoric and Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E.
Channel: Mayfield Publishing, Mountain View, California, 1998: 327-337.
Kennedy, David. “Can We Still Afford to Be a Nation of Immigrants?” The Aims
of Argument.A Rhetoric and Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Timothy W. Crusius and
Carolyn E.Channel: Mayfield Publishing, Mountain View, California,
Mills, Nicolaus. “Lifeboat Ethics and Immigration Fears.” The Aims of Argument.
A Rhetoric and Reader. 2nd ed. Ed. Timothy W. Crusius and Carolyn E.
Channel: Mayfield Publishing, Mountain View, California, 1998: 339-347.
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