My friend and fellow activist Mike Cunningham wrote about the perils of illegal immigration for a sociology class at Purdue University. I suggest you read it!
“It simply is not moral[ly]or civically responsible to offer the American Dream to mass numbers of foreigners at the cost of denying it to the most vulnerable of our fellow Americans.”
Is an influx of immigration, especially illegally, a detriment to American society; moreover is it socially unethical, not only to the native born citizens of the United States, but to the migrants, especially?
Relevance to Sociology of Law:
An immigrant’s willingness to work unpopular jobs at lower wages presents a highly unethical master- slave relationship that hinders progress and deteriorates the standard of living for both native citizens and immigrants (legal and illegal). To be clear, the master-slave relationship exploits newcomers’ lack of skill (language barrier, manual labor, etc.) for cheaper production costs which in turn impedes advancement in technology, culture, and civility. Rather than being the “land of opportunity,” the immoral perpetuation of these habits actually cripples the newcomers; tarnishing the moral and economic structure of American society and diminishing the prestige of the “American Dream,” that says if you work hard you can achieve any level of success.
a. The Immigration Act (The Immigration and Nationality Act) of 1965 abolished national quotas and substituted hemispheric caps with an annual limit from any nation. It also established a category of immigrants not subject to numerical restrictions: immediate relatives (parents, spouses, and children) of U.S. citizens, as well as visa allocations on a first-come-first-served basis (Daniels, 2008). While this act allowed for a wider variety of immigrants, some argue that “the U.S. has imported poverty through immigration policies that permitted and encouraged the entry and residence of millions of low-skill immigrants into the nation (Rector, 2006).” According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), “Out of all the adult immigrants admitted in 2000, 69 percent had no reported profession, occupation, or job at all. Of the immigrants that arrived between 2000 and 2007, 35.5 percent had less than a high school education, and another 24.6 percent had only a high school diploma. Immigrants admitted during 2000-07 trailed natives in rates of attaining college and advanced degrees, as well as a lower share that had attended some college (“Lower wages for,” 2010).”
b. Along with importing poverty, another argument that raises ethical questions involves the standard of living. Statistics provided by FAIR state that in 2007, immigrant children were two times more likely to be in poverty than natural born children (32.1 percent to 17.5 percent). The statistics on immigration and poverty went on to maintain that, compared to children of native born citizens, many immigrant children live in virtually the same environment that their families fled, often living in crowded housing (29 percent versus 7 percent) and paying modest amounts of the family income on rent or mortgage (14 percent versus 6 percent); they are more likely to be uninsured (22 percent versus 10 percent) and have no usual source of health care (14 percent versus 4 percent) (“Immigration and poverty,” 2010). In fact, in an article entitled “Third World Growth-California Style,” if Placer County, who has the same growth rate as third world countries such as Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Yemen, was a “country” having its 3.5% growth rate, there would be only eight other “countries” in the world with a larger rate of growth (“Third world growth,” 2010). Areas with these extremely high growth rates will struggle to maintain a good quality of life for its inhabitants in ways of infrastructure, resources, and other justifiable means. These statistics beg the question: is it morally right to perpetuate the “stacking” of human beings; furthermore, is it ethical to advertise America as a place to start a new and better life, when it hosts these ever-growing Third World conditions?
c. “The level of immigration is so massive, it’s choking urban schools …It’s bad enough when you have desperate kids with U.S. backgrounds who require massive resources. In come kids with totally different needs, and it creates crushing burdens on urban schools.”-David W. Stewart, author of Immigration and Education: The Crisis and Opportunities (“Immigration and school,” 2002). With America being the “land of opportunity,” one would think that our education system could actually improve the standard of living of the children of immigrants. This is not necessarily the case. In fact, in high immigration areas like California, about 14 percent of schools exceed their capacity by six to 25 percent, and eight percent exceed it by more than 25 percent (“Immigration and school,” 2002). Thinking rationally, more people require more resources. However, overcrowding puts a heavy strain on the resources that are allocated by the federal government, which means that the schools and the students that they possess will fail to reach their full potential. According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, “over 90 percent of the recent immigrants come from non-English speaking countries; in 1998, there were 3.2 million public school students with no proficiency in English, almost twice as many as there were in 1990 (“Immigration and school,” 2002).” This simply means that the students that attend these schools, if they are lucky enough to graduate, will not be properly equipped to enter the English-speaking American workforce; crippling them and pigeonholing them for low wage, unskilled occupations.
d. Besides crippling the immigrant population, both legal and illegal, there is evidence that competition based on a larger migrant population seriously impedes the under-skilled American populace. In an article entitled, “Jobs Americans Won’t Do? A Detailed Look at Immigrant Employment by Occupation,” Steven Camarota and Karen Jensenius take note of jobs that are usually thought to be overwhelmingly immigrant that are actually occupied by a native-born majority. Camarota and Jensenius maintain that, “most natives do not face significant job competition from immigrants; however, those who do tend to be less-educated and poorer than those who face relatively little competition from immigrants (Camarota, & Jensenius, 2009).” The often made argument that immigrants do the jobs that American’s don’t want is proven dramatically wrong. While skilled (educated) workers might not aspire to be a maid, janitor, or construction worker, for the under-educated- it may be all that they have. As Julian L. Simon said in his piece, Immigration to the United States Should Be Increased, “The logic is simple: if the number of jobs is fixed, and immigrants occupy some jobs, there must be fewer available jobs for natives (Simon, 1995).” Rosemary Jenks put it best when she said, “It simply is not moral[ly]or civically responsible to offer the American Dream to mass numbers of foreigners at the cost of denying it to the most vulnerable of our fellow Americans (Jenks, 2011).”
e. In a capitalist society, competition drives down prices; the same applies with how much the employer is willing to pay their employee. If unskilled American workers want to work for higher wages, but it is much cheaper for production to hire unskilled immigrants who will work for less, it only makes sense to pay the lower wage for the same quality. Once that happens, the wage limit is set, and those unskilled Americans either have to work for the lower wage or not earn anything at all. This rationalization is the basis of exploitation and master-slave relationships between employers and immigrants. A perfect example of this took place in the tomato industry in the 1980’s. A collection of unionized lawful border crossers worked in the San Diego county tomato crop picking business for many years, making $4.00 an hour in 1980. As time went on, the farmers changed to a team of illegal workers and cut the wage to $3.35, in order to save some money. Many of the veteran workers refused to work at the reduced rate and were displaced from the tomato fields indefinitely (“Immigration and job,” 2010). Another example of exploitation happened in January of 2008 in San Diego when, “at least three Mexican illegal aliens were forced to work as day labors after being smuggled into the county. If they refused, they were threatened with arrest (“Fair’s immigration 101,” 2010) .” This master-slave exploitation is unethical in more ways than one.
f. Another argument involving exploitation and master-slave relationship is the ever increasing wage gap between rich and poor. Marxists might call this the “haves vs. the have-nots.” The Council of Economic Advisors, 1993 Annual Report to the President stated,” The number of people in immigrant households living in poverty tripled from 2.7 million in 1979 to 7.7 million in 1997. Between 1979 and 1997, immigrant households increased their representation in the U.S. population by 68 percent; but over that same period, their share of the total poor population increased 123 percent. The growth in immigrant-related poverty accounted for 75 percent of 3 million of the total increase in the size of the poor population between 1989 and 1997 (“Immigration and income,” 2002).” Furthermore, in high immigrant populated areas, the disparity between rich and poor was far greater than the disparity between lower immigrant populations (“Immigration and income,” 2002). These findings show that there is a positive correlation between high immigration and larger income disparities. It should be noted that it is immoral to allow a higher population of immigrants to be placed at an automatic disadvantage.
3. Open Issue
The main issue that my research could not resolve is the relative nature of morality in respect to immigration. To be clear, no data can put a definitive number on how ethical or unethical an influx in immigration actually is. Through my research, I found it hard to find an answer to my question of ethics in the master-slave relationship that often occurs between employers and America’s unskilled immigrants. The ethical implications of both of these are extremely important, especially to the normative decision makers that base their decisions on values. In order to obtain more conclusive data in these terms, one might conduct an ethnographical or observational study on both immigrants and native citizens in high and low immigration territories to measure the different effects.
Camarota, S.A., & Jensenius, K. (2009, August). Jobs americans won’t do? a detailed look at immigrant employment by occupation [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://cis.org/illegalImmigration-employment Daniels, R. (2008, April 03).
The immigration act of 1965: intended and unintended consequences of the 20th century [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.america.gov/st/educ-english/2008/April/20080423214226eaifas0.9637982.html
Fair’s immigration 101 [Web log message]. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.fairus.org/site/DocServer/immigration101.pdf?docID=422
Immigration and income inequality [Web log message]. (2002, October). Retrieved from http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=23334&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1010
Immigration and job displacemet [Web log message]. (2010, June). Retrieved from http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=16983&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1017
Immigration and poverty [Web log message]. (2010, June). Retrieved from http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=16936&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1010
Immigration and school overcrowding [Web log message]. (2002, October). Retrieved from http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=16935&security=1601&news_iv_ctrl=1010 Jenks, R. (2011, January).
A less restrictive immigration policy is morally and civically best for america [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.numbersusa.com/content/learn/issues/american-workers/less-restrictive-immigration-policy-morally-and-civically-best-america
Lower wages for american workers [Web log message]. (2010, June). Retrieved from http://www.fairus.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=16973&security=1601&news_ iv_ctrl=1017 Rector, R. (2006, October 25).
Importing poverty: immigration and poverty in the united states: a book of charts [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2006/10/importing-poverty-immigration-and-poverty-in-the-united-states-a-book-of-charts Simon, J. (1995).
Immigration to the united states should be increased. In B. Leone (Ed.), Immigration Policy (pp. 60). San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc.
Third world growth — california style [Web log message]. (2010). Retrieved from http://www.numbersusa.com/content/learn/issues/environment/third-world-growth-california-style.html