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One of the most significant immigrant populations is in the United States. Despite immigrants assimilating faster than anywhere else in the world, the US immigration policy is a highly contentious issue. Much of the debate used to center around cultural issues. That has changed with anti-immigration policies of the current administration. However, the social and economic impacts if immigration obvious. There exists no evidence to support the view that immigration hurts American jobs and wages. The effect of immigration has mostly been positive for the natives and the whole country, at large. This also applies to all the individual states in the country. Immigration policy in California has a positive impact on the socio-economic development of the State.
Nothing has shaped the US more than immigration. Since the first newcomers set foot in the country over four centuries ago, immigration has proven a dominant demographic force. Immigration has been responsible for shaping the nation and its population to its current state. Immigration has occurred throughout the history of the United States, but there were specific periods it peaked. The first is during the peopling of the early colonies. The second occurred in the middle of 19th century when the westward expansion occurred. The 20th-century rise of the cities also saw an influx of the immigrants.
What is quite apparent between these peak periods is that they occurred during a time when economic transformations were happening in the country. They first saw the European settlement on the continent. The second that occurred in the middle of the 19th century saw the country transition to an agricultural economy. The manufacturing economy resulting from the industrial revolution is another peak period. This transformation propelled the US to become a leading global power. Globalization is the current underpinning for immigration.
For a nation built on immigration, the US has been careful in adjusting its immigration policies. This is because the issue can be quite divisive. As a result, the process of changing the laws has often taken an extended period. However, the current administration has taken a strong stance against immigration. This is a significant shift in policy in a country built upon the spirit and effort of the immigrants.
Immigration in California and other parts of the United States has a long winding history. What is apparent is that immigration and socio-economic progress have always been interlinked. The US would not have become the country it is, were it not for immigration. Before 1880, immigration was solely European guided by factors such as Irish potato famine and industrialization. The expanding west frontier and industrial development attracted the Chinese immigrants in the 1850s. Immigration oversight started on 1882 with the enactment of the Immigration Act. This policy established a department that collected a fee from every immigrant to regulate immigration. The new law provided for the screening of immigrants and anyone considered an idiot, lunatic or could not take care of themselves was turned away.
The decline of the mining boom created animosity towards the Chinese Immigrants. Their ethnic distinctiveness, as well as, the current competition for wages made them a target for discrimination. As a result, a series of laws restricting their Immigration started. These include The Chinese Exclusion Act, the Scott Act, and the Geary Act. The inflow of immigrants from Europe saw the introduction of new laws for more control. The Immigration Act of 1917 expanded racial exclusion especially from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.” The discriminatory policy, the national origins quota system was established in 1952. This was through the Immigration and Nationality Act. The act was repealed during the Kennedy era in 1965. Many immigrants entered the United States as a result. The large-scale immigration in the country before the Trump administration came into power started in the 1970s. The immigrants were both legal and illegal with Mexico accounting for the most significant share of both.
The September 11 Attacks and Effects on Immigration
No single event has had a significant impact on the thinking of the Americans like the 9/11 attacks. Many aspects of the enforcement system for immigration were made more robust. The threat posed by international terrorists led to the enactment of new passage laws with far-reaching implications on the people living in the United States or seeking to travel to the country. One immediate effect of tighter screening procedures was the decrease in the number of visas for foreigners. The number of immigrants coming to the country has significantly gone down.
Immigration in California
Since 1965, changes in immigrant settlement patterns in the US have always placed California at the center of any discussion touching on immigration. California has always had the highest rate of immigrants in comparison to other states. It has been the top choice of immigrants entering the country legally. Up to 61% of Mexicans, 44% Filipinos and 57.7% Salvadorians admitted to the United States choose California over the other states. According to Johnson, undocumented immigrants in California account for up to 31% regarding population growth in the 1980s. As a result, California has the biggest proportion of immigrants – both documented and undocumented – than any other state in the US. This is true in terms of numbers and total residents.
With the increased rate of foreign-born residents, immigration issues have been at the heart of the political scene in California. In 1994, the residents had resoundingly voted for Proposition 187 which sought to halt health and education services to undocumented aliens. However, the courts blocked the move. In another instance, the governor had sued the Federal Government for funds to cover the growing expenditures. Pete Wilson had cited the costs of providing education and incarcerating illegal aliens.
The debate over the costs of services offered to the immigrants had been fired by extensive studies into fiscal impacts of immigration on the revenues and expenditures. In general terms, research has shown that both natives and immigrants make the most substantial contributions in tax to the Federal Government. According to the studies, immigrants make lower contributions even though they present a greater burden on the governments – state and local.
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However, these studies have a common weakness. They make the result challenging to compare and assess the impact of immigration on the fiscal state. The concentration on undocumented aliens and small geographical area of study make the studies to be limited in scope. Also, they fail to provide the estimated contribution of natives meaning that the analysis of the relative effects of immigrants is hard. Furthermore, the estimates fall short as they are not matched with the administrative budget but rather, a limited number of benefits and taxes.
The Benefits for California
If California were to be seen as a country, then it would be the second largest receiver of immigrants in the world after Russia. Specific factors such as immigration policy and porous border with Mexico are contributory factors. While a third of California’s labor forces are immigrants, two-thirds among them are uneducated. The popular thinking would be that the native unskilled would have suffered as a result. However, this is not the case.
California is one state that effectively exemplifies the economic and political clout the immigrants have. The state has many tales of foreigners that establish themselves, own their homes, master English and experience an extraordinary upward mobility. It is without a doubt that immigrants in the state form a significant portion of the taxpayers and have a role to play when it comes to the success of the state budget.
The Asians and Latinos own approximately a quarter of businesses in California. This shows that they hold a significant buying power in the state; more specifically, also a quarter. According to the 2002 Census Bureau on the survey of business owners, it was the immigrants in the state make up to a third of the total labor force in the state. They contribute about $30 billion in taxes to the Federal government. The high concentration of low education immigrants provides businesses in the state with low-cost labor. The enterprises are thus able to keep their cost of doing business down and invest more. There is more innovation, and there is the production of better goods and services.
The argument immigrants steal jobs from the natives is flawed. Immigrant labor is not a competitor but acts as a compliment to the US labor force. Research has also shown that they are responsible for raising the level of wages for as much as 4%. This is to the benefit of the average native worker. Using simple logic, the large number of immigrants would increase the supply of labor would increase labor supply. Using the laws of supply and demand, it would mean that the native workers’ wages go down.
The controversy surrounding low wages is not new. It existed as far as the founding of the colonies. In the 1850s, Irish immigrants who were also Catholic were seen as a threat by protestant workers who saw them as willing to take lower wages. In the eyes of Protestants, the Catholics represented subservience and despotism. As a result, they were viewed to pose a papist threat to the democratic institutions of America. This view mirrors the current action by Trump administration. The current administration has adopted the “America First’ principle to institute a raft of changes affecting the status of immigrants in the country. The government considers immigrants as a threat to the American society both in terms of jobs and security. Just like the 1850s Protestants saw the Italians as a threat first on the job market and second, in terms of security, the current administration sees immigrants in the same light. In a real sense, low wages are not the problem.
The reality is that immigrants do not compete directly with the American natives on the job market. Instead, they complement the natives in terms of skills, education, and occupations. This state of complimenting each other has a net effect of productivity for all the groups. In other words, the massive presence of immigrant workers in an economy potentially puts the native workers on the job. After all, there is a need for more supervisors, trainers, and managers. The overall effect is productivity for both the natives and immigrants. Looking it in another way, the presence of a large number of workers means that consumption of certain goods and services will be high. Therefore, the rate of production also increases. This would happen without the need to depress wages.
Between 1990 and 2004, the number of immigrants increased by more than 40% in California. A significant portion of these aliens had poor education. If the recent trend of immigration had a negative impact on the labor market opportunities for the natives, then such effects would have been significant in the state.
On the issue of costs to the budget, there is a relatively broad consensus that the net fiscal effect of immigration is small but nevertheless positive. Illegal immigrants give more than they take from the fiscal budget. As a matter of fact, these unauthorized immigrants cannot get any benefits from the government except in certain situations such as a public school for their children. Regardless, these immigrants also pay taxes albeit indirectly. Most of them pay sales taxes and property taxes in cases where they also own property. Furthermore, they even pay payroll taxes and income taxes if they are in the job market. Illegal aliens receive automatic deductions but can never claim benefits. They cannot get tax refunds in cases where they overpaid for their taxes. Illegal immigrants cannot also benefit from the tax code income credits.
Challenges that the Immigrants are facing and its Impacts
Up to 250,000 immigrants entered the United States between 1790 and 1820. Their entry added to the social tensions in urban areas. Since the colonial times, immigrant minorities have been subject to victimization by the society. Recent immigrants were expected to assimilate within the shortest time possible and shed their traditions. In the time around the American Revolution, non-English immigrants were targeted as scapegoats for the problems in the society. The same is still happening in the contemporary society where the immigrants are always seen as the leading cause of social problems in the United States.
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There is a tendency to blame the immigrant population for everything including the meltdown of the housing sector and traffic jams. Strong leadership and valid information is lacking to address the current economic issues. Some anti-immigration groups are responsible for misrepresenting the truth. There is a wide misconception that the immigrants are solely to blame for the state’s population growth. They overlook the fact that births are the fuel for population growth. Such misconception powers the feeling of many people in a lifeboat with limited resources.
In his campaign pledges, Donald Trump promised to reform the immigration policy. Within the first few days, the president had signed an executive order on the construction of border wall between the US and Mexico. A few days later, he had signed another order barring immigrants from seven Middle East countries. Such actions may not only affect the number of immigrants in the country, but they will also affect the economies of individual states.
The immigrants do not go to the United States to take advantage of state resources but rather, to find work. Most of them are not without skills. For example, an art show in Boyle received more than a hundred requests from people that wanted to be part of the show. All of them were undocumented immigrants. One thing they all have in common is fear. They live with the anxiety that immigration officials may show up one day and take them away for deportation. Most them entered the United States as small children. The current state of events threatens to disrupt them causing depression and stress.
In any case, any move seeking to get rid of the immigrant population in the nation would have far-reaching consequences. If the current administration were to make policies against immigration – the direction which Trump seems to be taking – then the total effect on the economy if California would be negative. Getting rid of immigrants is logistically impossible. Immigrants consume goods and services, and so they help create employment. If it were possible to get rid immigrants, the number of jobs would go down. The economic activity they generate would be lost.
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The favorable immigration policy that has existed in California has helped in its socio-economic development. However, this reality is not unique to California. The United States was built, my immigrants. Starting with the first European settlers that grew the economy through agriculture to the Chinese that drove the industrial revolution, the socio-economic development history is intertwined with immigrants. Similarly, the future of California depends on how it is going to handle the issue of immigrants. Currently, the state has been riding on the great effort of the immigrants to support its economy. However, there have been several challenges with most the significant being the policies that new administration is implementing that goes against the wellbeing of the immigrants. What is currently needed is strong leadership and valid data to deal with the current social problems that the state and the country is facing. It is essential to recognize the contribution of immigration and not use it as a scapegoat.
- Fogel, Walter A, and Philip L. Martin. Immigration, California’s Economic Stake. Berkeley: Published for the California Policy Seminar [by] Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2012. Print.
- Johnson, Hans P. 1997. Undocumented immigration to California, 1980-1993. San Francisco, CA: Public Policy Institute of California.
- Jordan Rau, “Immigrants Contribute More to Medicare Than They Take Out, Study Finds,” Kaiser Health News, May 29, 2013, http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2013/May/29/immigrants- Medicare-health-costs.aspx.
- Linthicum, Kate. “Immigration Action Will Boost California’s Economy, White House Says”. Latimes.Com. http://beta.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-immigration-obama-economic-impact-20150126-story.html. 2017
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