Immigration Policy in the United States

particularly on how it has impacted Texas. The immigration policy of the United States has changed over time, and has changed again since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This policy has impacted Texas in a variety of ways throughout history, and continues to impact Texas today.

Throughout our history, immigration has been the backbone of the country. Without it, the country would not have the population and diversity we have today, and without it, much of the expansion and building of the country would not have taken place. Even in our earliest history, immigration was key to growth and prosperity. At first, immigration was uncontrolled, and the first policies were not established until the late 1800s, when the country was a century old (Briggs 371). Throughout the many different policies that have affected immigration in the country, there has been one common goal - to keep out "undesirable" immigrants while allowing a steady flow of desirable immigration. For example, "In early federal regulations, 'undesirable immigrants' were typically categorized in racial terms. Commonly viewed as racially inferior and unassimilable, ethnic minorities became the targets of early federal efforts to restrict immigration" (Delaet 23). From the 1880s onward, exclusion became common in the overall immigration policies. In the 1880s, the Chinese were excluded from immigration because of a depression in the United States, and Americans felt the Chinese were taking away jobs from American workers. In the 1920s, legislation was enacted that excluded "inferior" races from some areas of Europe, but by the late 20th century, racial discrimination all but disappeared in the immigration policy. Today, there are national quotas rather than racial discrimination, and every country gets the same amount of quota (Delaet 23-24). In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed by Congress. This Act was supposed to ensure that people working in the U.S. had the legal right to work in the country. One journal notes, "The law protects employers from prosecution as long as their employees can show matching Social Security cards, driver's licenses or other IDs. Widely considered unenforceable, the law has had the perverse effect of fueling the black market in counterfeit documents (Rosenbloom). However, there have been changes in some policies since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico have come under increased scrutiny because Americans are afraid terrorists find it far too easy to cross into the U.S. over these borders. In addition, with the outsourcing of so many American jobs to Mexico, Asia, and India, Americans are becoming increasingly angry over immigration, especially illegal immigration, and want the borders shored up to keep out illegal immigrants. The Border Patrol has increased policing of high-traffic border areas all along the Mexican border in an attempt to cut down on illegal immigration.

The former and current immigration policies have impacted Texas in a variety of ways, and most of them have been costly. Many sources note that Texas and California are where most Mexican immigrants settle, and in Texas, many immigrants enter the state illegally, and work in many types of jobs in agriculture and the service industries that American workers might not be so inclined to fill. However, these immigrants tend to be under educated, and ultimately, they add to the adult literacy problems in the country, and in Texas. One researcher notes, "The 1990 Census revealed that the percentage of foreign-born adults (25 years and over) who had less than a ninth grade education was 25% (compared to only 10% for native-born adults) and whereas 23% of native-born adults did not have a high school diploma, 42% of foreign-born adults did not" (Briggs 371). However, many politicians and business people in Texas find that immigrants are not a financial burden to the state; rather they bring a measure of fiscal well being to the state. For example, one "study of undocumented immigrants in Texas concluded that the average undocumented alien in Texas provided a net fiscal benefit to the state of between $195 and $214" (Norris-Tirrell). However, other more recent studies indicate just the opposite. The Texas illegal immigrant population was estimated at 1.2 million in 2002, and studies show the foreign born population grew 90% between 1990 and 2000 (Editors).

Texas has been impacted in numerous ways, from education to water quality. Education has been impacted because immigrants are usually under educated, and often do not speak English, so when their children attend school, bilingual classes are created. In addition, Texas is experiencing massive school overcrowding, and a major teacher shortage. Statistics indicate "Texas faces an enrollment increase of 414,000 additional students by 2007. Texas will need to build two new schools a week to keep up with enrollment increases" (Editors). Medical costs have also skyrocketed in many Texas communities as immigrants clog the hospitals and clinics. Studies show "State officials have spent millions of dollars on tax-supported health services for illegal aliens. In Harris County, illegal aliens account for 23% of the patients, costing $330 million over the last three years" (Editors). In addition, Texas spends at least $731 million in Medicaid on immigrants, and in 1992, health and welfare costs for immigrants were $1.2 billion, and they are much higher today with a much higher immigrant population (Editors). Immigrants also often require health care information in Spanish, so there is an increasing need for bilingual health care personnel, too. Economically, the immigrants in Texas add to the economy by paying state and local taxes, and by spending money in their communities. However, they also tend to send much of their income back home to relatives in Mexico, and they tend to use more public health, welfare, and education alternatives, so they are a growing burden on the state, outweighing the taxes they pay in their communities. In addition, the poverty rate in Texas is relatively high, adding to economic disadvantage for many immigrants. Studies indicate, "The poverty rate of the 14 counties along the border was 34% -- double the statewide poverty rate of 17%. Brownsville's Cameron Park, home to a large population of illegal aliens, is the poorest community in the U.S." (Editors). With the recent Presidential election, many campaign workers noted the importance of immigrant voters, especially in the high immigration states of Florida, Texas, New York, Arizona, Nevada, and California. Politicians made special commercials aimed at immigrants in these areas, and worked hard for the Latino votes in these states. They are extremely important to the final election outcome, because these voters, if they can be convinced to turn out, can change the outcome of an election. Their importance is also indicated in that most ballots and electronic voting machines are now bilingual in Spanish and English, to help more immigrants to vote. Security has also changed, with the Border Patrol adding numerous agents, especially in Texas and California. However, even the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) that administers the Border Patrol, understands that it is nearly impossible to police the entire U.S.-Mexican border to eliminate illegal immigration and terror threats. The border is simply too long and there are not enough agents to go around. In addition to the many fiscal problems the state is experiencing, quality of life is also changing. Most large cities are becoming more crowded as populations increase. Traffic has increased, urban sprawl has increased, affordable housing has decreased, and the environment has suffered because of the continual development of open space. Texas is also facing a crucial water shortage if populations continue to increase, so the environment is being impacted as well (Editors).

The strengths of the U.S. immigration policy also contribute to its weaknesses. The policy allows a quota of people from all nations, but our lifestyle and economy encourage many more people to enter the country. A recent proposal to allow undocumented workers to remain in the country on a type of "work visa" has come under much criticism, because many people believe it would simply encourage more people to immigrate to the country illegally, only adding to the problems in the states most impacted by illegal immigrants. However, many people believe immigrants still play a vital role in the American economy. One writer states, "America would not be the high-tech leader if we didn't have legal immigration,' explained Steve Forbes during the 1996 primary season. 'Just go to those laboratories. One-fourth to one-half of those Ph.D.s are foreign-born. They're contributing to America'"

Lee 97). Probably the biggest weakness of the current policies is the INS' inability to deal with the increasing numbers. Legal immigration serves a purpose, and the INS is bogged down dealing with legal immigrants, so they have no room to deal with the growing problem of illegal immigrants. Numerous sources cite the legendary story of the INS sending visa approvals to several of the highjackers who flew their planes into the World Trade Center, several months after the attacks. Clearly, the weakness in immigration policy lies in the inefficiency of the agency…