Despite recent concern about immigration, particularly after the planned terrorist attacks in the United States, immigration itself has several benefits that far outweigh the negative concerns. Although there are many arguments against immigration, many of these are based on flawed or outdated ideas that do not allow focus on any of the positive aspects of immigration. Many immigrants to the United States are faithful workers who do not rely on the public welfare system, are highly educated (due to relatively recent regulations placed upon those wishing to attain new citizenship) and constitute an overall boost for the economy as a whole. While many of these benefits to a more open immigration policy are well-documented, they do not appear widely known or accepted as the same arguments that have arisen for years on this topic continue. It is necessary to consider the positive side of immigration first to dispel many of the arguments against it, particularly in economic terms.
Immigration has always been an important but divisive aspect of social and political life in the United States, but in recent years, the debate about the perceived threats and benefits of immigration has intensified considerably. Opponents of immigration rely upon a stock set of arguments to support their position that the government should exert greater control over the flow of citizens entering the U.S. from other countries. One of the arguments deployed most frequently is that immigrants steal jobs from American citizens and destabilize the economy (Lincoln Simon 10). Another common argument against immigration involves an appeal to the nation’s sense of vulnerability after the terrorist attacks on September 11th; the government must cap the number of legal immigrants and create all possible barriers to prevent illegal immigrants entering the country because to do otherwise would be tantamount to undermining the nation’s security (Lincoln Simon 11). Research shows, however, that the contrary is often true; recent immigration patterns have actually resulted in far more benefits than costs for the United States, and continued immigration is essential for both our security and our economic growth (Borjas 1667).
Most of the immigrants who leave their homelands report that their motivations for doing so are to secure a life that is both more safe—free of political, religious, or social persecution—and one that is marked by improved financial stability (Lowry 31). Although the crises that prompt immigrants to move may have caused circumstances that prevented them from becoming fully educated or trained for a professional position, most immigrants are motivated to work and contribute to the economy of the host country (Borjas 1667). According to a recent study conducted by the Urban Institute, immigrants are less likely than citizens to access public welfare and government services; for this reason, they represent less of a burden than has typically been believed and which is less than that of the very people who complain about immigration (Fix & Passell 14). In fact, immigrants’ use of welfare and other public benefits has become even less frequent since the introduction of welfare reform laws that made them ineligible for many services, a policy that reflected hostile attitudes towards immigrants and the perceived economic impact they have on the host country (Fix & Passell 14). There is no compelling empirical evidence that would substantiate the argument that immigrants represent any economic threat to the nation in terms of diverting public resources, services, or funds away from American citizens.
The fact that recent changes in immigration policies have made the opportunity for entry into a host country more restrictive also weakens the argument that immigrants represent a threat to the nation’s economy, especially since many come from developing (known as . In most developed countries that have long been attractive destinations for immigrants, including Australia, Canada, England, and the United States, quota and preference policies have been put into place that make it less likely for an uneducated, minimally educated, or unskilled worker to gain entry (Antecoll, Cobb-Clark, & Trejo 192). Such policies are intended to ensure that the host country will attract only the best and brightest immigrants, ideally those who have a college education and some vocational experience (Antecoll, Cobb-Clark, & Trejo 195). In Canada, for instance, prospective immigrants must prove that they are capable of contributing to the national economy before they are admitted conditionally; to prove their competence, they must provide evidence that they are educated and skilled, and Canada maintains a list of preferred occupations in which it would like to place immigrants (Antecoll, Cobb-Clark & Trejo 197). In this way, the country’s immigrants are hand-picked by the government to ensure that they neither become a burden to public welfare institutions, nor that they threaten the jobs that Canadians themselves want to fill.
In addition to facilitating the residency and citizenship processes of those immigrants who are eminently qualified for professional positions in this country, current immigration policies are even making provisions for employers to actively recruit qualified immigrants to work and live in this country. Even those immigrants who are not actively recruited by American companies or who are not prepared academically or professionally to work in the country are, nonetheless, unlikely to constitute an economic threat to American citizens. After all, because most immigrants come to the United States because they want to improve their own lives and the lives of their families, work is a major component of that improvement plan. Even the most uneducated and most unskilled immigrant is unlikely to “steal” a job from an American; after all, many of the jobs which are performed by unskilled immigrants are menial jobs which most Americans would not want even if they were offered to them.
The myth that immigrants constitute a threat to the country’s economic stability has been dismissed because the claim is, quite simply, unsubstantiated by research. It remains, then, to determine whether immigrants pose a threat to the nation’s security, a question that has become especially relevant since the 2001 terrorist attacks (Lowry 30). Anti-immigration advocates contend that the very presence of immigrants creates disorder in a supposedly ordered society; such individuals are deeply concerned about “the primacy of territorial security and sovereignty and…the belief that the state [must] achieve security through…deterrence” (Lowry 29). The alleged security threats posed by immigrants are typically discussed in vague and general terms (Lowry 29-30). Anecdotal stories about violence perpetrated by immigrants become elevated as evidence to support claims that liberal immigration policies undermine the safety of the nation’s supposedly law-abiding citizens.
Such anecdotes, however, are rarely contextualized against the larger backdrop of violence in this country. While the story of a violent immigrant who robbed, raped, or killed a patriotic American is titillating, it overlooks at least two important facts. First, anecdotes about immigrant violence fail to consider empirically derived statistics that describe and explain violence perpetrated by immigrants relative to violence perpetrated by citizens. Second, anecdotal accounts almost never incorporate a consideration of the violence that is perpetrated against immigrants; the violence which victimizes immigrants is not always or only physical, but also psychological and structural. As Lowry has pointed out, human security—by which she means freedom from the “‘quiet killers’ [of] hunger, epidemics, internal violence, environment,…repression, pollution,” and this writer would add, overall marginalization and neglect—becomes erroneously conflated with national security, thereby obscuring the real problems that plague both immigrants and citizens alike (29).
The typical narratives of the anti-immigration debate include “no discussion of the ways n which national security interests can negatively impact human security (let alone any thought to how this process may be raced, classed, or gendered)” (Lowry 29). Yet as Lowry points out, the failure to consider human security as an aspect of immigration policy may, over time, result in the kinds of national security fears that anti-immigration proponents espouse (29-30). Lowry explains the prevailing anti-immigration philosophy powerfully and succinctly: “…government understands human insecurity as something to be gained in other places, as something needed by ‘other’ people. In the domestic context, human insecurity is thought to be under threat from ‘other’ people and other places” (30). In order to begin contesting the notion that immigrants pose a threat to national security, two things must happen. First, we must begin to tease out the differences between human security and national security, and second, we must begin to link notions of both to hard, quantitative data that substantiate any casual claims about security concerns.
In its earliest days, America was a country whose population was comprised almost entirely of immigrants. Over the course of the country’s history, immigrants have always played a central role in the life of the nation, both determining and responding to its institutions, its policies, its practices, and the ways in which it constitutes and contests its own identity. It is curious, then, that immigration has become such a hotly contested issue, one that is deeply divisive and one which raises profound anxieties and fears about the safety of the country, as well as its long-term prospects. Two common arguments deployed in opposition to liberal immigration policies are those that have to do with fears related to economic security and national security. Yet, as this paper has demonstrated by referring to the existing research on the subject, such fears are largely unfounded.
America is a country of opportunity and the chance to succeed, no matter what your beginnings are or were; this is why so many come here to seize opportunities of various sorts. At the same time, though, they not only create a wealth of opportunities for themselves but for others, and for society at large through the contributions that they make in their jobs and in the lives of the communities where they live. It is clear that, by and large, immigrants threaten neither the economic stability of the nation nor the country’s national security interests; having left countries where neither of these characteristics was present, immigrants are actually deeply invested in promoting and protecting both characteristics in their host countries. In order to actually have a productive debate about immigration, it is important that certain myths such as these are contested by turning to facts. Otherwise, the benefits of immigration for all stakeholders are obscured and we all risk the misinterpretation and misappropriation of history, which may create the most significant dangers of all.
Antecol, Heather, Deborah A. Cobb-Clark, & Stephen J. Trejo. “Immigration Policy and the
Skills of Immigrants to Australia, the United States, and Canada.” The Journal of Human Resources 38.1 (2003): 192-218.
Borjas, George J. “The Economics of Immigration.” Journal of Economic Literature 32.4 (1994):1667-1717
Fix, Michael E., and Jeffrey S. Passell. The Scope and Impact of Welfare Reform’s Immigrant Provisions. Washington, D.C.: The Urban Institute, 2002.
Lincoln Simon, Julian. The Economic Consequences of Immigration. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1999.
Lowry, Michelle. “Creating Human Insecurity: The National Security Focus in Canada’s Immigration System.” Refuge 21.1 (2005): 28-39.