Come Hither

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Come Hither

Illegal Immigration to the United States

Magazine article

By: Anonymous

Date: December 1, 2005

Source: The Economist. "Come Hither." December 1, 2005. 〈http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=5249522〉 (accessed June 12, 2006).

About the Author: The Economist is a weekly news magazine based in London, England. The Economist was founded in 1843.

INTRODUCTION

The U.S.-Mexico border is lengthy and difficult to police. In the late twentieth and early twenty-first century the availability of relatively well-paying jobs in the United States encouraged tens of millions of people—mostly Mexicans but many other nationalities as well—to attempt to cross the border and illegaly immigrate to the United States. On November 28, 2005, President Bush proposed a major reform in how the United States deals with illegal immigrants in a speech at Davis-Mothan Air Force Base in Arizona. At the time of the speech, U.S. government estimates suggested that between eleven million and thirteen million undocumented immigrants were resident in the United States.

The massive flow of illegal immigrants into the United States inspires mixed feelings among U.S. citizens. Few in the United States believe that breaking immigration law is appropriate. Furthermore, some argue that illegal immigrants are a drain on social services. For instance, in 1982 the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that prohibited the expenditure of public funds on the school aged children of migrant Mexican farm workers. Some believe that illegal immigrants depress wages or steal jobs from native-born Americans. On the other hand, many in the United States appreciate access to a ready and available supply of inexpensive Mexican labor. And they question if many American citizens truly desire the menial jobs that illegal immigrants typically hold.

The massive flow of illegal immigrants across the border also raises questions about the security of the United States. President Bush's speech carries an implicit reference to the consequences of the 9/11 terrorist attacks upon the United States, and the concurrent belief that American borders generally have been insecure against foreign incursion. By better controlling the borders, President Bush hopes to not only reduce illegal immigration but also protect the United States from terrorists, drug smugglers, and other criminals.

President Bush emphasizes the ability of the United States to be a welcoming society and a lawful society at the same time. At the end of the Civil War in 1865, there were no limitations upon who could enter and take up residency in the United States. It was the establishment of a distinct American society in the latter part of the nineteenth century that the nation built by immigration enacted entry and residence restrictions.

PRIMARY SOURCE

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SIGNIFICANCE

The approach to resolving illegal Mexican immigration as advocated by President George Bush in November 2005 is a significant departure from the traditional methods taken previously by the United States. Bush recommended what was characterized by many political commentators as an amnesty for undocumented immigrants.

The undocumented Mexican population in the United States, centered in the border states of California, Arizona, and Texas, has posed a long term problem for American authorities. The length of the border, measuring 2,000 miles (3,200 km) and the rugged and lightly populated lands along much of its extent presents a law enforcement challenge of its own. As the example described in the Economist article illustrates, the ability of American authorities to effectively police this border is blunted by both the sheer numbers and the determination of economically disadvantaged Mexicans to risk capture.

The magnitude of the effort to resolve the illegal entry of Mexicans into the United States is reflected by the United States Border Patrol capture of over 1.2 million persons attempting such entries in 2005.

The attempts by Mexican citizens to breach the American border are an example of how illegal immigration is now a multi-faceted issue. For virtually the entire period in which the United States has regulated immigration, the relevant legislation defined the illegal classes of persons in terms of being 'alien'. Aliens could be either persons seeking better economic opportunities or political refugees. The modern problem of illegal Mexican entries into the United States is restricted to that of an economic migration into the United States; there are no particular political ideologies motivating immigration.

It is equally clear that the huge undocumented immigrant presence in the United States now represents over three percent of the current American population. A number of economic studies have established that the undocumented immigrant population, a large percentage of which is employed in either service industries or unskilled laboring work such as construction, has no worse than a neutral impact upon the function of the American economy. The economic effect of illegal Mexican immigration may be a beneficial one for these sectors, given that such workers often are employed at lesser wage rates than American citizens.

The economic significance of undocumented immigrants in the United States is countered by a widely held negative American perception that is rooted in three separate areas—fear of future—economic displacement on the part of established American workers; fear of terrorism, through poorly secured borders; the notion of fair play, as an amnesty for present undocumented immigrants is perceived as taking such persons ahead of other persons in other countries who wish to enter the United States legally and who have adhered to all application procedures.

The Bush policy statements invoked very strong feelings from a number of disparate elements of American society. Those who advocate a traditionalist approach that advances the rule of law have lobbied the federal government to deport all undocumented immigrants. A prominent group, the Minutemen, established a physical presence along various parts of the Mexican border to prevent illegal entries from Mexico. Bush confirmed his November 2005 position with a similar articulation of the border plan and the desired implementation in a further speech delivered in May 2006. An important aspect of the Bush initiative is a screening process for the illegal residents and their passage of an American criminal background check.

Of significance is whether the Bush initiative is an amnesty; President Bush stated that it was not an amnesty, in the sense of a general pardon for the offences of illegal immigration. A better characterization of the Bush approach is it constituting an amelioration of the illegal status of selected persons, as the proposed plan does not guarantee naturalization or ultimate American citizenship for the persons affected.

The Bush initiatives were also accompanied by the deployment of 6,000 National Guard forces along the Arizona/Mexico border in May 2006, to assist in border enforcement. The Mexican government protested the action as a further step by the United States to militarize the border between the two countries.

The Bush initiatives were also significant in that the focus on the security of the border has a predominately economic aspect, through the control of the entry of undocumented persons; in the 1980s, while undocumented immigration was an important factor, United States-Mexico border security was also directed towards the stoppage of the entry of illegal drugs into the United States, primarily cocaine and methamphetamines.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Nevins, Joseph. Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the Illegal Alien and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Pitti, Stephen J. The Devil in Silicon Valley: Northern California, Race and Mexican Americans. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Truett, Samuel, and Elliot Young, eds. Continental Crossroads: Remapping U.S.-Mexico Borderlands History. Raleigh, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2004.

Web sites

Business Week. "The Economic Progress of Immigrants." December 2, 2005. 〈http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/economicsunbound/archives/2005/12/the_economic_pr.html〉 (accessed June 12, 2006).

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