The Immigration Crossfire

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Jul 22, 2005
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Editorial by Thomas Tseng, Principal and Co-Founder, New American Dimensions

www.newamericandimensions.com

An annual report from the U.S. superintendent’s office of immigration notes rising immigration levels into this country and warns about “an enormous influx of foreigners unacquainted with our languages and customs… the majority of these unfortunates came here without money and without skill as workmen.” These new immigrants, the missive warns, may very well form a “new undesirable class.”

This report I’m referring to, however, was written in 1892. It documented a period historians now designate the “third great wave of immigration”– a time when Jews, Italians, Irish and Germans flooded the northeastern U.S. seaboard starting life anew. As we now know, these newcomers eventually transformed the structures, institutions and fabric of mainstream society.

While the contributions of those early European immigrants stand unquestioned today, the same cannot be said about our recent immigration debates. Although we now live in a period of one of the most extensive demographic transformations ever experienced in this country – perhaps even more sweeping than that of the early 20th century – the merits (or demerits) of immigration continue to be argued as ardently and intensely as ever.

One columnist for Vdare, a stridently anti-immigration organization, recently wrote that continuing immigration would dramatically erode the quality of life in the U.S.

“America,” claims the author, “would become like that restaurant that Yogi Berra said got so popular that nobody went there anymore.” It appears the message nativists have been yammering on about for over two decades now has remained unchanged.

The problem is, some people are taking such cataclysmic warnings dead serious. Early this year, civilian activists in Arizona, known as the Minutemen Project, took matters into their own hands by voluntarily patrolling the porous 40-mile stretch of the Arizona-Mexico border themselves to prevent illegal migrants from crossing over. Used to draw media attention to the problem of illegal immigration, the ill-conceived endeavor quickly fizzled out not long after its inception.

In contrast to the doom-and-gloom mania of such groups, there is real evidence about what immigration represents to the U.S. economy and it portrays a far rosier picture. Recent figures put out by the Census Bureau clearly demonstrate that the longer immigrants remain in the U.S., the better they do economically. Unemployment levels drop dramatically while income earnings increase considerably the longer immigrants have been in the country.

Nevertheless, the true gauge of immigration’s genuine impact is generational – it rests among the children and offspring of immigrants themselves. A study by the Rand Corporation recently showed that educational progress among three generations of Mexican Americans – from the first generation immigrant all the way to their grandchildren – gradually increases with each succeeding generation group. This progress is the same or greater than those achievements made by those previous European immigrants who came to the U.S. during the early 20th century.

These findings are supported by the research conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center. According to Jeffrey Passel, an immigration demographer at the institute, “We have a tendency to romanticize the experience of past immigrants. Yes, there was progress. But the real progress came with their children and grandchildren.”

As the distinguished historian Oscar Handlin once noted: “the history of America is the history of immigrants’ children.” His statement has proven not only prescient, but also relevant and wise, for our day and age. It serves as a good reminder for immigration detractors to bear in mind.

Moderator’s Comment: How has the most recent wave of immigration affected American society and its economy? Specifically, what has this meant for retailers
and consumer goods manufacturers in the U.S.? Should the retail industry and related businesses lobby Congress and the executive branch to enact more “lenient” immigration laws?


Thomas Tseng – Moderator

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16 Comments on "The Immigration Crossfire"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Immigration restrictions are not being reasonably enforced. The issue is not just illegal Hispanic immigration. There are plenty of illegals in Brooklyn from Mexico, Turkey, Albania, Croatia, etc.

If retailers want more inexpensive labor, they will lobby for anything that reduces expense: more immigration; lowest possible minimum wage; non-enforcement of immigration laws.

It may be in society’s better interest (including enlightened retailers) to drag the working poor into the middle class by enforcing the immigration laws, creating a labor shortage that forces low-wage employers to improve their compensation, including benefits.

For example, a reduced underclass might reduce the percentage of charity medical cases, which costs everyone who pays taxes (including employers) or uses a hospital.

A larger middle class and a smaller underclass can also spend more money in retail stores.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago

The impression that our country is dependant upon slave, non-taxable, or otherwise illegal labor is blatantly incorrect (and wimpy, to boot). Just ask Wal-Mart. But, understanding the considerable amount of misinformation provided by those who depend on illegal votes and the influence of illegal immigrants to remain in office, it’s easy to understand how so many of our fellow citizens blithely go through life as if it were the truth.

For those willing to cede control of our immigration laws and our country to whoever provides the cheapest lawn service, I have a lawnmower they can borrow if they’re willing to exercise their muscles more than they exercise their brains.

Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Wimpy? Come on Doc…you can do better than that.

For the record, I mow my own lawn. I also believe we should rewrite the laws to be more realistic and then stick to them as best we can. It’s never going to be perfect, but we can do a whole lot better.

I spoke to a business owner (in the metals industry) the other day. He described how he gets a form letter about once a quarter from Uncle Sam listing all of the fake Soc Sec #s that his workers use. The letter requests (in a kind of “wimpy” way) that the employer look into the situation. He never does and no further action is ever taken. We’re institutionally “looking the other way,” and that’s never going to work well for long. Let’s take the hit to our standard of living as required and live truthfully.

David Morse
Guest
David Morse
15 years 7 months ago
Although reading Dr. Banks’ words makes the hairs on my back stand on end, I do agree that our country needs some immigration reform. The fact that about 29% of the foreign born population is unauthorized (see http://www.pewhispanic.org) points to obvious flaws in the system But is the problem the immigrants or the laws that keep them out of a country that desperately needs them? Who does Dr. Banks propose will support an aging Boomer population? Who does Dr. Banks think will do the menial jobs that keep our country running? Whether we like it or not, the drivers of unauthorized migration are supply and demand — the economic demands of the United States and the supply of workers in Mexico (Mexicans make up 57% of the unauthorized population), a consequence of the economic situation there. Given the economic root of the problem, it’s doubtful that tougher immigration laws will have much effect. In fact, many have argued that it is the militarization of the Mexican border that has led to the rapid increase in… Read more »
Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

Some tough comments above regarding the need for tougher immigration laws. Although I’m far from an expert on this matter, I’ll offer this counter-point (until someone smarter comes along to help me out here). My understanding is that, if we were to seal off our borders to illegal immigration and deport all the illegals, our economy would tank. We rely on low-paid (skilled and un-skilled) labor to keep the prices of our goods and services reasonable. (Would Warren be able to afford a lawn service?)

This is a double-edged sword. Despite our discomfort/annoyance/outrage over the way illegals take advantage of the benefits of living and working here, are we willing to take a major hit to our standard of living to set things right? Is there not a pretty fair balance between what we give up in tax revenue and what we gain in a lifestyle that’s the envy of the world?

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 7 months ago
Immigration is nothing new and its benefits will be ongoing as always. As the articles you quote point out, this is really nothing new with the exception that many many, many of the current crop of immigrants are illegal! This is a problem, only because we (last 4 administrations) allow it to occur. Everyone knows that our southern border could be sealed within 48 hours if we had the political will. This, however, is a relatively minor problem. The major problem we face has to do with immigration of jobs and technology out of the United States. While much of this is inevitable (The World is Flat – Thomas Freedman), some of it is preventable. However, the US population is not getting the message. 1. India and China are churning out highly qualified engineers and research PhDs at a rate 10 times the US. (They don’t waste education on Lawyers, Psychologists, etc. who have the potential to create no new wealth.) 2. The US education system has turned into a social welfare system more interested… Read more »
Arlene Jones
Guest
Arlene Jones
15 years 7 months ago
The problem of illegal immigration is that we are willing to accept anyone and not know who they were in their native countries! One of the things that has occurred in the US in the last 10 years has been the welfare-to-work initiative. Years ago, many Americans made more money on Welfare (or so they thought) than working. But times have changed. Where and what entry level jobs are supposed to be available for Americans if we have millions of illegals and Americans looking for the same position? Which one will the employer hire? How many illegals are willing to buy and illegally use someone’s else SSN or green card. Are those illegals paying taxes? If yes, how??? How are they living when there is no illegal discount on food/housing/utilities? Are they driving unlicensed and hence uninsured? Am I paying for it by having to buy uninsured motorist coverage? What penalty can state government put on an illegal when they hit my car without insurance? I can sue the American and make them pay and… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 7 months ago
It’s interesting that Mr. Tseng’s comments never distinguish between legal and illegal immigration or address homeland security. The most telling comment was about the Minutemen’s “ill-conceived endeavor [that] quickly fizzled out not long after its inception.” This is a clear misstatement of their mission (to draw attention to illegal immigration), their success (intensive media coverage), and their future plans (second and third observation/reporting events have taken place and more are planned). This exercise of civil rights and freedom of speech may not be on a city street featuring sign-carrying citizens, but its remoteness in the desert doesn’t change the fact that the Minutemen conducted a legal and highly successful demonstration. News Flash: Immigration is not a good thing in and of itself. That’s why we have laws regulating it, and why we should enforce those laws much more intensively. Any defense of immigration that cites the success of the newcomers over one, two, or three generations ignores the issue of legal or illegal entry. Further, the idea of there being “bad apples in any group”… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

I’m with David Livingston on this one. Sure, there are bad apples in every group, but by and large we’ve seen far more good than bad from this wave of immigration. And in how many cities and towns do jobs go begging, because white middle class kids don’t want to sully their hands by working in retail or service positions? When I lived in New York, the hardest working people I have ever seen were Mexican gardeners. And when I moved to Vermont, I vividly recall how immigration officers came and arrested half the moving van crew — incredibly hard workers and nice guys — for not having their papers in order. But having said all that, I also believe the laws should be enforced the same for everybody. We have a lot of dumb laws in this country. We don’t need to wink at them; we need to change them.

Ian Percy
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
Welcoming immigrants and enabling them to fulfill their dreams is what’s made this country great. And, of course, we need to distinguish between those who come legitimately and those who don’t. That said, I have a couple of observations having just received my ‘Green Card.’ The inscription on the Statue of Liberty says nothing about ‘send us your educated, your entrepreneurs, your wealthy.’ I’d like to have that added, maybe like a PS. I moved from Canada and LOVE it here. But believe me, doing so was a long, arduous, and incredibly expensive bureaucratic nightmare. Now, I was caught smoking at a Sunday School picnic one time but other than that my record is squeaky clean. Any poor and relatively uneducated immigrant who gets through the system to become a citizen deserves a standing ovation and I’ll lead it. I don’t know how they do it, given my own experience. So if you really want to influence the economy, you’ll join my campaign to welcome not only the abused and downtrodden but those who know… Read more »
Rick Moss
Guest
15 years 7 months ago

First thought that comes to mind is the memory of my grandfather, who spoke with a thick Russian accent, grumbling about how hard it was to understand the young Cuban workers where he lived in Miami.

The progression of different immigrant attitudes from generation to generation is a fascinating thing. One simple gauge is the prominence of different ethnicities in mainstream culture and sports from decade to decade. In my parents’ generation, it was Italians and Eastern European Jews; then Black musicians and athletes; now Hispanic/Latin-American stars. It’s a constant churn of new influences and it’s what keeps our society vibrant.

Advice to retail management is simple: If you’re of a preceding generation and don’t quite get it, make sure you hire and promote those who do. Your management should reflect the culture and ethnicity of those you are marketing to. Plain and simple.

bert thompson
Guest
bert thompson
15 years 7 months ago

We have been overrun by illegal immigrants….not what our forefathers had in mind when they invited people to come and become citizens. We have been flooded with people who only want things for free. They take advantage of our health system, our school system, and our jobs. In some parts of the US, it is like living in a foreign country. Enforce our laws; and if it takes enhancing the US Dept of Naturalization Services and Border Patrols — so be it. If it takes sending back illegal immigrants — so be it. That may sound harsh, but they broke the law!! Let our laws and procedures be laws that we all live by and that we enforce. Particularly, in these days of terrorism, we need to protect our borders and ‘tighten’ vs. loosen restrictions.

Eva A. May
Guest
Eva A. May
15 years 7 months ago
Hispanic Business just released a new report this morning, called The HispanTelligence (R) “U.S. Hispanic Purchasing Power: 1978-2010.” Here are some topline results for this “new immigrant group.” The U.S. Hispanic purchasing power growth rate was three times the overall national rate in the last decade. From 1994 to 2004, U.S. Hispanic purchasing power posted a compound annual growth rate of 7.7% — nearly three times the 2.8% total U.S. rate of disposable income. The Hispanic population is out-performing the general population by nearly every economic growth measurement. This is predicted to continue according to “U.S. Hispanic Purchasing Power: 1978-2010,” the HispanTelligence(R) research report released today. Hispanic purchasing power has surged to nearly $700 billion and is projected to reach as much as $1 trillion by 2010, according to estimates by HispanTelligence(R), based on analysis of U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis figures. “Rising education levels, rapid employment growth, and a changing labor profile fuel the growth,” explained Dr. Juan Solana, HispanTelligence(R) Chief Economist. Higher paying managerial and professional jobs are the fastest-growing occupational categories for… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
15 years 7 months ago
I think the wave of immigration has helped out society. I also think immigrants help teach us how to benefit from resources we already have. I’m amazed at how, in just a few short years, people form Asia and the Middle East can come to our country, learn our language, get an advanced degree, and then build a million dollar home. In retail, we see it all the time, with immigrants buying a hotel, restaurant, supermarket, gas station, etc and, in a few short years, they own a chain. Bill Cosby recently spoke to a group of African Americans asking them how come someone can come over here from Ethiopia and find the American Dream and we can’t? I think immigrants teach us how spoiled we are and how a little effort can reap big rewards in this country. Certainly, retailers must expand their offerings. We discuss this issue often in this forum. As far as easing up immigration laws, I think we need to make it easier to import low wage workers to help… Read more »
suzette rodriguez
Guest
suzette rodriguez
15 years 7 months ago

Immigration is not what is debated but rather illegal vs. legal immigration. The problem is not that people immigrate here, but rather that so many do so illegally. There is a unity in manner in legal immigration which does not exist in illegal immigration. This country is not solidly structured enough to withstand further assault on its culture. We, unlike other major countries, do not even have a national language! The unwillingness to adapt to the mores of an adopted country, to acknowledge its culture and laws (and language!) is what differentiates between immigration and colonization. It is not surprising that this topic is referenced in a 1892 article as the one thing all historians can confirm is that history repeats itself and operates on a cycle of human behavior that makes a full rotation in a time frame of slightly more than a century.

Robert McMath
Guest
Robert McMath
15 years 7 months ago
Lots of people have written insiteful comments. Worth thinking about. But let’s not forget that as illegals flood this country, especially from the South, it is no wonder their purchasing power is going up. There are more of them all the time — and they either do work, or they get enough in non-work benefits to go to the grocery store and buy — adding to the overall statistics of their ethnic growth pattern. But I think we face a further VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM! We are shipping our well paying jobs — even good manufacturing wages — out of this country at an alarming rate. Eventually, we will have millions of people and there will not be jobs to have them fill — at any wage! We can’t all cut lawns, fix roofs, pick crops and pave our streets — jobs that can’t be shifted out of the country. And what will we use to earn money — and to have money to purchase the stuff coming back into this country done by overseas even… Read more »
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