Immigration in America's Future: Social Science Findings and the Policy Debate

Immigration in America's Future: Social Science Findings and the Policy Debate

Immigration in America's Future: Social Science Findings and the Policy Debate

Immigration in America's Future: Social Science Findings and the Policy Debate

Synopsis

Immigration policy is one of the most contentious issues facing the United States today. The bitter national debate over California's Proposition 187, the influx of Cuban refugees into Miami, and the continuous, often illegal, crossings over the Mexican border into Texas and California are just a few of the episodes that have created a furor on local, state, and federal levels. In this timely and informative book, David Heer invites readers to examine the data and the trends of immigration to the United States and, ultimately, make up their own minds about what our national immigration policy ought to be. He demonstrates how social science findings, together with a conscious recognition of our individual values, are necessary for the formation of a balanced policy for immigration. Some of the the nation's collective values that may be affected by U. S. immigration policy are the standard of living in this country, the preservation of existing American culture, ethnic and class conflict, and the power of the United States in international affairs. Heer examines the impact of these values on immigration policy and traces the history of U. S. immigration and immigration law and patterns of immigration to the United States. Finally, he offers proposals for change to existing immigration policy.

Excerpt

One of the most contentious issues facing the United States today is immigration policy. Two basic questions have emerged: What should be the number and characteristics of the immigrants to be admitted legally to the United States every year? And what should be done about illegal immigration to the United States? The two questions are obviously related. Suppose, in answer to the first, we decided to allow entry to anyone who wished to come to the United States as a permanent legal resident. In adopting this policy, we would also eliminate undocumented immigrants (i.e., persons whose arrival had been outside the law)--and so we would also have adopted a policy with respect to the second question. Conversely, if we decided to impose very tight restrictions on legal immigration and therefore decreed that most persons who wanted to immigrate to the United States would not be allowed a legal slot, we would magnify the problem of illegal immigration.

Why has immigration policy become such an important issue? A major reason is the tremendous increase in the volume of immigration. During the decade ending on September 30, 1992, the total number of persons granted the status of permanent legal immigrant was almost 9 million. During the previous decade the number had been less than 5 million, and in 1963-1972 it had been only around 3.5 million. Moreover, of the nearly 9 million persons who became permanent legal immigrants between 1983 and 1992, more than 2.7 million received that status only because the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 converted them from their status as undocumented immigrants.

Nevertheless, the 1990 census showed that only 7.9 percent of the total population of the United States was foreign-born (some 20 million persons out of a total of about 249 million). Although this was the highest proportion of foreign-born since 1940, the number fell far short of the record: 14.8 percent in 1930.

Perhaps another reason the salience of immigration policy has increased is the changing nationality composition of America's immigrants. As recently as 1951-1960, more than half of all immigrants to the United States were from Europe and only 6 percent from Asia. By 1981-1990 only 10 percent of all immigrants came from Europe and 37 percent from Asia. Moreover, there was an even greater shift in the . . .

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