Imigration is the process of moving away from your home country. Mexicans are well aware of the number of fellow citizens moving north. In August 2007 the El Paso Times reported that The United States is
becoming more minority-dominated as the Hispanic population continues to grow through high birthrate and an immigration surge that experts say is changing the country’s cultural fabric. In statistics released, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates more than half of the population is considered a racial or ethnic minority.
Mexicans working in the United States are a huge source of income for Mexico. In 2004 alone, Mexicans received over $16 billion in money sent over the border. These remittances are Mexico’s second largest source of foreign currency, after oil exports (“Mexico Warns U.S.”).
Vicente Fox, who was Mexico’s president from 2000-2006, strongly opposed a stronger wall being built across the U.S.-Mexico border and had, stated that it will “fall like the Berlin Wall.” Fox claimed that the wall would only cause more immigrant deaths near the border. Mexico’s human rights commission has said that if the proposed wall passes the Congress, they will distribute 70,000 maps that show wall openings and nearby water sources in order to prevent deaths (“Mexico Warns U.S.”). In 2005 alone, 500 died along the border, and two Mexican migrants were recently shot and killed by U.S. forces (“Mexico Warns U.S.”).
Unless a prison-style wall was constructed between the entire border of Mexico and the United States, a wall would be an ineffective way to control migration levels, because of Mexico’s plans to distribute maps and guides to cross through rough terrain. Even if an indestructible wall was built, migrants could always get to the United States by boat. Stopping illegal migration by force is an impossible task that will only result in more deaths and a negative relationship with Mexico.
There are three main reasons why immigration controls are in place. First, there are not enough jobs available for everyone who wants one. Second, immigrants can increase the burden of government-funded programs, such as education and health care; and thirdly, to ensure the safety of US citizens.
Those who want to enter the United States legally are required to undergo a long and complicated process in order to gain citizenship. The problem is that the United States does not have unlimited spaces available. Currently, there are over 3.5 million qualified people waiting to receive visas. Sometimes, the wait can be decades long, especially for those without a family member living in the United States. Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, says that an immigrant applying for a visa today can expect to wait 40 years. To accommodate the extreme demand for United States citizenship, the supply of available visas needs to be raised. This policy is not working and only forces people into illegal status.
By 1997, only 15% of Mexican immigrants had become US citizens. The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates that about 1/5 of immigrants were illegally living within the US.
A visa is a document required to enter a country for a certain period of time. In the United States, there are several types of visas available. The most commonly used types are transit visas, tourist visas, business visas, student visas, and immigrant visas. A transit visa is valid for less than three days, and is usually only used for passing through a country to get to another. A tourist visa is allowed only for vacationing, and prohibits any business activity. A business visa allows engagement in commerce, and is valid for a longer period of time than a tourist visa. A student visa is issued for students who are attending a higher learning institution. An immigrant visa, or a green card, is issued to those who intend to permanently stay in the country. Immigrant visas are issued for a short period of time, and assume that the resident will be issued a permanent resident ID card at a later time (“US Immigration Policy”).
Another way immigrants become US citizens is through a process called naturalization. Naturalization occurs after a person has resided in the US for over five years. They also must demonstrate proficient English skills through the written history exam and have no criminal record.
Immigrants must go through a multi-step process to become a legal immigrant. First, USCIS (US Citizen and Immigration Services) must approve a petition for immigration, which is usually done by a relative of employer living within the United States. After the petition is approved, the immigrant must apply for an immigrant visa. If a visa is available, the person can apply for permanent resident status. Permanent resident status can be obtained if an immediate family member living in the US petitions on the immigrant’s behalf, if a US employer petitions on your behalf, if a visa is awarded through the “visa lottery” program, or if the person has resided in the United States since Jan 1, 1972. If the immigrant then passes an immigration test, which includes basic questions about US history and government, then they can become a legal US citizen.
An illegal immigrant is a person who has either entered a country illegally or overstayed their legal available time. For Mexicans, the sheer number of people wanting to immigrate presents a challenge of moving legally. Currently, over 3.5 million qualified people are waiting to receive one of the available visas to immigrate into the US. Sometimes, especially for those lacking a family or employer to sponsor them, the wait can be decades long. This wait causes many to turn instead to illegal immigration. When an illegal immigrant is discovered, an apprehension is made, which is the act of capturing or arresting. This can result in a court date, deportation, or nothing at all.
To make apprehensions along the 1,952 mile stretch of the US-Mexico border, officials usually request “voluntary deportation” of illegal immigrants. Voluntary deportation does not involve any transportation of illegal immigrants. It relies on the assumption that they will return to their homes, or attend their scheduled court dates. However, many of the people apprehended annually do not follow the directions of officials. In fact, three out of four illegal immigrants are not even caught
Immigrants can be deported within the United States for two reasons. One, entering without inspection; or two, overstay of time in the United States. By 1996, the INS reported that 60% of immigrants entered illegally and 40% stayed illegally
Because Mexico is so close, Mexican immigrants are inspected more thoroughly than immigrants from other countries. Mexicans only make up about half of the illegal immigrant population, 90% of those here illegally are from Mexico. (De Laet 54)
Immigrants who are caught living within the United States are required to leave the country and wait 10 years before applying for a VISA. As with apprehensions, few immigrants are actually deported because the process is slow and costly. In the 1980s, court fees and manual deportation (driving or flying the person across the border) cost the government $35,000, which is more than a year of an Ivy League education
Legal Immigration vs. Illegal
Illegal immigrants can only receive Medicaid and limited food benefits. Because the government has no record of these people, they have little risk of federal detection.
The benefits of legal immigration seem to strongly outweigh the disadvantages of it. Legal immigration allows benefits like social security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, a minimum wage guarantee, and all rights guaranteed under the Constitution. The only drawback of legal immigration is tax payments. However, illegal immigrants are often paid lower wages “under the table,” which results in a lower gross income than the minimum wage with taxes. For a lower class immigrant, the amount required to pay in taxes is far less than the money they can receive in federal benefits.
Many immigrants choose to enter the United States illegally before they can receive an available visa. Based on a New Immigrant Survey, which studied a sample of 1,134 immigrants who received permanent visas in 1996, 54% of them were living here illegally at an earlier date, either by crossing the US border (41%) or by overstaying their temporary visa (13%) (De Laet 34). This proves that over half of Mexican immigrants who became legal would rather wait through the process illegally in America than in Mexico.
Living illegally in the United States presents a variety of problems. First, the only employers willing to hire an undocumented person usually pay below the minimum wage. Living off an income below the minimum wage, especially with dependents, almost always means poverty. In addition, there is always the risk of detection and deportation.
Many Mexican immigrants immigrate through a process called chain migration. Because this process allows large communities of immigrants to form, many hold on to the culture of Mexico and do not adapt to American culture. Assimilation, or a lack thereof, has caused much controversy within the United States. Some groups argue that America was built on immigration and cultural differences, while others believe that immigrants who do not learn the language and culture are actually deteriorating the culture of the United States.
In order to become a legal US citizen, immigrants must prove an adequate proficiency in English through their US history exam. However, many are still more comfortable speaking their native language. To address concerns, several members of Congress have spoken about making English the official language of the United States. Currently, 23 states have adopted English as the state language. Arizona, which houses the third largest number of illegal immigrants, legally requires all government officials to speak English at all times in the workplace. Opponents of the law have called this a violation of the right to freedom of speech (“US Immigration Policy”).
The poverty rate of foreign-born Americans is 70% higher than those born in the United States (De Laet 82). Because undocumented workers are usually not paid the minimum wage, they are often forced into poverty. The average migrant worker in the United States has an annual income of only $10,200. (De Laet 39)
In conclusion, immigration has become a major problem in the United States. Living in El Paso I see this a lot on our news as well as in person. A big issue was that there were families crossing the border illegally just to gain access to social welfare here in the United States. Because of this, those who are legal citizens are getting their benefits lowered. This is a very controversial issue, and I too have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s good that these people want to come to America to have a better life and that they have somewhere to turn to for help. However, I don’t think it’s fair to those who live here and need help, to be turned down because there are so many more people needing help.
• De Wenden, Catherine Wihtol. (Spring 2007)A world without borders? (International migration). In Queen’s Quarterly, 114, p8(4). Retrieved August 10, 2007, from Expanded Academic ASAP via Thomson Gale:
• Meritz, D. (2007, August 10). Census Bureau: Minorities dominate 10% of U.S. counties, El Paso Times.
• De Laet, D. (2000) U.S Immigration Policy in an age of rights, Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., Westport, CT