8% of U.S. households were headed by an immigrant and received 6.7% of all cash benefits; by 1990, 8.4% of households were headed by an immigrant and received 13.1% of all cash benefits (Borjas, 1995, pp. 44-46).
Immigrants in different categories (both legal and illegal) have been eligible to receive certain welfare benefits. Legal immigrants are eligible after three to five years of residence, though asylum applicants and refugees are eligible immediately. One problem is that immigrants both legal and illegal displace native workers -- for every 100 unskilled immigrants who are working, 25 or more unskilled American-born workers are displaced from jobs. The costs of public assistance for the 2.1 million displaced American workers stands at $11.9 billion. Based on the 1990 census, the poverty rate for immigrants is 42.8% higher than for native-born Americans, and on average immigrant households receive 44.2% more public assistance dollars than native households. In terms of cost, legal immigrants account for three-quarters of the cost and illegal immigrants the rest (Landes, Blair, & Jacobs, 1995, p. 110).
Immigration harms minorities more than whites, and for this reason minorities tend to give strong support to immigration reform for both legal and illegal immigration, and the latter distinction is one many minorities do not make. The economic position of earlier-arriving immigrants is harmed by an influx of later-arriving immigrants (Matloff, 1996, pp. 61-62). While noting some benefits for immigration, Matloff (1996) concludes,
But the bottom line is that the significant problems associated with today's high yearly levels of immigration can only be solved by reducing those levels (p. 71).
Surely, the first effort to be made to reduce immigration levels is to reduce the levels of illegal immigration, for this would have an economic benefit both to native-born Americans and to legal immigrants. Yet, as Matloff (1996) notes, Congress has failed to accomplish this task and in fact increased yearly immigration quotas by 40% in 1990 without solving the problem of illegal immigration (p. 71).
The failure of Congress to address the issue adequately led to efforts by individual states to do something about it, though immigration policy is a federal and not a state issue. Proposition 187 in California is an example. Proposition 187 on the California ballot in the 1994 election was produced by the initiative process and was offered as a way of solving a number of the state's ills by requiring that illegal immigrants be refused a variety of government services, such as access to educational programs, welfare, and medical benefits except for emergency medical care. The Nation provided a succinct statement of what was embodied in Proposition 187 with reference to a person campaigning for it:
Goodman was campaigning for Proposition 187, the grandiosely titled "Save Our State" ballot initiative that, if passed this November and validated by the courts over the next several years, will use strict verification requirements to prevent California's estimated 1.7 million undocumented immigrants from partaking of every form of public welfare including nonemergency medical care, prenatal clinics and public schools. The measure would require employees at public health facilities, welfare offices, police departments and schools to demand proof of legal residency and to report those who can't produce it to the Immigration and Naturalization Service; it also calls for stiff penalties for creating or using false documents (Kadetsky, 1994, p. 416).
Though the proposition passed, much of it remained unimplemented because of court challenges.
Further state actions would follow, joined now by county and municipal efforts to increase the role of local law enforcement and to institute other controls to the degree possible. Bratsberg (1995) noted a decade ago the degree of growth in both legal and illegal immigration and the impact they were having on the society. Finding a way to count the size of the immigrant population has been difficult and is given much attention in the literature, given that the size of the illegal population is unknown. As Bratsberg writes,
Empirical studies of population growth conclude that the net population increase due to illegal immigration ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 per annum between 1980 and 1986. And despite the intent of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, there is no indication that the yearly flow of illegal immigrants has decreased since the passage of the act (Bratsberg, 1995).
This study also found agreement with Chiswick (1988) to the effect that illegal immigration is more elastic with respect to migration cost than is legal immigration.
Espenshade (1995) also notes problems in studying the issue of illegal immigration and cites how reality may differ from the public perception:
Not the least of the obstacles is the fact that the number of unauthorized immigrants entering the United States is unobserved and therefore not precisely known. In addition, no census or other federally sponsored survey asks respondents about their legal status, so the impact of undocumented immigration is often inferred from other indicators. The public's impression about unauthorized migration is frequently formed from scenes of Cubans and Haitians intercepted on the high seas or from pictures of clandestine migrants crossing the Mexico-United States border. As a consequence, the public perception about the nature and consequences of illegal immigration may differ substantially from what the research literature suggests (Espenshade, 1995, p. 195).
Some studies use apprehension data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (or its later incarnation) as a way of judging the number of illegal immigrations coming to the United States, but Espenshade notes how inappropriate this is because this data measures undocumented aliens who fail to enter the U.S., while the real issue is to count the number who have succeeded.
Espenshade notes how concerns about the number of illegal aliens who might be making it into the country have long produced responses in legislation, beginning as far back as 1888 and 1891 when bills were passed that allowed workers and other aliens who had entered the country illegally to be deported. It was clear by 1904 that the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, designed to prohibit the immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States, was failing, after which h the Commissioner-General of Immigration assigned a group of mounted inspectors to patrol the Mexico-U.S. border to prevent the smuggling of Chinese laborers through Mexico (Federation for American Immigration Reform, 1989). Quantitative restrictions on U.S. immigration were introduced in the 1920s, but these only served to increase illegal immigration. This led to the creation in 1924 of the U.S. Border Patrol as the uniformed enforcement arm of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The INS at the same time started keeping statistics on the number of apprehended aliens:
The last major immigration action prior to World War II was the country's first legalization program, adopted in 1929 for the purpose of accommodating those long-term illegally resident aliens who were not otherwise eligible for lawful permanent residence (Levine, Hill, & Warren, 1985).
The bracero program was introduced in the 1940s to bring in migrant farmworkers, but this did little to stem the flow of illegal farmworkers. Pressure to reform the system increased into the 1950s, leading to the passage of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and among other provisions, this act now imposed penalties including fines and possible imprisonment for persons found guilty of "harboring" illegal aliens. The law also made a concession to Texas agricultural interests so that employers of illegal aliens were exempted from these penalties. In 1965, amendments were made to the law that barely touched the question of illegal immigration.
Estimates on the size of the illegal immigrant population have varied widely over the years, with claims by politicians trying to use the issue for their own advantage inflating the figures and confusing the public. Serious studies have also made varied estimates. Some have estimated that the total number of undocumented migrants resident in the United States might exceed 10 million (Keely, 1982; Bos, 1984). More recent research refined these estimates. Warren and Passel (1987) state that the number of undocumented immigrants who were counted in the 1980 U.S. decennial census was about 2.1 million, with more than half of these (1.1 million) being from Mexico. Informal estimates suggest that between one half and two thirds of the number of illegal aliens in the United States were included in the 1980 census, implying that the total number of undocumented persons resident in the country in 1980 stood in the range from 2.5 to 3.5 million (Fix & Passel, 1994).
It has been estimated that by 1986, between 3 million and 5 million unauthorized aliens were living in the United States. The numbers dropped dramatically after the IRCA's legalization program granted amnesty to roughly 2.8 million formerly illegal residents, so that estimates for 1989 said that the number of undocumented persons had declined to somewhere within a range of 1.8 million to 3 million (Fix & Passel, 1994). This amnesty program was a one-time opportunity, however, and the number of illegals then started to increase again. Warren (1994) put the…