According to NewsMax.com, "Almost no issue divides Republicans as deeply" as President Bush's new proposal to offer so-called "guest worker status" to otherwise illegal immigrants. The guest worker status proposal stands as one of the only proposed legislative compromises regarding the illegal immigration issue, which has become one of the most contentious issues being debated in the United States. On the one hand, earnings in nations like Mexico are one-tenth of what they are in the United States, and throngs of willing workers head northward to seek more gainful employment and a supposedly improved quality of life. Furthermore, the low wages offered to illegal immigrants boost some businesses and allow profit margins to increase substantially over what they would be if companies had to pay union wages to their workers. Some people claim that illegal immigrant workers are performing the jobs that most Americans simply won't do, because most Americans in the workforce have at least a high school education. Also on the laissez-faire side of the illegal immigration issue is the argument that the American economy would collapse or at least suffer a great blow if illegal immigration were curbed. Other potential problems with cracking down on illegal immigrants include the costs of maintaining border controls and the increased risks to safety that would pose to desperate Mexicans. In spite of these arguments, however, no one could argue rationally that illegal immigration is an overall boon.
Nightly on the CNN prime time news show Lou Dobbs Tonight, the host rants about the problems illegal immigration is causing to Americans. Groups like the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) share the antagonistic view held by Dobbs and others who claim that illegal immigration is causing indelible harm to the American economy and American society. The potential drawbacks of illegal immigration are many: because they are willing to work for so little, in many cases less than minimum wage, they are competing with American citizens and legal residents for jobs. The low wages offered to illegal immigrants also drives down the value of labor, both skilled and unskilled. The result may be an under-valuation of certain kinds of work. Illegal immigrants often drain public resources: many seek and receive welfare benefits, health care, education, and other social services without paying the taxes that support such systems. On study conducted by the Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association discovered that in that state an estimated thirty-one million dollars per year is spent on treating illegal immigrants ("The Cost of Illegal Immigration"). Illegal immigration may also be undercutting attempts to boost wages and workers' rights through labor unions and may be contributing to the overall imbalance in wealth distribution that increasingly characterizes American society. Furthermore, because illegal immigration is becoming such a divisive political, economic, and social issue, the stigma of being an immigrant increases the widespread prejudice and discrimination in the United States toward foreigners of any background, legal or not.
Most of the attention paid to the illegal immigration issue in the United States focuses on Mexico. Of the estimated seven million illegal immigrants said to live and work in the country, about seventy percent are from Mexico ("Executive Summary"). The numbers have also consistently increased over the past several years. California is home to the most illegal immigrants: about thirty-two percent of the national total ("Executive Summary"). Texas, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and New York are also states with relatively high populations of illegal immigrants.
As many as fifteen percent of the illegal immigrants arriving in the United States from Mexico have college degrees; the rest are unskilled laborers who find low-paying jobs in various sectors ranging from the hotel and service to the construction industry. Although many immigrants, from Mexico, Asia, or Europe, intend to stay only temporarily, low wages and high costs of living make it difficult for them to save enough money to return home to their families. As a result, millions stay in the United States illegally and start new families. On the up side, the children of illegal immigrants will be American citizens if they were born on American soil. They will therefore have access to American schools, health care, and social services. When the children grow older they will be able to work legally, support their families in the United States or in their country of origin, and potentially sponsor their relatives to become legal residents of the country. The children and extended families of illegal immigrants often enjoy a higher quality of living than they would have in their home country, even though many of them live below the line of poverty and in the most ghettoized, squalid neighborhoods of the nation. Such realities do not deter immigrants from illegally crossing the border. Illegal workers are also able to develop a skill or set of skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives. If the illegal worker is eventually able to obtain legal residency status, he or she would enjoy a substantially higher rate of pay -- in theory.
Illegal immigrants who are willing to work for minimum wage or less may be contributing to the overall gross domestic product of the United States by allowing the companies for which they work to enjoy higher profit margins than they would if they had to raise their wages. Many Americans, especially those with some college education, would be unwilling to work for such low wages and therefore the illegal immigrants may be taking jobs that no one else would want, jobs that are still necessary for the functioning of the American economy. Therefore, illegal workers are in some ways keeping the American economy going.
On the other hand, many analysts note that illegal immigration causes more problems than it solves, for both the illegal workers and for the American economy as a whole. Illegal workers who are willing to accept low wages are accepting and perpetuating a life of poverty and thrusting it upon themselves and their children. On the other hand, many of the illegal workers who do accept such low wages were not financially better off than they were in their countries of origin.
According to the FAIR website, "illegal immigration causes substantial harm to American citizens and legal immigrants, particularly those in the most vulnerable sectors of our population -- the poor, minorities, and children," ("Illegal Immigration is a Crime"). Illegal immigrants are directly usurping the jobs of unskilled but legal workers who would gladly work for minimum wage. One of the strongest arguments against illegal immigration is the fact that low-wage, low- or unskilled positions are being increasingly filled by illegal workers, threatening to increase levels of unemployment and drag down the American economy in general. It is theoretically possible but fairly unrealistic to assume that if illegal immigrants fill the low-wage and unskilled positions willingly, then more Americans and legal immigrants would upgrade their educational level and skills sets in order to find better-paying jobs.
FAIR also concludes that "Illegal immigration causes an enormous drain on public funds. The seminal study of the costs of immigration by the National Academy of Sciences found that the taxes paid by immigrants do not begin to cover the cost of services received by them," ("Illegal Immigration is a Crime"). Because illegal immigrants do not pay taxes, they are not paying for the services that they take advantage of in the United States. In addition to draining public resources like health care and education costs, illegal immigrants may be "crowding school classrooms, consuming already limited affordable housing, and increasing the strain on precious natural resources like water, energy, and forestland," ("Illegal Immigration is a Crime"). Therefore, illegal immigration may have significant and long-term social, economic, and environmental results. Illegal immigration may also be reducing the incentive for the American economy to expand into new areas of technological advancement, as the cost-effectiveness of cheap labor may outweigh the promise of mechanizing, automating, and computerizing certain positions. In a National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast, Jeff Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center, Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, and Tamar Jacoby of the Manhattan Institute postulate on the potential long-term consequences of illegal immigrant labor.
According to George Weissinger, "immigration law violators are not immigrants. They are aliens who are in the United States in violation of law." Weissinger addresses a central issue of the illegal immigration problem: pro-or con, illegal immigration is against the law. Proposals like President Bush's "guest worker status" are designed to alter immigration laws and may make what is now illegal legal. However, illegal immigrants are frequently discriminated against not only because of their illegal status but also because of their ethnicity. The illegal immigration problem is exacerbating some of the underlying ethnic and racial conflicts that already plague the United States of America. Bush's proposal is no panacea; it offers a quasi-legal status to illegal workers but does not address some of the problems caused by…