In a world where nations compete to attract the best and brightest, immigration is an important economic and social policy. Immigrants add to the nation’s economy, but they also enrich their communities, contribute to its cultural fabric and help their children become more assimilated. They face a wide range of challenges and experiences, from finding jobs and housing to navigating a culture that is sometimes ambivalent or hostile to their presence.
The term “immigrant” encompasses all foreign-born individuals who have not yet naturalized as citizens of the host country. These include both legal immigrants and undocumented migrants. The number of immigrants has varied over the years, and some countries are more welcoming to foreign-born residents than others.
There are many different reasons people migrate, but the most common is to escape poverty and seek a better life. In addition, some may be fleeing persecution or a threat of violence in their home countries.
The United States has a long history of immigration, and today about 14 percent of Americans are foreign-born. The nation has benefitted from the energy and ingenuity that newcomers bring, even if there have been times when immigration was restricted.
From the mid-19th century through the early decades of the 20th century, the era of mass migration was marked by sweeping demographic changes that profoundly shaped American society.
Most of these demographic changes were driven by the demand for labor. The economy grew rapidly during this period, and it required large numbers of workers to keep it going. In addition, a new wave of immigrants brought in much needed skills and a desire to live a freer, more prosperous life.
While these economic benefits are clear, immigration still faces widespread opposition. Many of the same forces that made assimilation difficult for earlier waves of immigrants have resurfaced in this era. These factors include demographic change, rapid economic growth and the existence of ethnocentrism-beliefs that value members of one’s own community more than outsiders.
When immigration fuels the economy, it raises the incomes of immigrants and natives alike. This increase is referred to as the immigration surplus. It raises the return on capital and lowers the wages of competing laborers, but only a small share of this extra income goes to the workers themselves (Keely 1979).
Those who are not benefiting from the economic gains of immigration have strong motives for opposing it. This includes political leaders, talk-show and radio pundits, and social movement organisations such as public interest organisations and unauthorized militia groups that patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, such as the Minutemen. This opposition is not only motivated by economic concerns but by an underlying belief that outsiders are a threat to traditional cultural arrangements and social stability. Despite the evidence of economic and social benefits, immigration remains a controversial issue because it challenges established values and creates new inequalities. In the end, however, economic forces are likely to prevail over cultural ones. In the future, the United States will have to find a way to manage and control immigration in order to maintain its role as a global leader.