The US Immigration Debate

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

For centuries people have been flocking to the United States to seek sanctuary from persecution and other fears. Others came in search of greater opportunities and the promise of a better life. History shows that there have been four waves of migration to the US: the English colonization of Virginia from the early years of this Republic until the1820s; the second wave began in the 1840s through the 1870s when a reported 15 million immigrants entered the country. However, the heaviest period of immigration was from the 1880s all through the 1920s when an estimated 25 million immigrants made this their home. The most recent wave, the fourth wave, began in 1965, mostly from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Generally, and especially since the latter half of the twentieth century, U.S. immigration policy has geared towards addressing specific problems, i.e. setting limits on the number of immigrants who can legally emigrate at any given time, and finding solutions to the problem of political refugees. Other immigration Acts includes the1986, 1990, and the 1996 Immigration Reform and Control Acts designed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, and Acts specifying the rights of immigrants living in the United States.

It is true that the government of the United States, at various times, have had to enact exclusionary laws, i.e. the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 passed by Congress giving the President “authority to exclude or deport foreigners deemed dangerous and to prosecute anyone who criticized the government.” Furthermore, there have been periods of nativism; but by and large — in spite of the occasional anti-immigrant or anti-immigration fervor — this has been a welcoming nation. Americans are very welcoming of immigrants. More than any nation on earth, America understands the value of immigration.

The recent uproar about the impending Immigration Bill is much ado about nothing. Governments have the right to control immigration — more so the government of the United States. We live in a very open society, a society that does not restrict the movement of law abiding persons. Not only is the society free and open; the geographic borders are also free and open. To the East and West are the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, but the Northern and Southern borders are flanked by Canada and Mexico. Except in designated places, the borders are wide and free and open allowing undocumented immigrants and others with untold intensions towards the United States and her national security interests to roams about without respect for the country’s laws.

No government should allow such nonsense and carelessness. Whether in times of war, or peace, it is government’s responsibility to make all Americans and all immigrants feels safe and secure. The proposed bill is not about limiting or cutting off immigrations. No! There simply must be order to the immigration method. You cannot have a situation where people simply walk into the country unannounced and undocumented. There are thousands and thousands of prospective immigrants waiting their turn to lawfully enter the country while others simply stroll in and vanish within the system.

No nation can afford to keep her borders porous and or allow for unmitigated migration. Besides, why should a group of people wait — 5, 10, 15 years to migrate — when others can simply walk in, break the laws and then granted residency and citizenship? Not only is this unfair, it is a recipe for disaster and calamitous dramas.

The unfortunate part of the ongoing debate is that some people have made it out to be “us versus them” debate, arguing that White America wants to keep the Hispanics out of this country, and in the process painting the Hispanics as the aggrieved. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Today, from Florida to California and from Arizona to Texas and everywhere far, near and in between, the Hispanics are defining, selecting and dominating the debate. One could say this is a shrewd move on their part; but for me and for the purpose of the article, their astuteness is neither here nor there. This is simply about the need for just and fair immigration.

Conservatively, there are 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Ten million and counting! “Bush wants Congress to create a program to allow foreigners to gain legal status in the United States for a set amount of time to do specific jobs. When the time is up, they would be required to return home without an automatic path to citizenship.” Others want total amnesty for all illegal and undocumented immigrants. Both plans are doom for failure because about seventy five percent of such workers will never leave. And if you grant total amnesty, such magnanimity will simply encourage more illegality — with the hope that down the road another amnesty will be offered.

Competing proposals in the US Congress attempts to address the need for foreign workers and homeland security concerns. The House of Representatives for instance, approved a bill that would “require employers to verify potential employees’ legal status. It also subjects employers to criminal penalties and imposes civil fines of up to $50,000 for each illegal hire. It does not include a provision for guest workers. In principle, the latest draft would allow undocumented workers already in the country and a limited number of future immigrants to eventually apply for permanent resident status — without having to return to their native country. Critics say that amounts to amnesty.”

I would suggest that the Congress, in conjunction with the White House, set up a bi-partisan committee to examine all aspects of US immigration policy and come up with ways to safeguard the border and deal with matters concerning illegal and undocumented workers. The time is long overdue for immigration policies that really works, and which takes into account the interest of all those concern. At the end of the day though, we must not reward illegality and punish all those who have been patiently waiting to make a legal and safe passage to this great country. That’s common sense.

Because of what America is and because of what America offers, there may never be a fail-safe or perfect immigration policy. I have no il

lusions about that. Not at all! Still, it does not mean that the United States should give up protecting her borders and other national security interests.

It is a disservice and disingenuous on the part of those advocating safe passage and or free ride for illegal immigrants. When is enough really “enough”? Ten million today, and in a few years another twenty million? Well, why don’t we just open our water ways and land and sea borders to all those who show up? We have laws in this country that moderate and legislates our social, political and economic entitlements. Therefore, all those desiring to come here must follow US laws.

It is not uncommon to hear people say “all Americans are immigrants,” therefore there should be unrestricted immigration. Others have posited that since “Native Americans didn’t complain,” why should anyone else? I think both arguments are skewed. Yes, it is a historical fact that “we are all immigrants.” But to the extent that this is a nation-state, a sovereign nation-state, she is entitled to regulate her borders, pursue and enforce domestic and foreign policies and other matters that contribute to her wellbeing and perpetuation. Uncontrolled immigration is inimical to the well-being of this country.

For most of us immigrants, whether naturalized or not, this country has basically kept to its promises — which is that if you work hard, obey the laws and have viable dreams, you will be supported, and your dreams realized. The proposed immigration bill is not about curtailing anyone’s dreams. It is about legality and about national security interest. Come to the United States if you want to come; but please do so legally.

You may also like


Anonymous April 25, 2006 - 6:56 pm

Interseting article, and equally interesting comments.

Illegal immigration is not good for the well-being of any country. Having said this, may I introduce another angle to this argument. People are leaving their countries because USA, her western allies and corrupt corporations (Haliburton, Exxon Mobil, etc) have made it impossible for them live decent lives in their countries. They corrupt the politicians of these unfortunate countries, aid coups when "necessary," flare gases and pollute their environments, under-pay locals, and so on. It is good for a doctor, nurse, engineer, pharmacist, teacher, etc trained in these poor countries to immigrate to USA, do menial jobs for years, get certification, work and pay taxes, and contribute to the development of USA but not good for the poor farmer to come in from Mexico. Come on people.

Reply April 5, 2006 - 2:59 pm

Naija Person,

Yes we are all immigrants. But if immigration is unchecked, the consequences will be bad. You think the Anglos are freaked out now? Wait till they think they have been overrun by Brown People. Wait till the Anglos consider themselves minorities. They will not only close their borders, they may sytemmatically start deportation by proxy. It is necessary to check immigration now. It will favor future generations of immigrants.

Anonymous April 3, 2006 - 4:52 pm

If you stopped the Military Industrial Compless from building Billion Dolar bombs you may just have enough time and money to think of people as people and not assets and libilities.

Think large, think 300 billion and counting for ungrateful Iraq. If government is an investment, someone should tell us the black ink in Iraq. All we see is red; blood men, equipment and more terror.

Anonymous April 2, 2006 - 2:54 pm

How do they pay taxes when there's no record of them ever exisiting in the U.S.A? Are illegals ever screened for unmentionable infectous diseases? Hell there's an affordable housing shortage here in the United States right now only to be more compunded by them. Perhaps they should stop looking at the United States as an economic crutch and take the responsibility to make changes in their own nations in terms of leadership and economics instead of running away.

Anonymous April 2, 2006 - 11:43 am

Its enough for you to peddle disinformation. The illegal aliens in this country mostly pay their taxes. If it doesn't get into the Govt's coffers, that is not their fault. They also provide cheap labor, labor so affordable it keeps many of your industries in business, and they generate some 10billion annually. You think food is cheap because your typical legal resident works on the farms? Please!

Anonymous April 2, 2006 - 8:53 am

Your article is well written, evidently you do not view America as a check in/ check out hotel. If one desires citizenship then permit them to do it legally. 11 to 14 million illegal aliens in this country who do not pay taxes , over burden American schools and cannot be called upon to serve in the military because they're undocumented (no proof of existence here in Yankee).If those same illegal millions were to go to Nigeria what a row it would cause. This policy ,if enacted ,would knock those off the Visa waiting list who've been patiently waiting for years for admisssion to America…..LEGALLY!!!!

Anonymous April 1, 2006 - 10:16 pm

very good comment.

Run for President we will vote you so we can keep those Nigerians out of our dear country. Brilliant.

They only fill our country with more babies and are too inteligent.

I gotta run, I leave for Nigeria tomorrow to prospect for oil.

Naija Person April 1, 2006 - 10:59 am

Rosie of Smokey Smokey

You are not indian so you are also an immigrant whether caucasian or other. You need a senator who would represent you. On these boards are mostly first and second genaration immigrants sharing and bonding, the majority do not share Adidde's sentiments.

This whole writing seems targeted to provoke the ailing immigrants who want to be joined to their families. In my opinion, it is in bad taste and is provocative on a naija website and it does not represent naija but Oyibo.

Reply March 31, 2006 - 6:25 pm

Finally!!! A voice of reason. Bro, run for senate, jo.

Anonymous March 31, 2006 - 11:22 am

March 31, 2006

Op-Ed Columnist

The Road to Dubai


For now, at least, the immigration issue is mainly hurting the Republican Party, which is divided between those who want to expel immigrants and those who want to exploit them. The only thing the two factions seem to have in common is mean-spiritedness.

But immigration remains a difficult issue for liberals. Let me say a bit more about the subject of my last column, the uncomfortable economics of immigration, then turn to what really worries me: the political implications of a large nonvoting work force.

About the economics: the crucial divide isn't between legal and illegal immigration; it's between high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants. High-skilled immigrants say, software engineers from South Asia are, by any criterion I can think of, good for America. But the effects of low-skilled immigration are mixed at best.

True, there are large benefits for the low-skilled migrants, who may find even a minimum-wage U.S. job a big step up. Immigration also raises the total income of native-born Americans, although reasonable estimates suggest that these gains amount to no more than a fraction of 1 percent.

But low-skilled immigration depresses the wages of less-skilled native-born Americans. And immigrants increase the demand for public services, including health care and education. Estimates indicate that low-skilled immigrants don't pay enough in taxes to cover the cost of providing these services.

All of these effects, except for the gains for the immigrants themselves, are fairly small. Some of my friends say that's the point I should stress: immigration is a wonderful thing for the immigrants, and claims that immigrants are undermining American workers and taxpayers are hugely overblown end of story.

But it's important to be intellectually honest, even when it hurts. Moreover, what really worries me isn't the narrow economics it's the political economy, the effects of having a disenfranchised labor force.

Imagine, for a moment, a future in which America becomes like Kuwait or Dubai, a country where a large fraction of the work force consists of illegal immigrants or foreigners on temporary visas and neither group has the right to vote. Surely this would be a betrayal of our democratic ideals, of government of the people, by the people. Moreover, a political system in which many workers don't count is likely to ignore workers' interests: it's likely to have a weak social safety net and to spend too little on services like health care and education.

This isn't idle speculation. Countries with high immigration tend, other things equal, to have less generous welfare states than those with low immigration. U.S. cities with ethnically diverse populations often the result of immigration tend to have worse public services than those with more homogeneous populations.

Of course, America isn't Dubai. But we're moving in that direction. As of 2002, according to the Urban Institute, 14 percent of U.S. workers, and 20 percent of low-wage workers, were immigrants. Only a third of these immigrant workers were naturalized citizens. So we already have a large disenfranchised work force, and it's growing rapidly. The goal of immigration reform should be to reverse that trend.

So what do I think of the Senate Judiciary Committee's proposal, which is derived from a plan sponsored by John McCain and Ted Kennedy? I'm all in favor of one provision: offering those already here a possible route to permanent residency and citizenship. Since we aren't going to deport more than 10 million people, we need to integrate those people into our society.

But I'm puzzled by the plan to create a permanent guest-worker program, one that would admit 400,000 more workers a year (and you know that business interests would immediately start lobbying for an increase in that number). Isn't institutionalizing a disenfranchised work force a big step away from democracy?

For a hard-line economic conservative like Mr. McCain, the advantages to employers of a cheap work force may be more important than the violation of democratic principles. But why would someone like Mr. Kennedy go along? Is the point to help potential immigrants, or is it to buy support from business interests?

Either way, it's a dangerous route to go down. America's political system is already a lot less democratic in practice than it is on paper, and creating a permanent nonvoting working class would make things worse. The road to Dubai may be paved with good intentions.

Culled from The New York Times by Paul I. Adujie

Anonymous March 31, 2006 - 11:15 am

Mr. Abiddeh,

You have made a very sound legal argument.

But I must reject all the logical points that you have made, in favor of my emotional response…. which is the plight of illegal immigrants!

Have you heard of dead stowaways? Have you heard of Desert Desperate Crossings turn Deadly?

Have you heard of the abuses illegal immigrants endure? Low pay, no health insurance, no retirement benefits…. but so many here in our great USA are enjoying the labor provided by the same illegal immigrants!

Were it not for illegal immigrants? You will pay more for Broccolli, more for Oranges and Grapes, Strawberries and many other agricultural/farm products produced with the labor of illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigrants pervade the construction industry as they do in farming.

Illegal immigrants mow lawns, drive cab, they are the security guards, they are the bulk of baby sitters and home health care providers…. illegal immigrants do all the DIRTY menial jobs in America…. jobs Americans and older/legal immigrants are unwilling to do!

WHY then, do we take the benefits that accrues from illegal immigrants cheap unregulated labor….. but we look the other way when illegal immigrants are sich or want education, loans other social services? Or even vacations?

I am all for obeyinig the laws….. but I will reject your perfect legal argument…. on account of what I have try to explain above./// I am a LIBERAL with a capital L and your view on this matter is reminiscent of ultra conservatives!

You have made a very good logical and sound legal argument… but I am not accepting it… I feel great compassion for those hard working long-suffering immigrants!

Give the immigrants some breathing space ay ay ay!!!

Thank you for the analyses though.

Most sincerely,

Paul I. Adujie

New York, United States


Leave a Comment