Immigration has been an issue for the United States almost since its founding. The first immigration law was adopted in 1790 (1790 Alien Naturalization Act). Since that point the United States has struggled with controlling the tide of people attempting to enter the country through legal and illegal means. In recent years, illegal immigration has reached almost surreal proportions. Between ten and twelve million illegal immigrants currently reside in the United States, and there are approximately 400,000 new illegal immigrants arriving each year (Camarota). One of the ways that illegal immigration harms the United States is through the economy. Illegal immigration is a poison to the country's workforce and a drain on social programs and must be stopped in order to mitigate the damage it is doing to the United States economy.
When our country was young, there were vast tracts of undiscovered land that had to be traversed, settled, and improved. Railroads were built and homesteads planted by largely unskilled laborers, which came by the thousands from Europe to escape oppression and find opportunities. They came through Ellis Island and became United States citizens, to whom our nation owes quite a debt. Fast forward to present day, when the country's infrastructure is complete, the land is settled, and there is more than enough unskilled labor for the nation's needs. There are seventy-three million adult Americans with only a high school education (Steinlight). Add to that the influx of illegal immigrants, sixty-percent of whom have no high school diploma (Camarota). This has a significant effect on the economic status of the legal unskilled workers in the US. A study in 1997 found that immigrant labor caused a 44 percent drop in pay for the poorest Americans over the course of 14 years (Steinlight). Additionally, Mr. Steinlight cites a study in the 1990's showed that for every one percent increase of unskilled immigrant workers in a job category, pay decreased in that category by 7 percent. Consider again that there are almost 12 million illegal immigrants in the US, and that sixty percent of them have no high-school diploma. There is a myth that illegal immigrants only take jobs that citizens don't want. However research shows that no major job category, as defined by the Census Bureau, is dominated by illegal workers. Even among those occupations stereotyped as those that illegals do, such as janitors, taxi drivers, housekeepers, landscapers, and construction, the majority of workers are citizens. These citizens are slowly being crowded out of their jobs by illegal immigrants. From 2000 to 2005, the number of employed unskilled citizen laborers fell approximately three percent (Krikorian). There is a significant impact in both pay and availability of jobs to a group of United States citizens who cannot afford to take the hit.
In addition to the economic impact to the workforce, illegal immigration burdens an already overtaxed social services system. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act is an unfunded federal mandate that states that emergency rooms must triage and treat all emergency conditions and childbirth situations regardless of the ability of the patient to pay. As a result, hospital emergency rooms are being flooded by illegal aliens seeking health careand they have to treat them because doctors can't rule out emergency medical needs until they screen and treat patients for other conditions (Cosman 6) Emergency rooms are closing because they have been turned into free medical clinics instead of trauma centers as they were intended to be. Emergency rooms are also ground zero for the phenomenon known as "anchor babies," where illegal immigrants arrive just in time to use the facility as their birthing center. This child born to illegal parents on US soil is a citizen of the United States and automatically qualifies for healthcare, education, and welfare benefits, further draining the taxpayers' coffers (Cosman 7). In addition to welfare and health benefits, the taxpayers will be footing another costly bill. A 1982 Supreme Court ruling entitles all children, including illegal immigrants, to a free education, funded by taxpayers. One result of this ruling is the overcrowding of the nation's schools. Currently the number of children enrolled in school is at an all-time high of 55 million. School-aged immigrants (legal and illegal) are about 250,000 and the children of illegal immigrants are about 725,000 annually. The ratio of students in the United States with at least one foreign-born parent is 1 in 5, and in California almost half of the kids starting school are either immigrants or the children of immigrants (FAIR: Immigration and School Overcrowding). Again one must remember that there are around 11 million illegal immigrants in the country. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2004 seventy-six percent of those families had children (Kahn). Due to the influx of these children into the school system, fourteen percent of the country's schools exceed capacity by six to 25 percent; eight percent exceed by more than 25 percent (FAIR: Immigration and School Overcrowding). In addition to overcrowding, there is a significant cost to taxpayers. Jack Martin of the Federation for American Immigration Reform states "The total K-12 school expenditure for illegal immigrants costs the states nearly $12 billion annually, and when the children born here to illegal aliens are added, the costs more than double to $28.6 billion" (Martin). Dual language programs add an additional $290 to $879 dollar cost per student depending on the size of the class (Martin, Limited English Proficiency Enrollment and Rapidly Rising Costs). These figures do not include supplemental feeding programs or other special needs programs for the children. Truly there is an enormous burden on taxpayers brought on by illegal immigration simply in the use and abuse of its social services. There are those who state that illegal immigrants also contribute to the United States economy because they have taxes and Social Security taken from their checks but cannot claim the returns because they often use false identification. They also shop and pay sales tax, further contributing to the coffers. However, the economic drain based on the use and abuse of social services such as emergency rooms, education, and welfare benefits, far outweighs what is paid into the system. There is yet another cost to the taxpayer for population-based infrastructure such as roadways, etc. which have more wear and tear from the increased population. All told, the drain to the economy is far more severe than any offset paid into the system by illegal immigrants who may or may not have taxes taken out, or the money provided by their sales taxes.
The poem inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty states:
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me;
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (Statue of Liberty)
Many groups who feel the United States should let illegal immigration continue unchecked quote this poem and ask where that sentiment has gone. They accuse the United States of turning its back on a founding principle of the nation: that of the "golden door." However, this metaphorical door is still open, for those who choose to use it. The golden door is the legal immigration process and is still used by countless immigrants through the years. If legal immigration is a door, then illegal immigration is in essence breaking and entering through the windows and chimneys of the building. Illegal immigrants are taking advantage of the United States' economy through our workforce and our social services, and this tremendous tsunami must be stopped.
"1790 Alien Naturalization Act." Immigration.Procon.Org. <http://immigration.procon.org/sourcefiles/1790AlienNaturalizationAct.pdf>.
Camarota, Steven A. "www.cis.org." 23 October 2005. Center For Immigration Studies. October 2008 <http://www.cis.org/articles/2005/camerataoped1005.html>.
Cosman, Madeleine Pelner. "Illegal Aliens and American Medicine." Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (2005): 6-9.
"FAIR: Immigration and School Overcrowding." Federation For American Immigration Reform. October 2008 <http://fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=iic_immigrationissuecenters51f8>.
Kahn, Carrie. "Study Details Lives of Illegal Immigrants in U.S.:NPR." 14 June 2005. NPR.org. October 2008 <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4703307>.
Krikorian, Mark. "ABC News: Point/Counterpoint: No Need for Immigrants Here." 2 October 2007. ABC News. October 2008 <http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=3679288&page=1>.
Martin, Jack. "FAIR: Breaking the Piggy Bank: How Illegal Immigration is Sending Schools Into the Red." June 2005. FAIRUS.org. October 2008 <http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=research_researchf6ad>.
. "Limited English Proficiency Enrollment and Rapidly Rising Costs." FAIRus.org. October 2008 <http://www.fairus.org/site/DocServer/LEP_Special_Report.pdf?DocID=1581>.
Statue of Liberty. October 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statue_of_liberty>.
Steinlight, Stephen A. "Ignoring Problems of Illegal Immigration Leads to Exploitation." August 2008. Center for Immigration Studies. October 2008 <http://www.cis.org/node/759>.