Immigration pros and cons fuel heated debates in the US and beyond. Who’s welcome, who’s not? Who gains, who loses? As tension remains high globally, let’s explore countering opinions and leading policy positions.
First and foremost, immigration is the movement of people from one country to another. People do this for many reasons, like seeking economic opportunities, fleeing social or environmental conflicts, or reuniting with loved ones. Although, human migration is nothing new. The earliest humans likely spread from Africa to the rest of the world — seeking resources, knowledge, and adventure — over many millennia.
The US, in particular, is largely considered a nation of immigrants. Many scientists believe Native Americans descended from hunter-gatherers who came from Asia. By the early 1600s, settlers from all over Europe established colonies throughout North, Central, and South America. Some newcomers were motivated by fame and fortune, others by religious freedom. Millions of enslaved Africans were also brought to the New World to help farm the land. Continuous waves of immigration throughout the following centuries helped form the landscape, culture, and economy Americans know today.
Now, let’s explore pros and cons of immigration before diving into current political viewpoints.
First, immigration can help nations increase or maintain their population numbers. For example, declining birth rates increasingly concern many nations. The fear: Future generations will have smaller pools of workers who struggle to support larger aging populations. Immigration can help work against such concerns.
Immigration can also help fill specific workforce gaps. The US farming industry has long depended on migrant and seasonal workers from Mexico and Central America. Since the mid-1950s, the country has turned to the Philippines to address nursing shortages. Immigrants have also played a vital role in shaping the US as a leading innovator.
Additionally, welcoming immigrants from around the globe can help build culturally rich populations. In today’s globalized economy, living among diverse ethnic, cultural, and religious groups benefits individuals and society as a whole.
Lastly, developing economies also benefit from immigration. Students from developing nations can study abroad in developed countries, then take new skills and economic opportunities home. Immigrants who remain in developed nations commonly send funds to support family members back home, boosting their local economies. People facing violent conflict or environmental disasters can also find safety and opportunity by moving abroad.
First, immigration surges can strain the resources of neighboring nations. For example, the US and Mexico struggle to manage an influx of asylum seekers from Central America. For years, the EU has also contended with floods of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.
Secondly, enforcing immigration processes and national borders can be costly. Since 2003, the US has spent $333 billion on enforcement measures. In fact, the government spent 24 percent more on this in 2012 than “all other federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined.”
Illegal immigration may also burden tax-paying citizens. The Federation for American Immigration Reform argues that most illegal immigrants don’t pay income tax while still using public services like schooling and healthcare. The organization estimates this costs US taxpayers $113 billion each year. Although, other studies don’t buy into this claim.
Additionally, immigration may increase job market competition, especially for low-skilled workers. Employers sometimes offer documented and undocumented workers lower wages and fewer benefits, depressing economic opportunities for native low-wage workers as well.
Lastly, influxes of immigrant populations can stir social conflict within host countries. Rapidly changing demographics, increased economic competition, and crime and safety concerns may increase nationalistic sentiments among some groups.
Immigration Pros and Cons: What Both Parties Think
US immigration policy hasn’t always been a partisan sticking point. According to Pew Research, just 1 percent of Americans considered this an important problem in 1965. Additionally, when anti-immigration feelings peaked in the mid-1990s, roughly 30 percent of Democrats and Republicans agreed that “immigrants strengthen our country.”
Today, nearly half the country believes that illegal immigration is a “very big problem” — with a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans.
Party viewpoints have shifted accordingly. Former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush both signed reform bills that increased enforcement while providing pathways to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. Today, amnesty is a nonstarter for Republicans. Most recently, former President Donald Trump brought forth numerous policies reducing legal and illegal immigration.
In contrast, Democrats have shifted further left. Similar to Republicans before him, former Democratic President Bill Clinton signed a reform bill increasing border protection and deportable crimes. Former President Barack Obama sent more undocumented immigrants home than any previous administration while providing temporary amnesty for undocumented children. Today, most Democratic voters believe immigration is a key part of the country’s identity. Accordingly, current President Joe Biden is expanding the legal immigration system and relaxing regulations for asylum seekers.