Like it or not, America is a nation of immigrants (Kennedy 10). Eight great waves of immigration fueled, first, the expansion to the West and Southwest and second, grew the mighty sinews of an industrializing America from the late 19th century onward. Along the way, resentment of the new arrivals manifested itself and the debate, well-intentioned or plainly racist, continues to this day.
The first wave excited no comment because the chiefly Anglo-Saxon population was being joined by Scandinavian immigrants who helped populate and cultivate lands east of the Mississippi and down to the border with Florida. Racial bias commenced in the third wave with the arrival in the 1840s and 1850s of Irish and Germans fleeing crop failures. After the civil war and up to 1915 came the fourth wave of no less than 25 million from southern and eastern Europe. During the fifth wave, starting and extending up to today, annual quotas based on nationality came into use.
Along the way, the “invisible” second wave commenced with the arrival of the first African slaves in Jamestown (VA) in 1619. A sixth wave of “aliens” from East Asia, arrived together with the fourth wave to work the plantations of Hawaii and California. And the eighth wave consists, of course, of the 11.5 -12 million illegal migrants who remain on U.S. soil to this day (Pew Research Center 1).
On posing the question that affectively asked respondents to agree with barring further migration (or not) and explain why, it was hypothesized that racism would be a prominent factor. We also expected that such a mindset would divide along racial lines, by length of residence in the country, and would be rationalized in terms of competition for scarce resources. What we did not anticipate was the attribution of rising criminality, because it is blamed on both recently-arrived Hispanics and the long-established but never fully accepted African-American.
This paper presents the results for the survey question, “Even in the prosperous years leading up to 9/11, political polls showed that most Americans thought that the number of immigrants to the U.S. should be cut back. Why do you think this was the case?” In all, we present the results for five respondents who furnished important analytical benchmarks for age, ethnicity, residence in America and occupation.
The process followed in this report is inductive (see following section), distilling the verbatim responses into common themes before examining what existing literature contributes to understanding the phenomenon of tolerance or rejection of immigrants.
Findings: Inductive Examination of Qualitative Response Set
Proceeding, first of all, with scrutiny of the verbatim results for common themes, we find that the irritants in race relations predicted by the literature permeate rationalizations and attitudes, precisely because the former has covered this arena so extensively and merely reflects prevalent opinion. There being just five identified respondents, we present no tables or charts.
The first theme we term “the pie is no longer getting bigger”, in reference to the bias that economic opportunity and growth is no longer enough to satisfy even those already resident in America.
…some people felt we have enough foreigners, and have adequate Americans to do jobs (Cynthia, a 61 year old African American woman who earned her Masters degree in Nursing from UCLA).
A second, related theme is competition for scarce resources. In an era of insoluble federal and state deficits, citizens resent the crowding out effect in schooling and health care. Such resentment is especially keen with respect to illegal immigrants, perceived to have taken shady paths to enjoys the fruits of American society.
Illegal immigration has been (a) problem, and they should make people come here with the normal process like everyone else…( Cynthia, a 61 year old African American woman who earned her Masters degree in Nursing from UCLA).
The third theme of social distance underlies a great deal of bias, including the seemingly minor sidelight of blaming economic travails on immigrants because the color of their skin makes them highly visible and different.
I believe … due to the selfish nature that exists in a large number of Americans, … they like to appear humane as long as the person seeking refuge is not in there (sic) neighborhood or back yard. I also believe that the attitude of intolerance was focused on the immigrants from the countries with the poorest conditions…for example people from the Haiti or Cuba versus European or Asian immigrants (Savannah Davis, 50, African-American).
The perception that new immigrants were “stealing jobs” from Americans was one of the misconceptions about the economy because they were an ever-present and visible entity that could be blamed (Alan, a 60 year old, Asian man who is a college graduate from San Francisco State College).
On the positive side is the reason enough argument by naturalized, highly educated professionals that they make vitally-needed contributions to the talent pool and hence, buttress the global competitiveness of the U.S.A.
…the new immigrants are more competitive on the job market…and they are more willing to work harder… US need new immigrants to do the job that American-born people do not like to do, and also, need new immigrants to keep ahead in science and technology areas. If US no longer take new immigrants, US would fall behind in world competition (Xuan, a 25 year old Chinese student with a doctorate).
Theory-building in respect of immigration stems generally from sociological, political science, and developmental economics perspectives.
From sociology, to name just two, there is Park’s (889) race relations cycle to describe the stages immigrant groups move through– contact, competition, accommodation and assimilation – while Bogardus originated social distance, again as a descriptive model of how the native-born actualise bias towards immigrants. Two elements worth noting about the abstraction of the race relations cycle: first, assimilation is the desirable goal and second, every immigrant group is defeated at attempts for accommodation by the host society on its own terms.
Hence, in Park’s view, assimilation is the ideal and must take place. In turn, social distance deals with the aftermath of immigrant entry into the host community; the cumulative attitudinal scale measures acceptance of racially different foreigners (but is also applicable to the natural-born coloured, the handicapped, mentally incapacitated, the elderly, and homosexuals) ranging from full intimacy to outright rejection.
All other sociological theories aside, the perspective from political economy eventually gravitates toward the question of whether unrestricted immigration takes away jobs from nationals and hence, hurts overall wellbeing. If U.S.-born workers want the same jobs immigrants do and their qualifications are equivalent or at least comparable, overall wages would decline if immigrants are willing to take less pay. And because immigrants compete for jobs at or near the bottom of the wage scale, at least initially, then it is the least educated (and hence already economically disadvantaged) citizen who is directly harmed.
Arguing that even similar-looking education and experience levels on the part of immigrants and locals are not perfectly substitutable, Ottaviano and Peri assessed both the macro-and microeconomic economic record:
- the impact of immigration on wages and housing values (levels) across all U.S. metropolitan areas from 1970 to 2000; and,
- a simulation model of the behavior of the same variables in an open city-economy.
The first step is an empirical study while the latter partakes of theoretical “proof”. The surprising, even counter-intuitive, conclusions:
- similar observable skills aside, American and immigrant workers are not perfectly substitutable;
- there are issues of complementarity and substitutability because arriving workers lack the personal ‘capital’ (a home, car, etc.) that the U.S. born already possess;
- native workers in fact derive a 3% to 4% net increase in wages over the long term.
However, it bears affirming that the argument for overall beneficial effects, i.e. across the nation, fails in the face of personal and community situations where displacement of economic opportunity and services is most painfully observed. This fuels racism within the anti-immigrant movement (Bandauer 2).
For his part, de Haas (4) would have us pay attention to the migration economics view of the “bottom-up” development that temporary immigrant laborers afford their home countries. This is clear warning that the poor in other countries will continue to seek economic opportunity in industrialized economies.
Immigration appears to be an issue that divides both policymakers and the man on the street. Tinged with racism or competition for resources, bias against aliens is by no means unique to the U.S.A. The U.K., Australia, Germany, Japan, and Singapore, to name just a handful, also practice restrictive immigration based on nationality. Neither Emancipation nor the Equal Rights Amendment has eliminated prejudice in American society. Segregation into racial ghettoes remains a fact of life.
Going by Census Bureau projections, mainstream, non-Hispanic whites will still constitute a majority of the national population up to 2040. Nevertheless, the immigration debate strikes at the heart of what it means to be an American and unless the deadlock of irreconcilable attitudes is broken, we can anticipate a fragmentation of American culture to rival the Balkan states and the former U.S.S.R.
Bandhauer, Carina. “Immigration, Law and Racism: A Clarification of Racism in the Contemporary Anti-Immigrant Movement.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting, Sheraton Boston and the Boston Marriott Copley Place, Boston, MA, 2008. Web.
Bogardus, Emory “Measuring Social Distances.” Journal of Applied Sociology 1925: 9, 299-308.
de Haas, Hein. “Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective.” Working Papers, Paper 9, London: International Migration Institute, James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford, 2008.
Kennedy, John F. A Nation of Immigrants New York: Harper & Row, 1964.
Ottaviano, Gianmarco I.P. and Giovanni Peri. Rethinking the Gains From Immigration: Theory and Evidence From the U.S. NBER Working Paper Series, Working Paper 11672, Cambridge, MA: National Bureau Of Economic Research, 2005.
Park, Robert E. “Human Migration and the Marginal Man.” American Journal of Sociology 1928: 33: 881-893.
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. America’s Immigration Quandary. Washington, DC: Pew research Center, 2006.
Philips, Trevor. UK: Immigration and the Labour Market – Theory, Evidence, Policy. Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2009. Web.