Immigration Policy

Posted on January 30, 2011

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In recent entries, I have discussed various factors that go into creating the current immigration situation in the United States, from both the immigrants’ side and that of the countries they seek to enter. With this background, I can now look at the variety of policy responses that the US and countries in similar situations are making.

The United State’s approach centers around three main concerns, legal immigration, border security to prevent illegal immigration, and the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants that are already in the country. These issues are interrelated. America sets visa caps for most countries that are major sources of immigrants, and so most people who want to can’t enter, even if they have skills or general prospects. Those who make it face huge bureaucratic obstacles. So many people, whether simply unlucky or without other resources enter illegally, whether through airports or the long isolated stretches of the southern land border. The magnitude of illegal entrants is such that the government puts a lot of money and effort into closing the border and finding and deporting the people who make it through. In the vastness of 50 states and 300 million people, the law enforcement miss many of them. There are people who have lived illegally in the US for decades, some who don’t remember any other life. There used to be provisions for them to work towards legal status, but that expired in 2001 and has yet to be addressed. Various plans to address each of these concerns have been brought forth, but none have made it all the way through Congress, leaving everything in limbo.

Britain,  being an island nation in the far north off a relatively wealthy continent, has little difficulty with illegal immigration, and is instead focussing on reducing legal immigration as much as possible. Its treaties with the European Union prohibit restrictions on immigrants from within the group, and voters and politicians are both uncomfortable keeping families separate by cutting the number of immigrants sponsored by current residents. All that’s left are people, skilled and unskilled, coming for jobs.

Other countries, notably Northern Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece and also Australia have trouble with illegal immigrants that can be compared to the United States. These countries work hard to keep people from coming in illegally, even while it is difficult for those people to enter legally. Both areas are faced with boats coming across, respectively, the Mediterranean and the sea from Indonesia. If the countries use their coast guards to turn the boats back, people often die from exposure, hunger, and the danger posed by their rickety craft. And yet they cannot simply be accepted.

Japan has even stricter immigration requirements than the other countries discussed here. Their culture, more than others, prizes exceptionalism and cultural purity. Even in the face of labor shortages in key areas, they have yet to loosen regulations.

Overall, despite possible benefits and the fervent hopes of immigrants themselves, countries generally choose to accept as few immigrants as they can justify to themselves and their neighbors.

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