Illegal Immigration

December 10, 1976 – Volume 2, Issue 22

A document from the CQ Researcher archives:

Report Outline
Impact of Illegal Aliens in U.S.
Approaches to Immigration Problems
Search for Realistic Solutions
Special Focus

Impact of Illegal Aliens in U.S.

Explosive Growth in Clandestine Immigration

Changes in U.S. immigration law due to take effect Jan. I will impose the most severe restrictions in history on legal immigration into the United States from other countries of the Western Hemisphere. For the first time, each of these countries will have a quota of 20,000 U.S.-bound emigrants each year. In addition, a preference system already in effect for the Eastern Hemisphere will be applied in this part of the world. The preferences favor close relatives of U.S. residents, refugees, and professionals and skilled workers.

The changes are intended to put the residents of this hemisphere on an equal footing with the rest of the world. Ironically the changes are expected to worsen, rather than ease, this nation's mounting immigration woes, especially the problems caused by the tide of illegal aliens. Illegal immigration into the United States has been increasing rapidly throughout the past decade. In 1965, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) apprehended 110,371 illegal aliens; 1974 apprehensions had increased sevenfold to 788,145. In 1975, the total declined slightly to 766,600. By far the largest number of illegal aliens were clandestine border crossers, called EWIs (Entered Without Inspection) by the Immigration Service. In 1975, 87 per cent of those apprehended were EWIs. Other categories included visitors who had overstayed their visas, crewmen who had jumped ship, and students who had taken jobs or violated other provisions of their entry permits.

In the past several years, according to a study recently conducted for the Department of Labor, there has been an “explosive increase” in the amount of immigration—both legal and illegal—from Mexico and other countries of the Western Hemisphere.1 Current immigration law permits 120,000 persons from this hemisphere to enter the country each year as resident aliens. Many times that number apply for admission. As a result, Latin American applicants face waiting periods of up to three years or more before gaining admission to the United States. In addition, many prospective immigrants must secure certification from the Department of Labor that they are not likely to displace U.S. residents from their jobs. Because of the difficulty of immigrating legally, millions of Mexicans, West Indians and Canadians enter and stay in this country by clandestine methods.

The new provisions of the immigration law, signed by President Ford on Oct. 20, retain the overall hemispheric quota of 120,000, but limit immigration from each country to 20,000. Under the old law, hemispheric immigration was on a first-come, first-served basis, with no individual country limitation. Mexican legal immigration, for example, has been averaging 40,000 a year and reached a high of 70,000 in 1973. The national quota of 20,000 will cut legal immigration from Mexico in half and will inevitably increase the pressure for illegal entry. Similarly, more residents of Canada, Central America and the Caribbean, frustrated by the stiffer entrance tests, may be expected to enter the country illegally across the border or through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or to enter on a visitor's visa and go underground.

The vast majority of illegal immigrants in the United States already are from Latin America. A study conducted in 1975 for the Immigration Service2 indicated that 8.2 million persons were in this country illegally. Of these, 5.2 million were from Mexico. Among the illegal aliens apprehended that year by the Immigration Service, an even larger proportion were from this hemisphere (94.8 per cent) and Mexico accounted for the lion's share (88.8 per cent).3 One reason for the exceptionally large number of Mexicans is that the Immigration Service concentrates its personnel along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Effect on Labor Market and Economy of Nation

Despite numerous studies and surveys, no one can say precisely how many illegal immigrants are in the United States. In the past the Immigration Service estimated the total at between 4 million and 12 million. Last June, INS Commissioner Leonard F. Chapman Jr. revised this estimate to between 6 million and 8 million, and said that the number was growing by half a million a year.4 What is reasonably certain is that the number of persons who enter the country illegally each year greatly exceeds the number of legal immigrants. In 1975, the INS admitted 386,194 legal immigrants and apprehended twice that number. An additional 800,000 persons were turned away at ports of entry. For every illegal entrant it detains, the Immigration Service estimates that four or five may elude capture.

Whatever the true number of illegal immigrants in this country, their impact, on the economy is substantial. Three-quarters of them come in search of jobs.5 Most of the jobs they find are low paying and require few skills; they are likely to become janitors, busboys and farm workers. But a substantial number do find better jobs. Commissioner Chapman estimates that 3.5 million are employed in the United States, and that at least one million hold jobs that might otherwise be filled by unemployed Americans. At a time when 7.8 million Americans are out of work and the national unemployment rate stands at 8.1 per cent,6 the impact of illegal immigration on the labor force cannot be dismissed lightly. According to the AFL-CIO, illegal aliens siphon off some $10-billion in wages each year from U.S. citizens and legal residents.7

There is some evidence that illegal aliens are less likely to avail themselves of welfare and food stamps than U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens with similar incomes.8 Nonetheless, an independent study conducted for the Immigration Service in 1975 indicated that illegal aliens cost taxpayers $13-billion or more annually for public services such as health, education and sanitation. In addition, those employed in this country often are responsible for the support of families back home. The balance-of-payments loss attributable to-remittances overseas by illegal aliens has been estimated at between $3-billion and $10-billion a year.

There is another side to the coin, of course. Illegal aliens are as much victims as culprits. Many work at jobs that pay less than the federal minimum wage and they dare not complain lest they be detected and deported. The recent study done for the Labor Department found that 20 to 25 per cent of the 793 illegal aliens studied “appear[ed] to have been paid below the minimum wage.” The lowest paid workers were concentrated in agricultural occupations near the Mexican border.

The presence of illegal aliens in the labor force is said to depress wage levels for all other workers and to retard the rate of productivity improvement. In the case of productivity, growth declines not because illegal immigrants are poor workers but because their employers are unlikely to-invest in labor-saving technology. Instead, inefficiencies in the production process are shifted to the workers in terms of lower pay.9 Trade unions are a'mbivalent in their attitudes toward the illegal alien. On the one hand, they are concerned about the potential for lowering wages. On the other hand, since some illegals do join trade unions, union officials are obligated to protect them, as members, from exploitation and unfair labor practices.

Implications for American Population Growth

Generally speaking, emigration serves as a safety valve for less-developed countries suffering the acute pressures of rapid population growth. The exception to the rule is found in the so-called “brain drain,” the flight of highly trained technical and scientific personnel from poor countries to wealthier ones. Nearly half of the physicians licensed in the United States in a recent year were graduates of foreign medical schools. Nearly three-fourths of these physicians (70 per cent) came from the less-developed countries.10

Emigration also has measurable effects on the host country. The U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future noted in 1972 that between 1960 and 1970, legal immigration accounted for 16 per cent of the U.S. annual population growth; in 1971, it was responsible for 18 per cent; and by 1972, it had jumped to 23 per cent. This meant that roughly one new American out of four that year was an immigrant. Census Bureau estimates indicated that the current annual rate of legal immigration—approximately 400,000 persons per year—will add 13.4 million to the U.S. population by the year 2000, and 48.8 million by 2050. The Census Bureau has no projections for the impact of illegal immigration, but Zero Population Growth Inc. (ZPG), a nationwide lobby group dedicated to reducing U.S. population growth, calculates that illegal immigration will add 28 million people to the U.S. population by the year 2000, 59 million by 2025 and 80 million by 2050.11 Zero Population Growth advocates restricting legal immigration to 150,000 persons a year.

The contribution of immigration to population growth does not lie solely in the number of people who enter the country. Demographers note that immigration tends to stimulate birth rates in receiving countries, particularly when immigrants come from high-fertility areas.12 The influx of immigrants also can alter the age and sex composition of the population, which would influence the demand for social services and the growth of the labor force. Various studies have found that illegal aliens tend to be younger than the average American worker. The illegal group also apparently contains an imbalance of males over females.13

Illegal immigration also affects the distribution of the U.S. population. It is no longer true that persons who illegally cross the border from Mexico stay clustered in the American Southwest. They may now be found in most of the nation's major cities, from Boston to San Francisco (see map).

Origin and Characteristics of Illegal Aliens

Migration results, in the words of demographers, from “push-pull” factors. Emigrants may be “pushed” out of their homelands by depressed economic conditions, unemployment, overcrowding and famines. They may be “pulled” to another country by the availability of jobs, higher living standards, better social facilities, and even a more pleasant climate

It is clear from a number of studies that the push-pull factors are operative in attracting illegal immigrants to the United States. In the case of Mexico, for example, the push stems from a high rate of population growth—3.5 per cent a year—and high unemployment rates, particularly in rural areas. The Mexican labor force, 16 million in 1970 is expected to rise to 28 million by 1985 and to 40 million in the mid-1990s. Not surprisingly, nearly 89 per cent of illegal Mexican aliens surveyed in the Labor Department study reported that they had come to the United States in search of work. To a lesser extent this was true of others from the Western Hemisphere; more than 60 per cent came for jobs. A majority of those deported indicated that they intended to return to the United States as soon as possible to find another job or, in a few cases, to return to a job that was being held open for them.

By far the greatest number of illegal persons in this country are Mexican nationals. Many are smuggled in by professional rings at prices ranging up to $3,000. The Washington Post recently reported that 27 illegal aliens were smuggled across the border in California, jammed into a small van and were driven across the country in a day and night journey to Washington.14 Some smuggling rings are so highly organized that prospective migrants frequently make only a small down payment before leaving home; they are driven to prearranged jobs and the smuggling fee is deducted from their wages.

The second largest category of illegal aliens is composed of visitors who enter the United States on visas permitting a limited stay and fail to leave on the assigned date of departure. The Immigration Service has said that up to 10 per cent of the 5.1 million tourists who visit the United States each year stay to find work. Some of them manage to become legal residents by entering into bona fide or sham marriages with U.S. citizens.

Although the Mexican border is the chief crossing point for illegal aliens, INS officials report increasing problems along the Canadian border, particularly in upper New York State and northern New England, and in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Immigration Service has recently stepped up surveillance in these areas, Surveillance in the Caribbean is complicated by the fact that Virgin Islanders and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, and INS inspectors may not detain a person without substantial grounds for suspecting that he or she is an illegal alien.

Although there are exceptions, most illegal immigrants are unskilled and lack education. Although a decreasing number take jobs in agriculture, the employment they do find is usually menial and low paid. In this country, they become part of a hidden subculture. “They tend to group among themselves and to have few contacts with outsiders. There is a fairly well established communication network. First generation illegals tend to avoid any contacts with authority and generally live in fear of being caught.”15 In most cases, even this mode of existence is preferable to the life they left behind.

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Approaches to Immigration Problems

International Nature of Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is not unique to the United States. It is a world-wide problem afflicting virtually all industrialized countries, and many less-developed countries as well. Wherever there are significant differences between countries in resources, employment, income and population growth, pressures for movement across national borders may be expected to develop. The United States is a powerful magnet to millions of impoverished Mexicans because of its employment opportunities and because the border makes migration relatively easy. However, the problem extends beyond the special U.S. Mexican circumstances.

In this hemisphere, the exodus of 250,000 to 300,000 landless peasants from overcrowded El Salvador into Honduras was partly to blame for a brief but bloody war between the two countries in 1969.16 The presence of up to one million illegal Colombians in the frontier states of Venezuela is a source of continuing tension between those two countries. Argentina has about 1,500,000 immigrants, mostly from Paraguay, Bolivia and Chile. Argentine authorities say 80 to 90 per cent of them are “undocumented.”17

In Europe, the West German government estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 illegal workers have been smuggled into the country despite a state-run program to sponsor the importation of legal workers. France reported in 1968 that 83 per cent of all aliens in that country were there illegally. Subsequently, the French government launched a program to “regularize” the status of illegal workers. France reported in early 1974 that 38,500 illegals, mostly Tunisians and Moroccans, had accepted the government offer.18 Other countries reporting large numbers of illegal aliens include South Africa, Australia, England, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong.

Illegal immigration is not a new problem in the United States. In the 1930s and again in the 1950s, public concern over the problem led the government to organize wholesale deportation programs. During both periods, bad economic conditions sharply reduced the demand for labor and illegal aliens were in open competition with U.S. citizens and legal resident aliens for scarce openings in the employment market.19

Patchwork Evolution of U.S. Immigration Laws

According to the National Council on Employment Policy, a private research organization in Washington, “Our nation's immigration policy is a patchwork of laws and approaches rather than a rational system.”20 Until the 1880s, the United States had no immigration policy at all. The nation was expanding, the frontier needed people, and the doors were open to all. In 1884, a decision was made to exclude the Chinese, largely because of their depressing effect on the labor market. Subsequently, the Japanese were barred, along with other categories of “undesirable” aliens such as paupers, lunatics and anarchists.

During World War I, Congress passed over President Wilson's veto the first law seriously limiting overall immigration. It mandated, among other requirements, a literacy test for prospective immigrants. During the postwar “Red Scare,” Congress approved an “emergency” quota system limiting annual immigration from all countries outside the Western Hemisphere to 357,000. New temporary quotas were adopted in 1924, cutting the flow of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere to 164,000 a year, A permanent quota system based on national origins and favoring northern Europeans was instituted in 1929. It limited immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere to 159,981 a year.21

The national origin system was unaffected by changes in immigration law made by the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.22 The national origin system finally was abolished by the Immigration Act of 1965, which set overall annual quotas of 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere. A limit of 20,000 persons per country was set for the Eastern Hemisphere, while Western Hemispheric immigration was on a first-come, first-served basis. The Eastern Hemisphere also was made subject to a preference system,23 which emphasized reunification of families rather than the needs of the labor market, a policy that has been called “nepotism.” One study noted:

The immigration now in place excludes the very kind of person who is most likely to want to immigrate to the United States, the kind that flocked to our shores at the turn of the century: the young, self-selected male, with more ambition than training, and with no family ties to the nation. It is no wonder, then, … that most of the illegals [are] young, self-selected males, with more ambition than education, and in most cases without the kinds of relatives needed to secure a visa.24

Ambiguity and Confusion in American Policy

Although there is substantial agreement among Americans that illegal aliens constitute a disturbing factor in U.S. society, there is a lack of adequate information on the extent of the problem. Among the charges being made against current immigration policy is that it is essentially two policies, each of which works against the other. On the one hand there is a de jure policy of virtual exclusion of unskilled immigrants, and on the other hand a de facto policy which encourages the influx of large numbers of them, especially in prosperous times when labor is in tight supply.26 Employers currently are under no legal restraints not to hire illegal aliens. Several attempts to impose criminal or civil penalties on employers who hire illegal workers have failed in Congress.

Foes of such measures contend that the proposed penalties are not strong enough to be a deterrent to employers. Others say that such laws will make it easier for employers to discriminate against ethnic and minority-group persons and place the burden of enforcement on employers rather than the Immigration Service.

The Immigration Service contends that Congress has been slow to increase the agency's budget to help it cope with the influx of illegal aliens. Commissioner Chapman has said, “With our limited manpower of less than 2,900 enforcement personnel to guard our nation's 6,000 miles of open-land border and seek out illegal aliens hidden among our population of over 210 million, the immigration laws of this country are unenforceable.” Agreeing with Chapman, the General Accounting Office said: “INS does not have the problem under control. The increasing number of illegal aliens entering the country has reached severe proportions and far exceeds INS's ability to cope with the problem.”27

The problem has many facets, A member of Congress, Rep. Henry Helstoski (D N.J.),28 was indicted in June by a federal grand jury in Newark and awaits trial on charges that he extorted money from Argentine and Chilean aliens in exchange for sponsoring bills intended to benefit them. Illegal aliens have been found working in federal buildings, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service itself, and at work painting the Statute of Liberty. Perhaps strangest of all, each year on Washington's Birthday the U.S.-Mexican border is opened at the city of Laredo, Texas, to any and all comers for three days. Thousands of Mexicans pour across the border during the celebration, called “Paso Libre America” (Free Entry to America). According to Immigration officials, at least 10 per cent of the border crossers are making a one-way trip.29

Braceros and Green Card Commuters

There are several contradictions in current immigration law which many experts say breed disrespect for the law in the minds of American employers and potential immigrants. One is that it is possible for illegal aliens to adjust their status to that of legal immigrant. In some cases, illegal entrants apply for immigrant status in their own countries and then come to the United States to work while they await favorable action on their applications. In other cases, an illegal immigrant automatically receives permanent resident, status by marrying a citizen or permanent resident. He or she also may qualify for permanent residence by acquiring a needed skill. In any event, the illegal immigrant runs little punitive risk; the worst that can happen is for him to be deported—to try again another day.

A fundamental assumption of U.S. immigration policy over the past century or more has been that an immigrant admitted to this country acquires most of the rights of a citizen. Until fairly recently, there has been no allowance for temporary workers who are neither permanent residents nor prospective citizens. This is not so in other nations. For example, there are some six-million so-called “guest workers” in the European Common Market countries.

The United States' primary experience with temporary workers was the Bracero Program, initiated during World War II to alleviate a temporary shortage of farm workers. Millions of Mexicans were admitted under temporary labor contracts. While an effort was made to assure decent working conditions and fair wages, the Braceros were, in effect, at the mercy of their employers. They were not permitted to seek other work, and they could be sent back to Mexico at the request of the employer. Controversial from the start, the program was ended in 1964.

Limited contract-worker programs, similar to the Bracero Program, still exist. West Indian seasonal farm workers are imported into Florida on so-called H-visas. In 1975, approximately 8,500 Jamaicans and “small islanders” (from the British West Indies) worked the Florida cane fields under contract with sugar cane producers. The U.S. Virgin Islands permitted entry of a number of “temporary” workers from the British West Indies in the mid-1950s. Many stayed on. worked their way up the economic ladder and, in time, became permanent residents, Serious policy questions were raised when the Virgin Islands attempted to return these workers to their home islands during a recent period of recession and high unemployment.

Still another point of contention in immigration law is the “Texas Proviso,” passed by Congress and signed by President Truman in 1952. It specifically exempts employers from the law making it a crime to conceal or harbor illegal aliens, declaring that employment may not be construed as “harboring.” Perhaps the most curious contradiction is the existence of a fairly large number of persons who live in Canada and Mexico, and commute daily to work across the border into the United States. The largest group consists of the so-called Green-card commuters, who have acquired permanent resident status in legal ways but choose to live in their home countries.30 Under a legal fiction, the Immigration Service considers the nightly return of the Green-carders to their homes a temporary visit overseas.

The service has said that there are some 60,000 commuting workers, although other estimates run as high as 75,000. A second category of commuting workers consists of citizens of the United States who live in Mexico and Canada and commute to jobs in the United States. This practice is particularly common along the Texas-Mexico border. In addition, a handful of Mexican and Canadian residents cross the border each day with non-immigrant visas which permit them to work in the United States. Finally, there are several hundred thousand persons living in border areas who hold “shoppers cards” permitting them access to the United States, but not the right to work here.

The Green-card system has been open to extensive fraud and misuse. Many illegal aliens have crossed the border using documents that were forged, altered or not their own. Beginning in January, the Immigration Service will issue a new tamper-proof, machine-readable card bearing the alien's photo, fingerprint, signature and basic physical data. The Service hopes to institute such a system to cover non-immigrant aliens as well, but achievement of that aim appears to be far in the future.

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Search for Realistic Solutions

Polarity of Public Opinion Toward Problem

A gallup poll conducted in 1976 for the Immigration and Naturalization Service showed that 74 per cent of those surveyed thought that illegal immigration was a serious concern. But while most Americans agree that there is a problem, they observe illegal immigration from different points of view and varying interests.

On one side are the farmers and growers who traditionally employ immigrants, both legal and illegal, in, seasonal agricultural work. Impediments to the migratory flow would represent an economic threat. The growers are being joined by urban employers who find that employing illegal immigrants helps to slow down rising labor costs. For quite different reasons, support for illegal immigrants also comes from various religious groups, such as the National Catholic Conference which advocates an amnesty that would, in effect, legalize the status of all illegal aliens currently in this country. Civil rights groups, concerned with protecting immigrants and minority groups from discrimination and exploitation, have enlisted in the cause. Organized labor, while fearful of competition from low-wage illegal workers, generally supports measures to guarantee them fair wages and decent working conditions.

Opposing liberalized immigration policies is an equally strange coalition of interest groups. The Immigration Service is dedicated to enforcing the immigration laws now on the books and seeks additional support and funding for the apprehension of illegal aliens. Population groups, such as Zero Population Growth, seek stricter immigration controls in the interest of slowing the nation's rate of population growth. Environmentalists are concerned with the increasing strain on resources and the environment posed by a growing population and rising levels of affluence. Social-policy organizations oppose liberalizing immigration laws because of the impact on unemployment rates.

Caught in the middle and highly ambivalent about the problem are American minority groups—especially the Spanish-speaking—who are themselves immigrants or descendents of immigrants. For Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and other Latin Americans there is a natural empathy with the newly arrived. At the same time, they are keenly aware that illegal aliens pose a threat to their jobs and their access to social services. Cesar Chavez, the Mexican-American leader of the United Farm Workers, has complained about the use of Mexican strikebreakers against his efforts to organize farm workers in the Southwest. But under pressure from urban Mexican-American leaders, Chavez has urged that Mexicans be allowed to settle in the United States, to bring their families and become citizens.

The fear of racism in American attitudes and enforcement of immigration law is implicit in the views of many minority groups. “Illegal alien is an invidious code for Spanish-speaking,” according to Rep. Herman Badillo (D N.Y.), the first Puerto Rican to hold a voting seat in the House of Representatives. A Chinese-American states: “Racism is a consistent underlying dimension of our immigration policies.… From an immigrant group perspective, there are dangers in making employers liable for hiring aliens. If the Oriental experience is indicative, employers are likely to overreact, adopting discriminatory practices which affect many legal immigrants and which force foreign minorities into the worst jobs.”31

Considerations for American Foreign Relations

According to INS Commissioner Chapman, nearly 10 per cent of the Mexican people are now living in the United States. Chapman also reported that a State Department survey showed that 40 per cent of the Haitians interviewed wanted to migrate to the United States.32 These figures point up the magnitude of the foreign policy problem posed by illegal immigration.

International migration can be a disruptive factor in relations between nations, as was the case of the 1969 war between El Salvador and Honduras. U.S. policy makers tend to consider the negative impact of illegal immigration on the American economy. There also is an impact, both negative and positive, on the sending countries. Large-scale, permanent emigration deprives sending countries of some of their most productive workers. If the emigrants are skilled, or even semi-skilled, labor shortages can arise in critical areas of the economy.

While outmigration may provide temporary relief to a government plagued by rapid population growth and high unemployment, it may also lull the government into postponing needed improvements in economic and social conditions. While Mexico, for example, can conceivably afford to lose 5 or even 10 per cent of its population each year, it cannot continue to put off measures to restrict population growth, redistribute land and restructure the labor market. Furthermore, it is inconceivable that any country—even one so desperately poor as Haiti—could afford to lose 40 per cent of its population in so short a time.

U.S. officials also must consider the global impact of a massive repatriation and deportation program, should the United States choose to initiate one. An abrupt reversal of the migratory flow could have disastrous effects on the sending countries. For example, Puerto Rico's industrial development in the 1950s and 1960s was aided and sustained by large-scale emigration from the island to the U.S. mainland.33 In the 1970s, the migratory flow turned around; more Puerto Ricans returned to the island than left it. Puerto Rico fell into a recession far deeper than that which afflicted the United States. A similar reversal of migratory patterns in Mexico, resulting in the sudden return of three to five million expatriates, could have disastrous effects on Mexico's economic and political stability. Because of its proximity to Mexico, the United States can ill-afford to be indifferent to such a possibility.

Short Term Immigration Policy Alternatives

Recommendations for dealing with illegal immigration problems generally focus on law enforcement and compliance. There is a consensus, particularly among government officials, that steps must be taken to make illegal border crossing more difficult, to tighten safeguards against visa abuse, and to prevent the repeated return to this country of violators of the immigration laws.

In addition, some policy makers would like to remove the incentives that prompt employers to hire illegal workers. They advocate passage of an “Employer Sanctions” bill to set stiff penalties for knowingly hiring an illegal alien. Unclear as yet is how the government would establish that a violator had knowledge of illegal alien status, and how the system could be protected against racism and discrimination. Despite the inherent difficulties, a few states have passed such laws, and the Supreme Court has affirmed state jurisdiction in such matters in the absence of federal legislation. Coupled with an Employer Sanctions bill would be a general amnesty for illegals in this country, permitting them to assume permanent resident status.

Some persons also advocate adoption of a nationwide identification system for citizens and residents of the United States. Proponents of such a measure have suggested that the Social Security system be adapted to provide a universal identification card. Many foreign countries issue citizen identification cards, which must be produced on demand by a law enforcement official. The proposal is bitterly resisted by civil libertarians who say the invasion of privacy and the threat of regimentation is too great a price to pay for reduced illegal immigration.

Another plan for eliminating incentives to hire illegal aliens calls for institution of a temporary worker program, permitting aliens to enter the country for specific jobs but not to apply for permanent resident status or citizenship. However, the idea of a two-tier classification of people is repugnant to many Americans.

Need for Reassessment of Illegal Immigration

Most policymakers in this field recommend increased funding of federal activities to stem illegal immigration. Specific recommendations include: (1) additional staff and money for the Immigration Service to step up border surveillance and improve follow-up checks on visitors to this country; (2) stiffer penalties for visa abusers; (3) mandatory deportation for illegals apprehended by the Immigration Service (in many cases illegals are released in return for a promise to leave the country in a specified period of time); and (4) the creation of employers “strike forces,” to monitor compliance not only with immigration law, but with tax and labor standards as well.

Many of these recommendations would correct obvious deficiencies in current federal efforts to cope with the flood of illegal immigrants. They leave untouched, however, the underlying causes of illegal immigration. A leading authority, Professor Charles B. Keeley of Fordham University, has said: “I would not expect control and law enforcement to end illegal immigration.”34

Keeley and others would prefer to attack the push-pull factors that create the international migratory flow. The real cause of illegal immigration, they say, is the vast economic disparity between the industrialized countries and their poorer neighbors. So long as these disparities exist, the rich countries will hold an irresistible attraction for the disadvantaged people of the poor countries. Population and labor-force problems in less-developed countries cannot be controlled by law enforcement, however vigorously applied. A one-sided reliance on law enforcement moves against powerful economic and social currents that are transnational in character. The victims of such a policy are America's domestic poor, who must compete for substandard wages with the illegal immigrants, and the illegal aliens who are blamed for reacting to economic problems beyond their control.

To a certain extent, the United States can reduce the push factor by upgrading low-level jobs, enforcing labor standards and effectively restricting jobs to U.S. citizens and legal aliens with work authorizations. Even the least alluring jobs can be made attractive to unemployed Americans if the pay is sufficient and the working conditions tolerable. But in the end, the pull factor is the predominant one. Economic development of the poorer countries, particularly Mexico, may be the only effective policy.

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Galarza, Ernesto, Merchants of Labor: The Mexican Bracero Story, McNally & Loflin, 1964.

McWilliams, Carey, North from Mexico, Greenwood Press, 1968.

Samora, Julian, Los Mojados: The Wetback Story, University of Notre Dame, 1971.


“A Population Policy for the United States,” Zero Population Growth National Reporter, November 1976.

Briggs, Vernon M. Jr., “Illegal Immigration and the American Labor Market,” American Behaviorial Scientist, January-February 1976.

Gottron, Martha V., “Illegal Alien Curbs: House Action Stalled,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, March 17, 1976.

Stoddard, Ellwyn R., “Illegal Mexican Labor in the Borderlands: Institutionalized Support of an Unlawful Practice,” Pacific Sociological Review, April-July 1976.

Reports and Studies

Comptroller General of the U.S., “Immigration—Need to Reassess U.S. Policy,” General Accounting Office, Oct. 19, 1976.

Editorial Research Reports, “The New Immigration,” 1974 Vol. II, p. 927; “Ethnic America,” 1971 Vol. I, p. 47; “Spanish-Americans: The New Militants,” 1970 Vol. II, p. 707.

Henderson, Harry W. and Leon F. Bouvier, “International Migration—An Overview,” unpublished manuscript prepared for Population Reference Bureau, Inc. (undated).

Karkashian, John E., “The Illegal Alien,” case study prepared for 18th session, Senior Seminar in Foreign Policy, Department of State, 1976.

Keeley, Charles B. and S. M. Tomasi, “The Disposable Worker: Historical and Comparative Perspectives on Clandestine Migration,” paper presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, session on Clandestine Migration, Montreal, April 30, 1976.

Lesko Associates, “Basic Data and Guidelines Required to Implement a Major Illegal Alien Study during Fiscal Year 1976,” Immigration and Naturalization Service, Oct. 15, 1976.

National Council on Employment Policy, “Illegal Aliens: An Assessment of the Issues,” October 1976.

North, David S. and Marion F. Houston, “The Characteristics and Role of Aliens in the U.S. Labor Market: An Exploratory Study,” Linton & Co., prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor, March 1976.

U.S. Congress, “Illegal Aliens,” Hearings before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and International Law of the Committee on the Judiciary, Feb. 4, 26; March 5, 12, 13, and 19, 1975.

U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, Annual Reports.

Zero Population Growth, Inc., “Illegal Immigration,” Fact Sheet, July 1976.

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[1] David S. North and F. Houston. “The Characteristics and Role of Illegal Aliens in the U.S. Labor Market: An Exploratory Study.” March 1976, p. 8–4.

[2] Lesko Associates, “Basic Data and Guidelines Required to Implement a Major Illegal Alien Study during Fiscal Year 1978,” “Immigration and Naturalization Service”, Oct. 15, 1976. Lesko Associates ia a management, consulting firm in Washington. D.C.

[3] Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1975 Annual Report.

[4] Address to the Michigan Associated Press Editorial Association, June 11, 1976.

[5] North and Houston, op. cit., p. 66.

[6] Figures for November 1976, reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[7] Cited in John E. Karkashian, The Illegal Alien, Senior Session in Foreign Policy, Eighteenth Session, Department of State, 1976.

[8] North and Houston, op. cit., p. 142.

[9] National Council on Employment Policy, “Illegal Alien. An Assessment of the Issue,” October 1976, p. 11.

[10] See “The New Immigration,” E.R.R., 1974 Vol. II, pp. 929–930.

[11]Illegal Immigration,” Fart Sheet issued by Zero Population Growth, July 1976.

[12] Harry W. Henderson and Leon F. Bouvier. “International Migration: An Overview,” unpublished manuscript prepared for the Population Reference Bureau. Washington. D.C.

[13] See North and Houston. op. cit,; Julian Samora, Los Mojados: The Wetback Story (1971); and Immigration and Naturalization Service Annual Reports.

[14] The Washington Post. Nov. 20, 1976.

[15] National Council on Employment Policy, op. cit., p. 17.

[16] “Population Imbalance Underlies El Salvador-Honduras Conflict,” The Latin American Service, Washington, D.C., August 4, 1969.

[17] Charles B. Keeley and S. M. Tomasi. “The Disposable Worker: Historical and Comparative Perspectives on Clandestine Migration,” paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, Montreal, April 30, 1976, p. 27.

[18] Ibid. p. 26. See also “Europe's Foreign Laborers,” E.R.R., 1975 Vol. II, pp. 543–560.

[19] Charles M. Keeley, “Beyond Law Enforcement: Some Implications of a Perspective about Illegal Alien Policy in the U.S.,” remarks at a briefing sponsored by Zero Population Growth, Washington. D.C. June 23, 1975.

[20] National Council on Employment Policy, op. cit., p. 13.

[21] See “Ethnic America.” E.R.K., 1971 Vol. I, p. 47.

[22] The McCarran-Walter Act, officially known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, retained the system of quotas based on national origin and added token quotas for Asian countries and for new nations coming into existence. To limit overall immigration, the act continued to prohibit the transfer of unused quotas from one country to another. The act was named for its authors, Sen. Pat McCarran (D Nev.) and Rep. Francis E. Walter (D Pa.).

[23] The preferences, in order of priority, are: (1) Unmarried, adult children of citizens; (2) Spouses, unmarried adult children of resident aliens, and their children; (3) Immigrants in the professions, their spouses and children; (4) Married children of citizens, their spouses and children; (5) Brothers and sisters of citizens, their spouses and children: (6) Skilled workers, their spouses and children; (7) Refugees, their spouses and children. If quotas are not filled by the seven preference categories, an eighth non-preference category is included in the law. In addition, certain immigrants, such as the parents of U.S. citizens, are admitted without quota.

[24] North and Houston, op. cit., p. 8.

[25] See Vernon M. Briggs Jr., “Illegal Immigration and the American Labor Force: The Use of (Soft) Data for Analysis,” American Behavioral Scientist. Jan.-Feb., 1976, p. 352.

[26] See Keeley. op. cit., p. 3, and National Council on Economic Policy, op. cit., pp. 26–27.

[27] Comptroller General of the United States, “Immigration—Need to Reassess Policy,” General Accounting Office, October 19, 1976.

[28] Helstoski was defeated for re-election, Nov. 2, 1976.

[29] Los Angeles Times. Feb. 22, 1976.

[30] Green-card” refers to INS document No. 1–151, which all permanent residents must carry, and which used to be green.

[31] Betty Lee Sung, quoted in “Illegal Aliens: An Assessment of the Issues,” National Council on Employment Policy, p. 16.

[32] Chapman, up. cit. p. 7.

[33] See “Puerto Rico After Bootstrap,” E.R.R., 1971 Vol. I. p. 389.

[34] Keeley, op. cit.. p. 5.

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Special Focus

Country Population Under 18 Per Capita Gross Product Unemployment Rate Population Growth Rate
Mexico 46% US $1,000 10–14% 3.5%
Colombia 46 510 12–16 3.2
Canada 29 6,080 7 1.3
El Salvador 46 390 20–30 3.2
Guatemala 44 570 2.8
Dominican Repub. 48 590 15.20 3.0
Jamaica 46 1,140 1.9
Ecuador 47 460 3.2
United States 27 6,640 7.9 0.8

Crude growth rate, not adjusted for emigration to the United States.

Source: Zero Population Growth Inc.
Country Fiscal Year 1975 Fiscal Year 1974 Percentage Change
Mexico 680,392 709,959 -4.2
Cuba 416 1,130 -63.2
Canada 9,048 9,362 -3.4
Dominican Republic 3,233 3,601 -10.2
West Indies 7,094 5,512 4+28.7
Other Western Hemispheric Countries 26,270 24,705 +6.3
China 4,213 4,204 +1.4
Philippines 3,164 2,804 +12.8
Greece 5,300 4,619 +14.7
Italy 1,941 1,570 +23.6
United Kingdom 2,664 2,334 +14.1
All Others 22,815 18,345 +24.4
Totals 766,600 788,145 -2.7
Source: 1975 Annual Report, Immigration and Naturalization Service
Country 1965 1975
Mexico 37,969 62,205
Cuba 19,760 25,955
Dominican Republic 9,504 14,066
Colombia 10,885 6,434
Ecuador 4,392 4,727
El Salvador 1,768 2,416
Other 22,629 14,218
Totals 106,907 130,021
Source: Immigration and Naturalization Service

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Document APA Citation
Schroeder, R. C. (1976). Illegal immigration. Editorial research reports 1976 (Vol. II). Washington, DC: CQ Press. Retrieved from
Document ID: cqresrre1976121000
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