The Status of Immigration in The American West: Past, Present, and Future
Immigration is a prominent feature in the social, political as well as economic landscape of many Western countries. As of today almost 4 per cent of the world’s population lives outside their country of birth this makes up almost 220 million people about which one-quarter are immigrants in America(UN Population Division, 2013). Actually, American has long been perceived as a land of opportunity owing to its geographical and cultural regions that have for a long time been established as a beacon for successful streams of migration and human immigration. Consequentially, the number of immigrants has significantly grown over the decades and the same is set to probably continue in the coming years.
Immigration in the American West has historically been shaped by changes in immigration costs as well as the benefits of immigration plus substantial shifts in immigration policies. Report from Pew Research Center indicates that current migrations patterns are quite different than those of the18th and 19th century. While early immigrants were mainly Europeans, PRC (2015) report indicates that as today, almost 75 million persons living in America is from an immigrant community. In this case, an immigrant person refers to a foreign born person and the children of a foreign born (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010). Immigrants contribute to almost 55 per cent of Americans’ population growth and it is estimated that by 2065, America whites will be a minority and 20 per cent of the populous will have been born outside the borders of America.
Rising number of immigrants have resulted in political pressure to restrict flow of immigrants. Immigration reforms have remained as contentious issue and the same were central to the 2016 presidential campaign. Amidst the controversies the question remains what does the future hold for American immigrants? Trumps Administration seems to be on a hard notch on the same and the answer probably lies in time.
This paper surveys the past waves of immigration, present and future trends in immigration patterns in the American West plus the demographic change of immigration in the American society as well as immigration laws and reforms that coincided with massive flows of immigrants. Historical and geographical research presented in this paper shall help students to conceptualize on the importance of ethnic communities and perhaps foster an interest to conceptualize historical and geographical problems whilst deploying appropriate sources and methods. This paper also aims at dispelling the notion that immigrants have played no significant role in building n and creating the history of American West.
Immigration Patterns Past, Present and the Future
Historical immigration patterns in America have been shaped by shifts in immigration policies as well as the benefits and associated costs of migration. Historians have enlisted numerous reasons for the massive wave of immigrants that changed American from the 18th century. Moya (1999) attributes the shifts to; 1) shift from substance farming to commercial agriculture that resulted in a surplus population that had no ties to the peasant lands;2) industrial revolutions mobilized demand for labor in industrial centers; 3) advancement in transportations made travel cheaper and easier, previously, high costs of crossing the Atlantic led to a period of indentured immigration however subsequent revolutions in shipping compounded with decreased migration costs ushered in an age of Mass Migration from Europe; 4) Declining in mortality rates followed by growth rates in population plus 5) growth of liberalism in Europeans political ideology that allowed for unrestricted movement of peoples.
The first major immigration in America following its independence began in 1840s which mainly had Europeans from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. It then peaked in the 1880s with immigrants from Central and Southern Europe hailing large numbers of Italians, Poles and eastern European Jews. Thus, as industrialization rapidly spread across the continent, most European immigrants came from Eastern and southern Europe to the American West. The same factors to a great extend were also applicable in China, Japan and Korea (n.a, 2016). Hence, in early 19th century, America as well as countries in the Western hemisphere such as Brazil, Argentina and Cuba witnessed a rapid increase in immigrants from the Eastern and Southern Europe and Asia. Later on around 1900s this population grew to also include Mexicans as well (Passel & Fix, 1994).
In detail, from 1820 to 1920 almost 30 million foreigners arrived in American West. About 400,000 immigrants came in in 1870 in America and the numbers remained high throughout the period of mass migration (1850-1920), almost 55 million immigrants left Europe, with America absorbing nearly 30 million of the immigrants (Young, 2017). Early wave of immigrants contributed to America’s trade, business and agriculture. For instance, the Germans arrived in American West in 1840s and 1850s primarily seeking fortunes and lands in Midwestern part of America. They were subsequently followed by Russians, Irish, and Italians in following decades. This mix of backgrounds coined the term “melting pot.”
Rising number of immigrants as well as shift of sending remittances to home countries nonetheless resulted in political pressure to restrict flow of immigrants. The Dillingham Commission was convened in 1907 to study the effect immigrants had in the Western society and economy (Passel & Fix, 1994). The commission came up with regulations that could limit the number of immigrants coming into the West. Such included among others a quota system by country of origin, limits on the number of arriving immigrants and literacy tests to prevent against penurious immigrants. In this wake, the period of mass immigration came to an end. Later on in mid-twentieth century countries of immigrants shifted to the south and East. Specific groups of immigrants including European Jews were allowed entry into Americas border as refugees as outlined in the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 during World War II (UN Population Division, 2013). Immigrants greatly transformed America West. They supplied labor for industrialization that swept the country (West, 2011). However, the presence of immigrants also ignited divisions and contentious debates over their impact in the country. In fact, most debates that currently exist mirror arguments that happened years earlier.
Over the 20th century, levels of immigrants in the American West had considerably fluctuated mainly dependent on the economic and political circumstances. For instance, immigration was high from the 18th century but then dropped towards the end of World War I and rose again but then trickled during the Great Depression of the 1930s (Passel & Fix, 1994). As of 2007, immigrants still continued to steam in America through different programs. Out of the permissible inflow of almost one million immigrants entering the American borders, more than 800,000 are legally admitted in categories that shall entitle them to become America citizens (Migration Policy Institute. n.d). Very few countries accept such number of immigrants on accounts that shall allow them to become citizens. It seems that numbers of immigrants allowed in America far surpasses other western countries combined.
In recent years the largest source of immigrants has been from South and Central America, Asia and Africa. Of almost one million legal immigrants that come in America in 2007, “36 percent emigrated from Asia; 32 percent entered from the Caribbean, Central America, or other parts of North America; 11 percent migrated from Europe; 10 percent arrived from South America; and 9 percent came from Africa” (n.a, 2016). The largest arrival was from Mexico then followed closely by Asia. The picture remains the same in 2010 and subsequent years. Geographically, immigration has had the most profound effect in only 6 states. 75 per cent of the immigrants entering American West in the 18th century settled in New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, and California but the pattern remained largely remained concentrated in urban areas in the years that followed(Passel & Fix, 1994). Combination of concentration in specific geographical regions plus a decline of urban institutions such as schools and hospitals have and continues to complicate the ability of the country to integrate newcomers and at the same time adds into the distorted perception of the impact of immigrants in a country.
Considering that the demand for immigration in America clearly surpassed the available slots, the number of illegal or undocumented immigrants living in America progressively peaked, reaching up to 27 percent of the total number of immigrants in 2011(n.a, 2016). By 2015, immigrants made up almost 13.5 percent of Americans population. Currently, America is experiencing a great wave of immigrants (Brown, 2015). Policy makers have made several attempts to counteract illegal immigrants by formulating policies that expanded policing of the southern borders (Young, 2017). As early as 2001, following the September 11, 2001, congress had repeatedly initiated but failed to pass on the DREAM Act that shall give permanent residency to children of illegal immigrants. Obamas’ administration passed an order in 2012 that offered temporary permits to such children and even extended the same in 2014 to other undocumented immigrants (Migration Policy Institute. n.d). An immigration reform bill was passed by the Senate in June 2013 that provided a tough but nonetheless fair pathway to attaining citizenship for almost 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in America. The reform primarily sought to provide a wider spectrum of employment and educational opportunities to immigrants and their children and also set strong enforcement tools that could prevent further entry of illegal immigrants coming to America. Immigration reforms have remained as contentious issue and the same were central to the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump has been vocal in his campaigns in making America great. Trump and his surrogates argued that immigrants were one problem that prevented America from being great. Trumps campaigned against the Mexicans and promised to build a wall along the southern border. He also linked immigrants to terrorists. Probably the worst of his misstep was directing travel bans against Libya, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Iraq. The same was met chaos as travellers with valid green cards were deported (Muther, 2017).Protests ensued from every end of the nation forcing the courts of law to suspend the order citing it as unconstitutional and discriminatory. Building of the Mexican wall is still on hold and so are numerous other immigration policies. It’s nonetheless very soon to tell how far Trump Administration will go in achieving some of his campaign promises; he probably still got enough time to “making America great” before the next election.
Altogether, networks that support immigration in America seem to have evolved over the decades and are firmly entrenched. The search for opportunities is likely to not be abated in the foreseeable future. Thus it’s likely that the demand to immigrate to the American West will remain high. These factors, as well as policies of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), combined with non-ideological character of the current administration suggest that it’s not yet time to comprehensively overhaul Americans immigration policies (Nasiripour & Lambert, 2017). Improvements in the national economy plus key sectors of regional economies may be one way to reduce cries of the effects of immigrants in the socio economic context. There is a widespread support and policies to tighten controls on illegal immigrants and also restrict them from accessing public benefits, but the same still have a number of obstacles that need to be overcome before enactment. Enactments needed for constitutional amendments will impose a high political price. Furthermore the cost barriers will be very realistic encountering administrative and budgetary constraints (West, 2011).
American west continues to experience high levels of immigrants, though there has been a decline from European immigrants, immigrants from Latin America and Asia continue to stream in large numbers. America as an industrialized country similar to other western countries continues to experience immigration, with much of it being undocumented (illegal). As a result, politicians continuously attempt to deal with perceived effect of immigration as well as the concerns for the future. Irrespective of the rhetorical complaints about immigrants, the social as well as economic impacts of legal immigrants seems to be mainly positive. Occurrence of a negative impact seem to be attributed to fiscal effect of large scale mass of illegal immigrants and to some extend a troubled key regional economy. This in part explains why concentration of immigrants still remain as a source of political and economic difficulty, perhaps economic recoveries in some sectors of the country would dramatically reduce future tensions over immigrants and immigration respectively.
Regardless of its downsides, high levels of immigrants in America have resulted in a significant population with ethnic, language and even family ties to some economies that are likely to be dynamic over the coming years. With globalization, as well as ease in travel and communication these ties may be instrumental to instigating America to not only be an active but also a successful actor in an increasingly interconnected global economy.
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