America is a country built on immigration; that fact is hard to forget. Yet increasingly new arrivals are not welcome, especially since the election of openly anti-immigrant Donald Trump. While Trump’s rhetoric about building a wall to keep out Mexicans is unlikely to be more than just words, we do appear to be seeing an increase in hostility towards not only the southern neighbours of the US, but anyone who wishes to make the US their home. But is this a hypocritical attitude for a country that only exists because of immigration?
The issue of European colonisation does make it ironic that the modern-day descendants of past immigrants now oppose new arrivals. Leaving the rights and wrongs of colonisation aside, we have to consider modern immigration in context. The United States may be a vast country, but with a population of over 300 million, the situation is very different from 1900, when there were around 76 million people, and even 1950, when the population reached 152 million. When the population has doubled in the last 60 years, a continued rise is likely to be unsustainable and lead to unacceptable pressure on services and the environment.
The renaming of illegal immigrants as ‘undocumented migrants’ ignores one vital issue: that such people have chosen to enter the country without permission. Every country imposes regulations to govern who may or may not enter their country and work there. This is essential, as a free-for-all would clearly lead to unsustainable levels of entrants. While President Trump’s labelling of Mexicans as ‘bad hombres’ is a facile accusation, there is also no doubt that an open immigration policy would enable undesirable elements from other nations to enter the US. Even the most liberal presidency is unlikely to propose such a policy, and it would stand no chance of being passed by the legislature.
While opposition to immigration is often based on fear (of people from different cultures, or the effect upon society of the changes resulting from large numbers of new arrivals), practical issues dictate the need for every country to control its borders. Given that most would-be immigrants are of working age, it follows that many will either have families or be likely to have one while living in the US. This has implications for education, housing, healthcare, roads, and employment; if these new immigrants remain in the US long term, and their children also settle there, the population and demand for services will grow ever greater. There are also huge implications for the environment. Many areas of the US are already heavily populated, and experience pressure on services like water. It would also be sad if the very thing that makes the US beautiful – its vast areas of countryside – was lost to the development needed to cater for an increase in population.
We should acknowledge, however, that there is a considerable level of hypocrisy in the fact that many Americans oppose immigration while simultaneously benefiting from it. The stereotype of Americans being unable to do without their Latino gardener, or Filipina maid has a certain foundation. Immigrants come to the US because they seek opportunities not available in their home country, and those opportunities are created by Americans looking for cheap labour and willing to employ people without the correct papers.
In conclusion, there are no easy answers to the issue of immigration. While those people who bring essential skills can continue to apply in the formal manner, beyond closing the borders and conducting massive sweeps to check for anyone in the country illegally it would be impossible to keep illegal arrivals out altogether. Where there is a way to keep people out, there is someone looking for a way round it.