Although a self-professed nation of immigrants, the United States has historically shown ambivalence toward newcomers who enter the country illegally. Despite massive government efforts to curb illegal immigration, an estimated 12 million people who entered the country illegally were living in the United States during the early twenty-first century, when some sectors of the national economy would have been devastated without their labor.
The reception of illegal immigrants in the United States has ranged from open arms in a number of cities that have officially declared themselves immigrant sanctuaries to nativist hostility. Some politicians have regularly demonized illegal immigrants for their purported contributions to crime. The federal government’s immigration laws contain exceptions for economic need or political persecution, but the government also maintains a large border-police apparatus that catches only a fraction of those who try to cross the borders without permission.
An important aspect of illegal immigration in the United States that is almost uniquely American lies in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its definition of citizenship makes all persons born within the United States American citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents. Few other countries are similarly generous in awarding citizenship, but the U.S. principle has given rise to a difficult problem in combating illegal immigration: Many children are born in the United States to parents who are in the country illegally.
According to a 2008 study for the Pew Hispanic Center, 73 percent of all children of undocumented immigrants–the majority of whom are Hispanic–have been born in the United States and are thus American citizens. Consequently, when government immigration raids deport illegal immigrants who are parents, they often separate parents from their citizen children. This poses a contradiction in American immigration principles, as
Between 1990 and 2006, the numbers of immigrants who entered the United States illegally increased rapidly. After 2006, the rate stabilized, in part because depressed economic conditions in the United States reduced employment opportunities, and in part because of more stringent security controls, including a doubling of the number of
According to early twenty-first century U.S. Census estimates, three-quarters of undocumented immigrants in the United States were Hispanic. A majority,
The main motivation for crossing the border has long been the quest for better employment. Undocumented immigrants, who have generally outnumbered legal immigrants, can be found in many sectors of the economy. Various surveys, including one by National Public Radio and another by USA Today, indicate that 3 to 4 percent of undocumented immigrants are employed in farmwork, 21 to 33 percent in service industries, 16 to 19 percent in construction and related jobs, 12 percent in sales, 15 to 16 percent in production industries, 10 percent in management, and 8 percent in transportation.
By 2005, the tide of immigration into the United States had slowed substantially, at least for a time, as increasing numbers of Mexicans and other Hispanics left the United States to return to their home countries. Between August, 2007, and August, 2008, the number of Mexicans immigrating to the United States declined by 25 percent, according to Mexico’s own census figures. In 2008, the amount of money that
By 2008, the numbers of arrests at U.S. borders had declined for three consecutive years, dropping to levels not witnessed since 1973, when the total population of the United States was much lower. In 2008, the U.S. Border Patrol reported making 724,000 arrests, 17 percent fewer than in 2007. Ninety-seven percent of these arrests took place on the southern border, and 91 percent of the persons arrested were
During the early twenty-first century, members of a
On the other side of the issue, groups such as the
Undocumented Mexican farm workers waiting to be sent back to Mexico at Calexico in 1972, during a period when an estimated 300,000 Mexicans were entering the United States illegally every year in search of employment.
The intense desire
On May 27, 2009, twelve
In and near
Buchanan, Patrick J. State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2006. Visceral discourse asserting that continued illegal immigration will ruin the U.S. economy and culture. Conover, Ted. Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America’s Illegal Aliens. New York: Vintage Books, 1987. Compelling account of the dangers of crossing the United States-Mexico border from the street level, with an emphasis on the “coyotes” who guide illegal immigrants into the United States for fees. Frank, Thomas. “Modern Slavery Comes to Kansas.” Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2009, p. A11. Account of a human-trafficking ring that recruited illegal workers with promises of work visas and then held them in debt bondage. LeMay, Michael C. Illegal Immigration: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2007. Encyclopedic reference work on many issues pertaining to illegal immigration and related subjects. Ngai, Mae M. Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004. Detailed study of illegal immigration into the United States from 1924 to 1965. Semple, Kirk. “Green Cards, Belief, and Betrayal at a Storefront Church.” The New York Times, June 17, 2009, p. A17-A18. Detailed account of how 120 illegal immigrants were defrauded of more than $1 million by fake preachers who promised them green cards. Urrea, Luis Alberto. The Devil’s Highway: A True Story. Boston: Little, Brown, 2004. Detailed account of a harrowing journey of would-be immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border in 2001, during which at least fourteen people died. Williams, Mary E., ed. Immigration: Opposing Viewpoints. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Collection of essays presenting opposing viewpoints on the questions of whether immigration should be restricted, how serious a problem immigration is, how the United should address illegal immigration, and how U.S. immigration policy might be reformed. Also contains a directory of organizations devoted to immigration issues.
Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.
Florida illegal immigration suit
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund