The Social, Political and Economic Impact of Immigration in the United States

Since the arrival of newcomers over 400 years ago, the United States has experienced varying transformation – economically, socially, and politically. In particular, the United States has experienced increased immigration forces. For instance, the total number of foreign-born populations by 2011 was 40.4 million, which is approximately 13% of the total population. The process of immigration in the U.S. can be classified to four peak periods: the peopling of the original colonies, westward expansion during the mid-nineteenth century, the rise of cities at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the last peak started in 1970 and persists to date. Coincidently, the four peak periods have led to an economic transformation in the U.S.  

The peopling of the original colonies led to the settlement of Europeans in America. The second peak period facilitated the transition process of the U.S. from the colonial to the agricultural economy. The third peak led to the rise of the industrial revolution, which enabled the U.S. to start a manufacturing economy. The industrial revolution benefits are evident as it led the U.S. to be the leading political and economic power in the world.  The fourth peak, which is ongoing, coincided with globalization and the last transformation phase where the economy has transformed in the twenty-first century from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based economy. Therefore, immigration is a win-win in the U.S. where immigrants have helped the economy to realize the present economic realities, and the immigrants are prompted by economic transformation. 

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The Political Impact of Immigration

The United States is a nation of immigration and immigrants and the country rarely adjusts to immigration policies, due to the state of politics regarding immigration. The politics concerning immigration are deeply divisive, which has led to the disconnection of the political aspect of immigration to economic and social forces, which drives immigration. Another challenge facing immigration is the legislation process of changes made in policies, which may take several years.

Currently, the U.S. has ongoing measures and reformations addressing the aspect of illegal immigration and legal immigration systems. The recent new reforms were formulated in 1990 but the countries impetus is motivating the comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). In collaboration with bipartisan groups in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the CSR is at the congressional phase, which attempts to make significant negotiations on legislative measures. The legislative will give legal avenues to businesses in the U.S. to attain their workforce needs in the future, legalize the unauthorized immigrants (11 million), and increase enforcement at interior and the nation’s border. 

Strict and new laws were generated in 1996 including the Welfare Reform Act (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), which denied immigrants some of the benefits like food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and Medicaid. Congress also enacted the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which made it easier for the country to deport, detain, and arrest non-citizens. Congress has also enacted the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). IIRIRA set the income needs for sponsors of immigrant families at 125% of the federal poverty level, banned unlawfully present-day immigrants from re-entry for long periods, required accelerated removal of inadmissible noncitizens, increased penalties for immigration-related crimes, and bolstered immigration enforcement.

The CIR legislation was first debated in 2001 and later by the Senate in 2006 and 2007. However, in 2007, the reform strategies failed, which led the country to side-line the migration laws. Nevertheless, the laws were revisited during the 2012 presidential elections where both the democratic and republic party provided new reasons to revisit the issue during their campaigns. Another aspect that influenced the reforms of immigration law was the impact of 9/11. The international terrorism of the day led the federal government to implement the largest reorganization since World War II, which led to the formation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The terror attack also led to the formation of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which enforced the customs and the immigration requirement like employee requirements, removals, and detention.

There is a continuing public debate on the type of immigrants, the number, and immigrants’ origin to be admitted in the U.S., and one of the identified approaches for successful immigration system is immigrant integration. In contrast to Australia and Canada, the U.S. lacks a federally driven immigrant integration agency and policy, which would ensure legal immigrants become U.S. citizens. Currently, the US integration policies are ad hoc, underfunded, limited, and mostly targets narrow immigrants’ groups like migrant and refugee workers.  

The Economic Impact of Immigration

The aspect of immigration has been debated due to its impact on the labor force and the economy. The number of undocumented immigrants is 12 million and their effect in the economy is both positive and negative. The increasing number of immigrants in the country is alarming where the increased population directly influences the economy. Nonetheless, tackling population growth will greatly affect the economy positively and negatively. 

Immigration has greatly affected the labor market in the United States where immigrants are taking job opportunities that initially belonged to the American citizens. It is debatable the destructive or constructive effect of immigration in the U.S. economy. Economically, immigration affects economic concepts like employment, cost, and opportunity. For example, illegal immigration not only affects the economy of the U.S. but also that of the home country. Practically, immigrants with low income have no disposable income to send to their families back home.  In addition, deportation of such individuals back to their country would result in social issues where if deported in the U.S. from Mexico, they will be liable to federal programs like food stamps, Medicare, and CHIP. 

Although immigration is a formidable source of demographic and economic growth, the population has substantially increased labor sources for electrification and industrialization in the country. Flexible and efficiently managed immigration flows have the potential to increase economic growth. According to Card, the current immigration laws in the U.S. are restrictive, cumbersome, and outdated as they limit work-related immigration that would positively affect the economy. The increasing number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is as a result of misalignment between economic incentives and restrictive laws. United States Bureau identifies that although the U.S. has an economy that attracts foreigners in the country, it challenges the immigrants to acquire a legal permit, which is the reason why there are approximately 11 million persons working in the U.S. irrespective of little protection and uncertainties.

The economic aspect of immigration in the U.S. led the Senate to formulate the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” when it passed Senate Bill 744. Nonetheless, as the bill was based on compromise, it is imperfect to remove the imbalance between restrictive laws and economic incentives.  Several studies have been conducted to identify the reasons people migrate to rich countries. According to Cortes, there are two groups with higher propensity to migrate internationally. The first group is the young between 20 and 40 years as after 45 years only a small population is likely to migrate. The second group of migrators does it for economic reason and is highly educated with a migration rate of 4-5 times higher than those without a college education. 

The largest number of immigrants to the U.S. includes highly educated youngsters. The other large population is a young population with low skills who are employed in manual intensive occupations. The percent of foreign-born are employed in a highly intensive occupation, as well as, those with high education level. Nonetheless, the majority of individuals with little knowledge are undocumented. 

The impact of immigration on the economy can be illustrated using supply and demand aspects while other factors are fixed. Using the demand-supply law, an increase in the supply of labor reduces the wages received by workers; the workforce starts to compete in an increasing overpopulated economy. Nonetheless, immigration has negative effects on the economy where it is reducing labor supply for the native population. None citizens are taking a high position in the labor market, which negatively affects the U.S. citizens. 

The Effect of Christianity to Immigration

The immigration wave of 1965 resulted to new religious diversity in the U.S. The following few decades resulted in the construction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and Islam mosques in many of the major cities and some of the smaller towns and cities. The wave led to the construction of many places of worship with the majority of temples and churches starting at the storefronts that were used by other churches. New forms of Judaism and Christianity continue to evolve and affect the way of services in the majority of synagogue and churches. In the late 1980s, there were 250 Korean ethnics in New York alone, while in 2000, there were 800 Chinese Protestant churches in the U.S.  

Many may argue that although these religious practices may be termed as foreign, they are a representation of the characteristic path of foreigners in the United States. Majority of immigrants act as U.S. citizens after learning and participating in community and religious services. Cortes argues that there lacks a monolithic interpretation of the role that Christianity plays on the adaptation of immigrants in the U.S., same as there lacks a single path to assimilate American society. Other researchers argue that the majority of new and old immigrants are hostile or indifferent to organized religion. 

Nonetheless, the majority of immigrants join contemporary, historical founded, or joint religious organizations as a historical identity or a way of participating in building a local community in foreign nations. Many argue that secularization will eliminate the aspect of religion and its impact on society.  This is because institutional religion has transformed from its ubiquitous influence and paramount position in traditional societies where, in the modern days, it is viewed as a circumscribed role. Nonetheless, religious organization and faith will remain significant to the majority of believers in the world today. 

Every individual whether an immigrant or native-born have spiritual needs, which are more beneficial if packaged in a familiar cultural context and linguistic forms. It is evident that immigrants are more attracted to religious structures of ethnic temples and churches where the congregants identify that the believers need something to identify with, combining spirituality and the cultural aspect resulting from immigration in the United States. Combining spirituality and culture heightens the attraction of participants and membership in immigrants in American society. 

The impact of Christianity on immigration can be explored using a classical model formulated by Herberg. The model illustrates that the impact is due to development in the attachment of the country of origin, which is more than the expansion of regional and local identities. These are not sections of U.S. identities but are an illustration of the communal life of the believers where they attend the church together and socialize with other members of the congregation. 

The Christian religion, for example, is weakened and one of the causes is immigration. Immigration in the U.S. was mostly from countries with deep beliefs entering a civilized country with secularization. For example, the majority of Christians in Africa in more than 5 decades ago were against wearing long pants among women in the church. This aspect is still persisting in some regions but migrating to other regions may render one to attain new ways of doing things and behaving. Hipsman and Meissner identify that to become an American is not a full assimilation process but requires immigrants to acquire new languages, learn the basic tenets of political culture, and develop new loyalties.


BORJAS, G. J., and M. TIENDA. “The Economic Consequences of Immigration”. Science235, no. 4789 (1987): 645-651. doi:10.1126/science.235.4789.645.

Card, David. “Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration”. How Immigration Affects U.S. Cities, 2007.

Cortes, P. “The Effect of Low-Skilled Immigration on US Prices: Evidence from CPI Data.”. Journal of Political Economy 116, no. 3 (2008): 381-422.

Dancygier, Rafaela, and Yotam Margalit. The Evolution of The Immigration Debate: A Study of Party Positions Over the Last Half-Century. Ebook, 2017.

Fix, and Michael. Securing the Future: U.S. Immigrant Integration Policy. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, 2007.

Hipsman, Faye, and Doris Meissner. “Immigration in The United States: New Economic, Social, Political Landscapes with Legislative Reform on The Horizon”. Migration Policy Institute, 2013.

Rowthorn, R. “The Fiscal Impact of Immigration on The Advanced Economies”. Oxford Review of Economic Policy 24, no. 3 (2008): 560-580.

United States Bureau. “The Foreign-Born Population in The United States”. United States Census Bureau, 2011.

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