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

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. The United States therefore has been founded by immigration forces. 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 US can be classified to four peak periods: the peopling of the original colonies, westward expansion during mid-19th century, the rise of cities in the beginning of 20th century and the last peak started in 1970 and persists to date. Coincidently, the four peak periods have led economic transformation in the US.  

The peopling of the original colonies led to the settlement of Europeans in America. The second peak period facilitated the transition process of the US from colonial to agricultural economy. The third peak led to the rise of the industrial revolution which enabled the US to start a manufacturing economy. The industrial revolution benefits are evident as it led the US 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 21st century from manufacturing economy to a knowledge-based economy. Therefore, immigration is a win-win in US where immigrants has 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 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 years.

Currently, the US 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 Senate and House, the CSR is at the congressional phase with attempts to make significant negotiations on legislative measures. The legislative will give legal avenues to businesses in the US to attain their workforce needs in future, legalize the unauthorized immigrants (11 million), and increase enforcements 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. The 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. The 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 of time, 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 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 immigrant law was the impact of 9/11. The international terrorism of the day led to the federal government to the largest reorganization since World War II which led to the formation of Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For example, the terror attack 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 are continuing public debate on the type of immigrants, the number and the origin to be admitted in US, and one of the identified approaches for successful immigration system is immigrant integration. In contrast to Australia and Canada, the US lacks a federally-driven immigrant integration agency and policy which ensures legal immigrants becomes US 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 debatable 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 is the country is alarming where the increased population directly influences the economy. Nonetheless, tackling the 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 should be occupied by American citizens. It is debatable the destructive or constructive effect of immigration in the US economy. Economically, immigration affects economic concepts like employment, cost and opportunity. For example, illegal immigration not only affects the economy of the US but also that of the home country. Practically, the immigrants with low income have no disposable income to send to their families back home.  Also, deportation of such individuals back to their country would result to social issues where if deported in the US 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. Flexibly and efficiently managed immigration flows has the potential to increase economic growth. According to Card, the current immigration laws in the US 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 US is as a result of misalignment between economic incentives and restrictive laws. United States Bureau identifies that although the US has an economy that attracts foreigners to 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 US irrespective of little protection and uncertainties.

The economic aspect of immigration in the US led the US Senate to formulate  the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” when it passed the 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 researches 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 for economic reason is the highly educated with a migration rate of 4-5 times higher than those without college education. 

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

The aspect of the impact of immigration to economy can be illustrated using supply and demand aspects while other factors are fixed. Using the demand supply law, an increase in supply of labor reduces the wages received by workers, the workforce starts to compete in an increasing overpopulated economy. Nonetheless, immigration has negative effects to 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 US citizens. 

The Effect of Christianity to Immigration

The immigration wave in 1965 resulted to new religious diversity in the US. The following few decades resulted to construction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and Islam mosques in many of the major cities and some of smaller towns and cities. The wave led to construction of many places of worship  with 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 services in 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 US.  

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 acts as US 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 US similar as there lacks a single path to assimilate the American society. Other researchers argues that majority of new and old immigrants are hostile or indifferent to organized religion. 

Nonetheless, majority of immigrants contemporary and historical founded or joined religious organizations as a historical identity or as way of participating in building a local community in foreign nations. Many argue that secularization will eliminate the aspect of religion and its impact to a 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 to be more of a circumscribed role. Nonetheless, religious organization and faith will remain significant to 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 cultural aspect resulting from immigration in the United States. Combining spirituality and culture heightens the attraction of participants and membership in immigrants in the American society. 

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

The Christianity religion for example is weakened and one of the causes is immigration. Immigration in the US was mostly from countries with deep beliefs entering a civilized country with secularization. For example, majority of Christians in Africa in more than 5 decades ago were against wearing of long pants among women in church. This aspect is still persisting in some region but migrating to other region my render one to attain new ways of doing things and behaving. Hipsman and Meissner identifies that to become an America 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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