Why is there a national rise in immigration in the United States? What are the solutions?
Although immigration has documented economic benefits, there’s also evidence that immigration causes some job disruptions and wage depression, as opponents of immigration fear. Work restrictions and deportation are two of the solutions to immigration established by the U.S. government.
Read on for an overview of the national rise in immigration, including the proposed solutions.
An Overloaded Immigration System
The national rise in immigration has severely strained the U.S. legal system. As of June 2022, there are 1.8 million pending cases in U.S. immigration court, an all-time high. This legal overload has had an unintended consequence: Immigrants are living long-term in the United States without permission to work to support themselves.
Nowadays, most undocumented migrants are asylum seekers: people who travel to the U.S. to flee persecution or danger in their home countries. Instead of passing through the formal immigration system, the law allows asylum seekers to live safely in the U.S. until their case is resolved in court. In theory, this enables the U.S. to allow those who are truly in danger to stay and work safely in the country and send those who aren’t in danger back to their home countries.
However, due to the immigration court backlog, asylum seekers must wait five to seven years before they receive a judgment on whether they can stay. More importantly, this backlog prohibits asylum seekers from obtaining a job in the U.S. for at least 150 days, at which point they can apply for a license to work—another overloaded bureaucratic process that takes over four months to resolve. Some state governments and nonprofit organizations have stepped in to care for these migrants, but without the permission to support themselves, the migrants’ futures are insecure.
Why Is There a Rise in Immigration?
In May of 2022, U.S. border officials took 239,416 migrants into custody—the highest monthly total of attempted border crossings ever recorded. Since Biden took office, more than a million undocumented immigrants have taken up residence in the U.S. (This is a higher rate of undocumented immigration than during the Trump administration, but not significantly higher.) Experts attribute this national rise in immigration not only to the Biden administration’s changes to immigration policy, but also to the United State’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying economic downturn.
The Rationale Behind Work Restrictions
The restriction preventing asylum seekers in the U.S. from working is an extension of a broader skepticism toward the national rise in immigration. A large part of Donald Trump’s presidential platform, for example, relied on the assumption that as a whole, immigration benefits immigrants at the expense of native-born citizens. The Trump administration instituted policies reflecting that attitude—in August of 2020, they increased the time immigrants must wait to apply for permission to work from 150 days to 365 days (it has since been reset to 150 days).
However, there’s evidence showing that immigrants can—and do—significantly benefit the overall economy and therefore, native-born citizens:
- Many assume that a national rise in immigration results in lower wages and tougher competition for jobs. The economic logic is that an increase in job-seekers raises the supply of labor while demand remains unchanged, making labor less valuable across the board. However, this logic overlooks the fact that immigration raises the demand for labor along with the supply.
- Another common argument against immigration is that immigrants receive more in government benefits than they contribute in taxes—profiting at the expense of the native taxpayer. In terms of federal welfare benefits, the numbers tell a different story: Legal immigrants (who, unlike undocumented immigrants, are eligible for non-emergency federal welfare) receive significantly less support from the federal government than the average native. Whereas the average native receives $6,081 a year in welfare benefits, the average immigrant receives $3,718.
Is Deportation the Solution?
Proponents of aggressive deportation generally assume that undocumented immigrants hurt the economy and that refraining from punishing those who circumvent the legal immigration process would encourage more immigrants to do the same. Although it’s logically valid that deportation would act as a deterrent to illegal immigration, such a strategy also entails drawbacks to the U.S.
First, the deportation process itself is expensive. As of 2017, there were over 500,000 deportation court cases pending—each requiring state-funded judges as well as public and private attorneys, all of whom could be putting their labor to use elsewhere. The ICE agents necessary to enforce stricter deportation laws would also be a cost to the taxpayer. Experts estimate that deporting one million undocumented immigrants (out of the United State’s approximately 11 million) would cost $35 billion to $55 billion.
Second, dealing with the national rise in immigration through deportation could indirectly cost the U.S. much more than the direct cost described above. If an immigrant with debt is deported, those loans will likely never be repaid. One Pew Research Center survey found that as many as 35% of undocumented immigrant families own a home. These unpaid mortgages would cost the U.S. economy tens of millions. The same logic applies to car loans, student loans, and credit cards.