Arizona's recent passing of the toughest known immigration bill in the United States has brought even more attention to an already heated issue. The promise of the American dream has been drawing immigrants to the U.S. for centuries, but as the requirements for citizenship and legal status have grown more stringent, the incidence of illegal immigration, especially across the U.S.-Mexico border, has dramatically increased. As of January 1, 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that approximately 10.8 million illegal immigrants were living in the United States. Of these, more than 50% were thought to be from Mexico. Furthermore, according to the Department of Homeland Security, the Tuscon sector of the U.S. Border Patrol (the sector managing Arizona's portion of the Mexican border) has made an average of 650 arrests per day in the 2010 year, proof that this issue is only growing and that Arizona's stringent law is only the beginning.
Perhaps less well known and not usually discussed are the positive effects of illegal immigration. These positive aspects are mainly seen from an economic perspective. The lower wages produced by this labor force translates to lower prices for consumers in a wide variety of areas, from restaurant pricing to construction costs. In addition, they introduce a new market which is available to buy and to therefore contribute to the economy, even paying up to $1.9 billion in taxes annually, which may even offset the costs of their use of public services such as education and health care. And the fact of the matter is that the jobs that these illegal aliens are willing to perform are menial, brutal tasks which, though they must be done, are not appealing in the slightest. Having workers around who are willing to perform such tasks allows the rest of the work force to focus on finding higher-skill, higher-quality jobs.
However, the negative consequences of illegal immigration are certainly impossible to ignore. The most common grievance is that these immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans. Their willingness to work for very low wages, even for those below the minimum wage, makes them very attractive to business workers. The argument that they are taking jobs that Americans would not want can be countered by the argument that these jobs would pay more (and in turn become more desirable) if those illegal immigrants would not be so willing to accept such low wages. However, other consequences arise from having this flow of illegal aliens into the U.S. The U.S.-Mexico border has become a preferred way for terrorists and other persons of interest to enter the U.S. undetected. Furthermore, according to calculations in the report on illegal immigration by P.F. Wagner, approximately 20% of violent crimes in which arrests were made were caused by illegal aliens, not to mention their increased involvement in gang activity and in sexual crimes. Negative cultural effects, increased numbers of traffic accidents, higher incidents of infectious diseases...the argued negative effects of illegal immigration go on and on.
There is no doubt that this is an issue that will have to be addressed soon, yet the means of addressing it is difficult to determine. It is indeed too unrealistic to believe that the government can round up and deport all 10.8 million illegal immigrants, and it also seems irresponsible (and slightly skirting the issue) to unconditionally legalize all of those immigrants currently living here, since that would not stop the flow of illegal immigrants and may even increase it. Some, including President Barack Obama, believe in granting amnesty to those illegal aliens who hold a job and are willing to learn English and to follow the correct path to citizenship, while at the same time cracking down on border patrol and on employers who hire illegal aliens. However, others believe that this is not enough, for they would still be taking jobs that they believe American citizens should be entitled to. Many say that the focus should be on strengthening the borders and seeking out those living here illegally in order to prevent future floods of illegal immigrants in the future. While both sides have merit, it is important to remember the personal, human side of this issue, that in the end it is important to not only protect and enhance the lives of those living here but also to keep alive the idea of the American dream, of allowing those who are struggling to find their way in what we hail as the Land of Opportunity. It is for this reason that works such as The Tortilla Curtain are so valuable, as they provide another less statistical and more intimate view into such a volatile issue.