The U.S. Immigration System Needs to be Less Restrictive



It's a widely accepted fact that America is a country that is built on immigration: from the very first English colony of a little more than 100 settlers to the millions of immigrants today that flock to the United States in hopes of chasing the infamous American dream. However, the restrictive nature of the American immigration system has left migrants with one of two choices: to adhere to the ineffective, lengthy process of legal immigration or to risk one's life and livelihood and illegally enter the United States. It's necessary to acknowledge that the current system is flawed, and that, as a first world country, the U.S. has a moral obligation to provide expeditious aid to migrants and asylum seekers. Paired with the fact that the long term benefits of increased immigration outweigh the initial costs, to maintain the defective current system would be a disservice not only to immigrants but to "native" Americans as well; the U.S. immigration system simply must become less restrictive. 

The current immigration system employed in the United States is severely flawed. When it comes to obtaining a green card, there are a variety of queues that applicants are sorted into: the country of origin, any relation to current U.S. citizens, age, marital status, etc. The three countries from which immigrants originate from are India, Mexico, and the Philippines, which tend to "have the longest waiting times for immigrant visas'' ("Why Don't Immigrants Apply?"). Generally, there's less variation in waiting times for those who have already been waiting, but for incomers who have just recently joined the waitlist, times vary from less than a year in certain categories from the Philippines to up to 130 years of waiting for Mexican siblings of U.S. citizens ("Wait Time for Green Cards Over 100 Years"). Though it's natural for waiting times to vary, to have such a drastic difference in wait times and to force some green card applicants to wait longer than an entire lifetime is more than wrong, it's plain cruel. Excessive, unrealistic wait times encourage the arrival of illegal immigrants into the United States, who will later be refused legal immigration because of their method of arrival into the U.S. Illegal immigrants "who pay taxes, work hard, and contribute to their communities" still lack a viable path to legal status "unless Congress were to create a new path..." ("Why Don't Immigrants Apply?"). Presently, the restrictive immigration system fails immigrants looking to obtain valid green cards in order to immigrate legally, encourages illegal immigration, and then fails hardworking citizens looking to legalize their presence in the United States. 

As the inhabitants of a first-world country, it is easy to take for granted the liberties and luxuries that many other countries lack. From 2015 to 2017, there was nearly a 1% decrease in world poverty, from 10.1% to 9.2%, meaning approximately "689 million people [lived] on less than $1.90 a day" despite the decrease (Howton, 2020). Though it would be impossible for the U.S. to welcome all poverty-stricken persons, aid should still be encouraged, even to a small degree. It  may be questioned whether or not direct aid would be better assistance than immigration, but the "deep structural inequities and inefficiencies" of a corrupt government may mean that "the short-term prospects for such growth to fundamentally alter emigration are unlikely" and would ultimately only provide temporary relief (Bender, 2010). Even for migrants seeking political or religious refuge, the current prohibitory system means that the "admission process generally takes from eighteen months to two years to complete", leaving refugee-seeking persons to seek temporary safety elsewhere, despite the necessity for refuge being urgent (Felter and McBride, 2018). By lessening certain restrictive aspects of the immigration system, people will finally be able to receive the aid they so desperately need. 

Morally, immigration is well-supported, though it is most often the economic effects that are the facilitators of a prohibitive system. The plummeting cost of labor is a common criticism of increased immigration, as well as the negative effects on American wages. However, while the cost of labor will decrease, there is "little or no effect on overall wages" (Caplan, 2012). This can be attributed to the fact that "new immigration creates enough jobs even in the short run (and even for the less-educated) to cause no harm to the net employment of native-born workers" (Costa et al. 2014). Another common argument is that many immigrants, both legal and illegal, will ultimately become a burden on the federal government and apply for welfare. However, for legal immigrants, opportunities for welfare are incredibly limited within the first five years; illegal immigrants are completely excluded from the scope of government assistance (Nowrasteh, 2018). Since illegal immigrants are excluded from receiving welfare, this means that those of whom pay taxes are pure profit for the American government. The benefits of immigration can be accredited to a phenomenon known as the "immigration surplus", which essentially means that when "immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP" (Orrenius, 2016). Legalizing illegal immigrants, a nearly impossible task under the present system, may also help alleviate the effect of lowered labor costs. If working conditions or pay are poor, they have no leverage - any complaints may lead to being out of a job, or even worse, deported. Because of this, many employers of illegal immigrants are free to lower incomes, which therefore "puts downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of [native and foreign-born workers" alike (Costa et al. 2014). By legalizing illegal immigrants, companies can no longer take advantage of their illegal status for cheap labor. Overall, the economic argument against immigration is a weak one, at best, since the short-term negative effects are not only incredibly minute, but the long term effects are potentially positive. 

At present, it's clear that the American immigration is severely flawed, and needs reform. Specifically, the system's restrictive, prohibitory nature is at fault. In order to change the system so that it benefits native-born Americans as well as foreign-born citizens, it's important to keep in mind that increased immigration is not only morally justified, but it's economically supported. No matter how the issue of immigration is viewed, economically, socially, it's clear that the only solution is to create a less restrictive U.S. immigration system; for the benefit of the American economy and its people, alike.