Home > NewsRelease > What Do You Think About Immigration?
What Do You Think About Immigration?
Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert Peggy Sands Orchowski -- Immigration Expert
Washington , DC
Wednesday, May 15, 2019


What Do You Think About Immigration?

What do you think about immigration?   I mean, basically?  How you feel and what you believe about refugees, migrants, the crisis on the border, the wall, immigrants legal and illegal and the making and enforcement of immigration laws, depends on what you really think immigration is all about.

I have been covering the sausage factor that makes immigration laws (aka the U.S. Congress) for almost 15 years.  I have written two books about how our immigration laws and immigration politics have evolved in our country. There are two basic beliefs about immigration that I see are driving the politics about immigration reform today. They are work opportunities and  social justice.  Both have become two ends of a contentious  immigration political spectrum.

Work – higher paying jobs and a better life -- has always been the primary driver for immigration. Even or especially when fleeing a failing state or danger, migrants cross through safe countries in order to reach the United States where they can be employed even without a work permit at jobs that pay more and their children can go to school for free.

But our nation state too has always wanted immigrants because of work. Immigrants are known for working hard for long hours. They often are grateful, willing and enthusiastic to work even without benefits. The United States has been built and prospered by the muscle of immigrant workers.  Most employers heartily welcomed them.

But there is a problem with that. Common sense and the simple economic law of supply and demand readily shows that large numbers of newly migrated grateful hardworking cheap workers without legal work permits (ie: "undocumented") hurt American and legal workers.  Why would employers pay higher wages and benefits including medical insurance and vacation when there are surges of new immigrants willing to do the jobs for far less.  It's basic capitalism.

That's why the country had to implement national immigration laws.  In 1886 the Chinese exclusionary act greatly limited the huge surge of Chinese workers from entering.  In 1923-64 the National Origins Quota Act greatly limited cheap labor from poor countries to come in and work legally.  American labor unions at their apex were firmly against hiring and benefits to illegal undocumented immigrant workers.  Until 1947 immigration law was the jurisdiction of the labor committee.

Social Justice -- But after World War II attitudes slowly changed with the horrendous revelations about the Holocaust and massive displaced persons (refugees) in Europe, and the civil rights movement in the U.S..  Immigration evolved into a issue of social justice and family reunification.

The congressional jurisdiction for immigration was changed from the Labor Committee to the Judicial Committee in 1948 under the leadership of Mani Cellars a longtime Jewish Congressman from New York City .  After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 making it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on the basis of race, religion, creed or national original, there was no question that the 1963 immigration laws had to change.  The big questions that the new law resolved was how to treat all nationalities equally, prioritize family reunification of naturalized immigrants and to limit the number of legal immigrants – to 250,000 a year.

In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed.  It was known as the Hart/Cellars Act – Philip Hart being a champion of civil rights in the Senate, and Cellars in the House. For the next 36 years immigration took on the tenor of civil rights. Latino advocates suddenly claimed they were a race (not recognized in the census) and that all immigrants had a claim to equal rights and benefits no matter if they had legal permits or not.  Even the labor unions began protecting foreign workers without work permits as equal to Americans and legal immigrants.  Employers resisted any enforcement.

That all changed again in 2001 after the terrorist attack on the United States. Immigration now became an issue of national security.  President George W Bush created the Dept of Homeland Security and placed all border security and immigration services into it. Foreign students were placed into a federal tracking system and the first ever immigration internal enforcement agency – ICE – was established.

Those who see immigration into the United States as an issue of social justice and the right of the poor of the world (but especially central America) to be welcomed are deeply offended at the 21st century emphasis on national security.

Those who worry about the security of the country and about security of jobs and educational opportunities for Americans first, agree with the new emphasis.

The trick for immigration legislators in the highly polarized sausage factory today is to find a fair mix of both views.  Perhaps immigration should be placed back into the Labor Committee. Certainly an expanded program for true refugees from all countries as well as a tougher asylee claiming process need to be codified.

# # # # # #

“We can’t know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been”. Vice President of the Brookings Institution Darrell West wrote in recommending Peggy Sands Orchowski’s books   "The Law That Changed The Face of America: The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965" and  "Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015 and 2008 respectively).  Peggy is a credentialed Senior Congressional journalist in Washington DC. She is available for interviews, article assignments and speaking engagements about immigration   porchowski@hotmail.com

Peggy Sands Orchowski
Senior Congressional Correspondent
Washington, DC
Other experts on these topics