The History and Impact of Immigration
By Sophia Zheng
Presented by Hirschman
We are currently in the Age of Mass Migration, which began in the mid-19th century. According to Hirschman, the number of foreign-born populations has dramatically increased since the 1980s. In response, there has been a huge backlash of nativist sentiment, where Americans feared drastic cultural changes into an “immigrant nation.” In fact, in 2005, the Minuteman Project was created by anti-immigration activists and private individuals to block Mexican immigrants and control the border.
Economically, people have historically viewed immigration as a threat to wages and economic prosperity for Americans. As Hirschman points out, immigrants compete and take jobs from native-born Americans and depress the wages of the American working class. The sentiment against immigrants dates back even to the American colonies. Ben Franklin was unhappy with Germans and their refusal to learn English (Hirschman). In the late 19th and 20th century, Chinese and Japanese coming to America to work as laborers in industries like railroad construction were targeted by nativist sentiment.
But, despite these nativist fears, studies have shown that immigrants have mostly successfully assimilated, whether that is a good or bad thing. There is also little evidence that immigration has led to any economic impacts that are necessarily dramatic. According to the National Research Council’s report, the net effects of immigration are balanced out by an increase in national productive output and income that trickles down into the income of native-born workers as well as immigrant workers.
So, while wage may be depressed due to wage competition, there are broader effects of immigration--”increased national savings, entrepreneurship and small business development, a faster rate of inventive activity and technological innovation, and economies of scale”-- that result in higher wages for everybody by stimulating economic growth. As many free-market economists would agree, leaving immigration untouched is not actually harmful, but actually helpful.
Plus, immigration has been the essential backbone of the U.S. growth, culture, and economy since its birth. Immigrant laborers helped secure the frontier, worked on railroads and transportation projects, and drove the Industrial Revolution. Major cities flourished with the cultural and artistic diversity of immigrants.
That being said, immigrant policies cannot simply be eradicated. The U.S. immigration system is still a necessary aspect of national security and stability; however, we must pursue reforms that learn from our past mistakes.