Term Paper: Immigration and Health Policies

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[. . .] Asian immigrants are nearly all banned (Fuchs 1995).

The first Immigration Quota Law is passed by Congress in 1921 after booming post-war immigration results in 590,971 people passing through Ellis Island. Only three percent of an ethnic group living in the U.S. In 1910 will be allowed to enter the country in a year. With the Immigration Act of 1924 restricting further immigration, the annual quota of immigrants reduces to 164,000 (Fuchs 1995). The buildings on Ellis Island begin to fall into neglect and abandonment. America is experiencing the end of mass immigration.

In 1929, The National Origins Act is passed, banning immigrants from East Asia. It also decreases the quota of European immigration to two percent of the figures recorded in the 1890 census. The passage of the Internal Security Act of 1950 excludes arriving aliens with previous links to Communist and Fascist organizations (Vecoli 1996). With this, Ellis Island experiences a brief resurgence in activity. Renovations and repairs are made in an effort to accommodate detainees, sometimes numbering 1,500 at a time.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952, and a liberalized detention policy, results in the number of detainees on the island to plummet to less than thirty. Ellis Island is formally placed under the jurisdiction of the General Services Administration from 1954 to 1964, and all thirty-three structures on the island are officially closed in November 1954 (Fuchs 1995).

Immigrants built the United States, many seeking a new life in a new land. Before 1882, anyone could move to the United States (Fuchs 1995). But as the population grew, the federal government decided to control immigration. Throughout most of the twentieth century, the federal government has fine-tuned its immigration policies to answer specific concerns of its citizens. In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have come to believe that immigrants are overwhelming the country, and they have asked policymakers to create laws that discourage both legal and illegal immigration (Vecoli 1996).

Responding to this demand, in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law three bills that may have broad impact on immigration control and immigrants' rights in the United States (U.S. Immigration Policy 1999). The controversy surrounding this and other policies has made immigration one of the most divisive public policy issues of the decade.

The United States was founded and settled by immigrants. At first, the country was open to anyone wishing to make a new start. Many came to America to escape war, poverty, famine, or religious persecution. Some came seeking fortune and others were brought against their will to work as slaves. These and other factors resulted in a large-scale influx of immigrants to the United States from around the world (U.S. Immigration Policy 1999).

Early immigration laws aimed to preserve the racial, religious, and ethnic composition of the United States, which was then largely European. The first immigration laws were aimed at nonwhites. In 1929, Congress passed the National Origins Act, which set an annual quota of 150,000 immigrants, only thirty percent of which could come from southern and eastern Europe (U.S. Immigration Policy 1995).

The Immigration Act of 1965 represented a major reform of all previous immigration laws. It abolished quotas that discriminated against nationalities, substituting an overall limit of 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 immigrants from the Western Hemisphere (Fuchs 1995). The effects of the 1965 law are still being felt today. Before 1965, the United States had been a safe haven from poverty and civil war for masses of people in neighboring countries, such as Mexico. By limiting the number of immigrants from Latin America, the Immigration Act of 1965 touched off a serious illegal immigration problem (U.S. Immigration Policy 1995).

During the later part of the twentieth century, U.S. immigration policy has addressed specific modern-day problems. In some instances, the federal government has set limits on the number of immigrants -- who fall into certain classifications, such as refugee -- who are allowed to reside in the country. The Refugee Act of 1980 legally defined a refugee as someone who flees a country because of persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion" (U.S. Immigration Policy 1995). The act allows the president to admit refugees in a time of emergency and also places a limit on the number of refugees allowed to enter.

In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which was designed to stop the flow of illegal immigrants from Latin America by imposing sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens (Vecoli 1996). In 1990, the Immigration Act increased the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States by nearly forty percent. Finally, in 1996, Congress passed three bills, including the 1996 Immigration Act, that will affect not only immigration control, as many previous laws sought to dictate, but also immigrants' rights in the United States today (U.S. Immigration Policy 1995).

In the past few years, both state and federal governments have passed laws to deny benefits to illegal immigrants. In November 1994, voters in California overwhelmingly approved the "Save Our State" amendment, better known as Proposition 187 (U.S. Immigration Policy 1995). The law would deny illegal aliens all public social services, public non-emergency health care based on financial needs, and public education. Generally, illegal immigrants are not eligible for welfare grants such as unemployment or Social Security, but children and parents in need are entitled to some services (Fuchs 1995). Officials in California report that providing illegal immigrants these social services costs the state three billion dollars annually (U.S. Immigration Policy 1995).

In August 1996, President Clinton signed a sweeping new welfare reform bill that cut many social programs for both citizens and immigrants. This legislation makes illegal immigrants ineligible for virtually all federal and state benefits except emergency medical care, immunization programs, and disaster relief. It also denies current legal immigrants food stamps and Supplemental Security Income -- a program for older, blind, and disabled people (U.S. Immigration Policy 1999).

Many taxpayers in states such as California, where an estimated forty percent of all illegal immigrants reside, support these policies because they are concerned about the spiraling cost of social programs. These Americans believe that the government, by providing free medical care and education to undocumented immigrants, is unintentionally encouraging people to enter the United States illegally; many refer to the phenomena as the "magnet effect" (U.S. Immigration Policy 1999). Some supporters of the legislation also emphasize that if immigrants pass the citizenship exam and become American citizens they become eligible for public services once again. Experts predict that about half of those in danger of losing their benefits will eventually become citizens.

Although most Americans agree that illegal immigration is to some extent a problem, many oppose denying social services to undocumented aliens and their families (Vecoli 1996). They argue that such laws will not discourage illegal immigration because they believe that foreigners come to the United States to work, not to collect benefits. Opponents also point to studies indicating that illegal immigrants rely on social benefits in the same proportions as other Americans, and believe that preventing immigrants from receiving medical care and education will worsen the problem of low-income neighborhoods in cities across the country (Vecoli 1996).

Some of the nation's largest police organizations also spoke out against Proposition 187 and its likely effects if a similar law were to be adopted on a national level. The superintendent of the Chicago police department wrote to then-senator Bob Dole, "forcing young people out of schools and onto the streets would have disastrous long-term effects on public safety" (U.S. Immigration Policy 1999).

As more and more people of different races and cultures enter the United States and the ethnic composition of the country changes, immigration becomes a more intensely debated issue. Some Americans favor tighter immigration restrictions and argue that immigrants take jobs away from U.S. citizens, drain social services, and resist learning English. Others, however, point to America's historic commitment to immigration and believe that immigrants keep the nation strong, economically competitive, and culturally rich. The question of whether America's doors should be open or closed will continue to be intensely debated in the courts, in Congress, and in communities where immigrants settle.

Works Cited

Fuchs, L. "Immigration Policy." Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, edited by… [END OF PREVIEW]

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