Illegal Immigration in the United States: Control and Effects


Illegal immigration is one of the main topics that have dominated debates across the United States for several decades. The federal government defines illegal immigration as the situation where a foreigner acts in disregard to the country’s immigration laws by either gaining entry into the United States without a visa or choosing to remain in the country beyond the expiry date of a temporary permit (Haines 16). According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), there are more than 15 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. The biggest percentage of the immigrant population in the country constitutes of Mexicans. The others come from Central America, Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, the Caribbean, and Canada (Varsanyi 209). Illegal immigration has been a cause of disagreement among policy makers and the public owing to the fact that the number of unauthorized residents keeps increasing every year.

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The growing trend of illegal immigration in the United States is worrying because the country has one of the most complex and active immigration systems. Over the years, this topic has been a hotly contested issue in presidential campaigns, as various candidates present their proposals to the electorate on the most effective approach they would use to address the challenge (Berry 18). For example, in the ongoing 2016 presidential campaigns, many candidates participating in the party primaries have been criticized for their positions with regard to this growing policy issue. For example, Rick Perry is one of the candidates running to secure the Republican presidential ticket. He argues that the growing size of the illegal immigrant population in the country is largely attributable to the laxity shown by the federal immigration agents with regard to accepting the reality on the ground and coming up with effective strategies for addressing the issue.


One of the main challenges the federal government faces in dealing with this situation is establishing the actual size and composition of the illegal immigrant population in the country (Varsanyi 223). Although the United States border patrol agents argue that the problem of illegal immigration is not widely spread, they have been challenged to concur with its reality. Information gathered through numerous surveys indicates that there are approximately more than 10 million illegal immigrants living in the country (Haines 21). However, the population size of illegal immigrants in the country has stabilized a lot over the last couple of years. One of the main factors that have influenced the decline is the global financial crisis that resulted in the reduction of job opportunities by a great margin. In 2012, a report released by Pew Research Center showed the population of illegal immigrants to be slightly over 11 million, which was a decline from the 12.2 million they had reported five years earlier (Haines 24).

The report also indicated that 28% of the population constituted of Mexicans who also had the highest percentage in the list of people waiting for their visas to be approved (Borjas 195). However, this number is just a rough estimate because immigration agents manage to apprehend close to 50,000 people every year as they attempt to enter the country illegally. Most of those apprehended are unaccompanied minors and women. A 2014 federal report on illegal immigration indicated that most of the illegal immigrants apprehended get into the country in order to reunite with their family members already living in the country, while others are motivated by a desire to attain a more stable livelihood (Berry 60). There is a growing concern that the number of illegal immigrants in the country is very high compared to that of legal immigrants. This phenomenon has been created by the strict immigration policies laid out by the federal government, thus barring foreigners with a desire to reside or work on the United States (Varsanyi 236).

The trends exhibited by illegal immigrants moving into the United States have changed a lot over the years. Initially, most of the foreigners who entered and remained in the country illegally lived in areas with Hispanic communities (Laham 116). However, this trend has changed a lot since the turn of the century because most illegal immigrants have managed to settle within various communities across the country. A report released by the federal government in 2006 indicated that the state of California had the highest number of illegal immigrants followed by the states of Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York, Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Washington respectively (Borjas 207).

In 1990’s, most illegal immigrants in the country had small families because they could not manage to support one without meaningful income. However, a report released in 2012 indicated that millions of people living in the country belonged to families that were headed by an illegal immigrant (Haines 39). Most of the illegal immigrants who gained entry into the United States after the turn of the century have managed to get jobs because they are educated. Unlike those that came into the country before, most of the 21st Century illegal immigrants have college education that has enabled them secure employment (Berry 71). They work in various sectors of the country’s economy such as agriculture, service industries, and construction. Their income bracket is very low compared to that of legal immigrants and Native Americans. However, the longer one stays in the country the better chance they have of earning more (Laham 123). It is also important to note that the illegal immigrant population is generally less educated compared to the Native American population.

Causes of the illegal immigration challenge in the United States

According to international relations experts, the United States ranks as one of the most desirable countries to live in because of its strong economy, prolonged political stability, and social environment (Laham 132). Most people that have immigrated to the country argue that they moved away from their native countries in search for better jobs, freedom, a serene political environment, good medical services, and increased access to education (Heron 31). These elements have played a major role in attracting foreigners seeking a chance at a better life and a secure future. However, most of the foreigners who have made their way into the United States over the years used illegal means. According to various federal reports, 5 % of the American labor force constitutes of illegal immigrants, especially in the states of Nevada, California, and Texas (Varsanyi 269). A number of factors are responsible for the emergence and the continued growing trend of illegal immigration in the country. They include geopolitical forces, economic incentives, the country’s immigration system, and the network effect.

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Geopolitical forces attribute to a great share of illegal immigrants that come to the United States every year. For example, most of the immigrants that come from Mexico attribute the harsh political environment characterized by oppression and harassment by government officials as their reason for choosing to move into the United States (Heron 36). Such an environment easily pushes someone to use illegal means to cross the American border, especially when they know their visa might take long to be accepted or it might be declined. This normally happens because of a certain reasons as stipulated in the country’s immigration and customs law. Illegal immigrants from Asia and Africa also attribute lack of political will with regard to development of policies for economic empowerment and social development as their main reason for moving to the United States (Laham 140).

Poor development and implementation of social policies has forced many people from these two regions to illegally, make their way into the country where they work as commercial sex workers, indentured servants, and in some unfortunate cases as sex slaves (Varsanyi 300). Most illegal immigrants who come from Europe and the Middle East move to the United States in search for a better future, as well as the need to link up with family members already settled in the country (Heron 40). In countries such as Mexico and some from the Asian continent where the fertility rate is very high, a rapid growth in population over the years has created a huge strain on the available resources, thus making the future very unpredictable (Haines 52). This phenomenon coupled with a lack of political with regard to coming up with effective policies on sustainable development have made many people to move to the United States in search for better opportunities (Berry 100).

Economic incentives are also a major cause of illegal immigration in the United States. For example, most immigrants in the country earn more money than they would if they had similar jobs back at home. Due to the strong American economy, most employers offer their employees good wages that other countries cannot match. Therefore, many foreigners keep looking for ways to make an entry into the country’s labor market (Haines 69). A study conducted among Mexican immigrants in the United States showed that even with all the expenses incurred living in a foreign country, their revenue in a year was three times that of their counterparts back home (Borjas 149).

The slow rate of economic growth in most countries is attributable to weak economic policies that do not offer the right solutions for dealing with the increasing demand for better income and higher living standards. Some of the factors that enable employers in the United States to hire illegal immigrants include changes in the global economic structures, lack of policies to control illegal economic migration, as well as weak labor policies (Heron 66). Changes in the global economic structures have made it easy for foreign investors to have operations in the United States. This means that low-skilled workers have a higher chance of getting well-paying jobs in the United States compared to their native countries. The concept of global migration of labor has influenced many people to move across the world in search for better jobs.

The nature of the immigration system in the United States is also a major cause of the increasing size of the illegal immigrant population. The system exists based on three pillars, namely promoting family reunion, meeting labor demands, and protecting Native Americans from the competition brought by foreigners (Berry 223). According to international relations experts, the American immigration system has channels for legal migration that many foreigners exploit in order to get a chance at experiencing the American dream. The biggest available channel is the one that allows employers to hire low-skilled workers through temporary visas in order to meet the demand in the labor market. Most of the foreigners who gain entry into the United States through this channel often refuse to go back home after the expiry of their visas (Berry 231).

Most of them are apprehended by federal agents and often deported, while others remain in the country illegally. Another immigration channel that many foreigners often exploit in order to gain entry into the United States is the 675,000 ceiling that the federal government has set on the number of permanent visas that can be given in a year (Berry 235). Many people get into the country in the capacity of being spouses, children, and parents of foreigners with permanent residence because they are not included in the aforementioned limit. This element of the system means that several people that cannot gain entry into the country through legal means, thus the option of using illegal avenues to cross the border (Haines 108). In most cases, people who get temporary work related visas choose to extend their stay in the country after their expiry dates because they know getting another opportunity is difficult and cannot stand a chance of loosing a well-paying job (Heron 73). Although it is illegal for any employer to hire an employee who is in the country unlawfully, the trend keeps growing owing to the fact that it is extremely difficult to verify the authenticity of documents.

One of the decisions that have played a major role in illegal immigration in the United States is the cancellation of the Bracero program, which allowed Mexican citizens special visas to work in American farms during the harvesting season (Laham 153). The program lasted for 22 years from 1942-1964, a period in which the United States benefited a lot from the input of Mexicans who replaced American citizens that had joined the army during the World War II. Although the program provided legal permits to qualified Mexicans, a great number of them that had failed to meet the qualification grade moved to the United States illegally in search for employment (Laham 155). Following the termination of the program in 1964, many Mexicans working in the United States chose to remain in the country illegally. International relations experts argue that the main reason as to why the Mexican workers were not willing to go back home at the time was the fact that they were not offered any monetary incentive to substitute the income they were getting (Laham 157). This phenomenon explains why the biggest percentage of the illegal immigrant population in the United States constitutes of Mexicans.

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Another cause of illegal immigration in the United States is the network effect that develops out of the family reunification pillar of the immigration system. This effect is common among Mexican immigrants who have been in the country for several decades. Most people in Mexico keep making efforts to reunite with members of their extended family living in the United States (Borjas 236). Since most of them cannot get visas, they choose to use illegal means to be in the country. There more the illegal immigrants keep settling in the country, the larger the community gets over time. These communities slowly act as bait to the people in their native land to move to the United States and become part of the growing family in a foreign country (Heron 107).

The development of the network effect is attributable to several factors that have also influenced the growing number of illegal immigrants in the United States. These factors include the low cost of communication, transportation, and information services between the United States and Mexico (Haines 118). These factors have played a major role in the high number of Mexicans living illegally in America because the cost of crossing the border is far much less compared to foreigners coming from Asia, Europe, and Africa. Most Mexicans unsuccessfully attempt to cross the border several times before managing to get to the United States because a singe effort does not cost much (Borjas 251).

Impacts of illegal immigration in the United States

According to federal reports on illegal immigration in the United States, it is very clear that the phenomenon has had huge impacts on numerous elements of the American culture. The mushrooming size of illegal immigrant population has affected the country’s economy, health delivery system, the environment, as well as the security parameters (Berry 330). One of the economic impacts is that illegal immigrants have led to a breakdown in the wage structure due to the entry of low-skilled labor (Lee 8). Many American employers prefer hiring the illegal immigrants because their labor is cheap and would not complain even if when subjected to exploitation (Arnold 500).

This has led to a decline in the minimum wage offered to employees working in certain sectors. The counter effect of this change is the widening gap between the rich and the poor owing to the fact that there is an uneven distribution of wages and employment opportunities for legal American citizens greatly reduce (Lee 10). Another economic impact of illegal immigration is increase in housing prices, as residential real estate developers have acquired a culture of exploiting the growing communities of illegal immigrants (Arnold 519). A study on the state of the country’s real estate industry established that the prices of houses are very high in regions with a huge number of illegal immigrants (Berry 312). This means that legal American citizens living in those regions tend to suffer a lot because the housing prices in other regions remain within normal rates.

Taxation and provision of social services are important elements of the American economy. According to federal reports, illegal immigrants receive a lot of money through social services although they do not contribute a lot through taxation (Haines 211). This has in turn affected the effectiveness of federal, state, and local budgets because there are very many people supported in various ways without making any notable contribution (Lee 14). However, the availability of illegal immigrants has attracted the attention of financial institutions through mortgages as they sought to grow their revenue from the unexploited resource. This discovery led to numerous changes in the banking industry characterized by criticisms of financial institutions for encouraging illegal immigration through lucrative incentives. Many critics argue that the trend of giving mortgages to illegal immigrants exposes the country’s economy to great danger because unsustainable lending practices were inevitable (Lee 19). However, many banks exuded confidence in their decision citing it as a one of the avenues for economic growth because the poor implementation of immigration laws meant that their clients would not be easily deported. Financial analysts argue that this trend, which started a few years after the turn of the century, was one of the factors that led to busting of the housing bubble that had a huge influence on the global financial crisis (Arnold 535).

Illegal immigration in the United States has also led to the federal government incurring many expenses in law enforcement efforts. For example, the process of apprehending and deporting illegal immigrants uses many resources, which put a lot of financial strain on the government. The apprehended foreigners often have to be detained at a cost of $ 90 per person everyday before they are deported from the country (Lee 25). This is a huge expense that the government incurs every year in its efforts to protect the sovereignty of its people. Due to the dynamic nature of strategies applied by foreigners entering and staying in the United States illegally, the boarder control agents have employed the latest technology in monitoring the country’s boarders (Haines 238). The DHS reports that the number of people apprehended trying to cross the boarder illegally has tripled from the time the technology was installed.

The health care delivery system is another element that suffers a lot due to illegal immigration in the United States. Federal reports indicate that the high number of illegal immigrants have reduced the quality of emergency preparedness and the public health management systems. The DHS argues that their efforts with regard to developing emergency systems have become fruitless because they cannot establish the exact population in certain areas owing to the high number of illegal immigrants (Lee 27). The same case applies when delivering public health services in areas where the exact number of people in need of assistance is hard to determine. Lack of documentation showing the demographic composition of a region affects the effectiveness of delivery plans (Haines 300). Public health delivery systems cannot work without enough funding and workforce, all of which are provided depending on the exact number of people being served. The effectiveness of the health care delivery system is further heightened by lack of good communication between health care workers and illegal immigrant who do not understand any other language apart from their native one (Arnold 601).

Illegal immigration also influences a lot on the state of security in the United States. According to the DHS, there are a significant number of illegal immigrants involved in various forms of crime across various regions in the country. A study conducted on the security status in the state of California established that 17% of inmates were illegal immigrants who were waiting to be deported as soon as they finished serving their jail term (Haines 356). Although most illegal immigrants act keenly in order to avoid any form of interaction with law enforcement agents, lack of employment pushes them to commit petty crimes for survival. Interestingly, regions with a high number of illegal immigrants have fewer cases of violent crime. Studies that have been conducted with regard to the relationship between immigration and crime rates in the United States have contradicting results that make it hard to make a reliable conclusion. However, the DHS reports that cases of violent crimes involving illegal immigrants are very common in border counties (Haines 359).

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These cases mainly involve smuggling of goods and human trafficking. Once those involved in these forms of crime manage to settle in the country, they continue with their criminal activities. For example, in 2009 the federal government released a report on the state of crime in los angels and identified a number of illegal immigrants that were members of the 18th street gang. According to the report, 80% of the gang members who had a questionable immigrant status were identified as natives of Mexico and Central America (Arnold 631). The main criminal activities of the gang were drug trafficking, carjacking, extortion, and homicide. In addition, the gang was also associated with the numerous cases of robbery, identification fraud, and drive-by shooting cases reported in the city (Arnold 636). Illegal immigrants are also involved in cases of terrorism, which ranks as one of the major threats to the security of the United States.

The federal government has also noted environmental degradation as one of the major impacts of illegal immigration, especially in its border with Mexico. The degradation often develops from the high number of abandoned cars in the lands along the border (Roberts 6). In addition, the high numbers of illegal immigrants that walk trough the lands as they enter the country leave a lot of litter behind, which eventually lacks someone to collect. Reports by the immigration department also state that the illegal immigrants are responsible for the numerous wild fires reported on various American borders as they use them to distract the movements of immigration agents watching the borders. These fires destroy thousands of acres land that also cost a lot in taxpayers’ money with regard to damage control (Lee 30). Other reports indicate some illegal immigrants die or suffer serious injuries during their attempts to cross the American border (Roberts 13). This normally happens when the foreigners try gaining entry into the country through dangerous zones that have wild animals or have do not have somewhere one can seek help.

Policies for addressing illegal immigration in the United States

Since the first cases of illegal immigrants were reported in the United States, the federal government has come up with a number of legislation geared towards stopping its development. According to the country’s immigration laws, any illegal immigrant apprehended is liable to a fine, jail term or both. It is illegal for anyone living in the United States to dodge inspections carried out by immigration agents, as well as providing false information in order to gain entry and remain in the country (Berry 470). These offenses attract a maximum jail term of two years depending on the degree of violation. The federal government has developed a number of policies geared towards preventing illegal immigration. One of the policies on employment stipulates that illegal immigrants in the United States are not viable to receive privileges such as getting a professional license to work (DeLaet 80).

However, due to the numerous efforts human rights groups, states such as California have made amendments to the policy in a bid to reduce crimes related to work permits. During the tenure of President George W. Bush, the federal government created a policy that would require employers to submit information about their employees for auditing in a bid to uncover illegal immigrants (DeLaet 85). This policy has been very effective under the current government led by President Barrack Obama, who has often reiterated the need to clean up the mess that is denting the country’s immigration system. Illegal immigrants uncovered through the audit process often face deportation as soon as their immigration status is confirmed.

Over the years, the federal government has made numerous efforts to increase the security and patrol activities in its borders in a bid to apprehend foreigners gaining entry into the country through places that are not designated as immigration points (Berry 486). One of the plans has been fencing the country’s border with Mexico, which has been a major entry point for many illegal immigrants in the country. The federal government has invested many resources in securing the country’s borders by employing thousands of patrol agents (DeLaet 89). However, the fence that covers a third of the 2000 miles long border has slowly been turned into a political issue and a source of attack from human rights groups (Arnold 700). The current administration has had to deal with numerous challenges while addressing this problem owing to the intense pressure coming from various human rights groups. They argue that the government should propose a new strategy for dealing with them because in reality they make a huge contribution to the growth of the economy (Haines 501). However, the country’s strict policy on threats to national security such as terrorism has left the government with no choice other than employing tough measures to stop illegal immigration.

One of the legislation that has helped in addressing this problem is the U.S. Patriot Act of 2001. This legislation came following the September 11 terror attack that alerted the federal government on the huge threat posed by laxity that was going on within immigration department (DeLaet 100). This act gave federal agents and the DHS to apprehend and deport any illegal immigrants suspected of involved in terrorist activities. In addition, any illegal immigrant found to have any form of association with a group or organization marked as a threat to the country’s security should be deported immediately. Over the last couple of years, the Obama administration has faced a lot of criticism from human rights groups with regard to the implementation of this legislation, which they feel has greatly violated the rights of the apprehended people. The act provides that an apprehended illegal immigrant should not be given a hearing, but otherwise deported immediately. The federal government argues that it cannot take chances on the safety of its people by showing mercy on criminals.

Terrorism has been a major issue with regard to homeland security, and reports indicate that illegal immigrants in the country have often been easy targets for terrorists seeking people to help them in their missions (Roberts 20). In some cases, the apprehended individuals are tried for being in the country illegally before being deported. However, the process of deportation has its own complications that have made the process of reducing the illegal immigrant population less effective. One of the challenges is importing children who are American citizens by birthright yet their parents are illegal immigrants (Roberts 27). Many human rights groups have used this issue as the basis for attacking the federal government over it policy on illegal immigration. They argue that deporting an illegal immigrant parent yet their children are legal American citizens is a violation of the constitutional rights of the minors. However, the government has refused to change its position as provided for in the deportation laws of 1996 (DeLaet 109). The only change that has happened under the leadership of President Obama is a reduction in the number of deportations, owing to the introduction of a system categorizing illegal immigrants into priority groups based on their possible threat to the country’s security.

Another legislation that has formed the basis for illegal immigration policies in the United States is DREAM Act that has failed to pass since its introduction to the senate in 2001 (DeLaet 129). This legislation focuses on the development and education needs of alien minors. According to the provisions in the act, illegal immigrants that have minors born in the country can get temporary residency that involves a number of conditions that have to be met before receiving permanent residency (Arnold 778). Its proponents argue that it would be a good strategy for reducing the number of illegal immigrants because they would be registered, thus making it easy for the government to track their movements. However, the administration of President Obama has enacted a few provisions from the act in a bid to regulate the cost incurred by the federal government while addressing the problem. For example, eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) requires the applicants to prove that they started living in the country before turning sixteen years, have enrolled in high school or completed, acquired a GED certificate, as well as their innocence with regard to conviction for any offence (Roberts 44).


The United States of America is one of the most desirable countries to live in owing to its stable economy, good political environment, education system, and good record in promotion of human rights. There are several conclusions with regard to the issue of illegal immigration in the United States. First, the challenge of illegal immigrants in the country is a reality that the federal government needs to address with the utmost priority. The mushrooming size of the illegal immigrant population is a huge source of threats to homeland security. Owing to the fact that the United States has a number of enemies because of its commitment towards fighting terrorism, the government ought to assure its citizens of their safety by preventing illegal entry and stay of foreigners who might be used by terrorists. Second, the federal government should increase the effectiveness and efficiency of its immigration system by creating policies that encourage cooperation with various countries with regard to offering more visas to foreigners seeking to reside within its borders.

Works Cited

Arnold, Kathleen. Anti-Immigration in the United States. New Jersey: ABC-CLIO, 2011. Print.

Berry, Jeffrey. The Challenges of Democracy: American Government in Global Politics. New York: Cengage Learning, 2015. Print.

Borjas, George. Mexican Immigration to the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Print.

DeLaet, Debra. U.S. Immigration Policy in an Age of Rights. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2009. Print.

Haines, David. Illegal Immigration in America. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2014. Print.

Heron, Melonie. The Occupational Attainment of Caribbean Immigrants in the United States, Canada, and England. London: LFB Scholarly Publishing LLC, 2001. Print.

Laham, Nicholas. Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Immigration Reform. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000. Print.

Lee, Ronald. Local Fiscal Effects of Illegal Immigration. New York: National Academies, 2009. Print.

Roberts, Bryan. Managing Illegal Immigration to the United States: How Effective is Enforcement? California: Council on Foreign Relations, 2013. Print.

Varsanyi, Monica. Taking Local Control: Immigration Policy Activism in U.S. Cities and States. California: Stanford University Press, 2010. Print.

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