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Immigration Laws and Social Welfare Policies


Illegal immigration remains one of the biggest concerns for the current United States government. According to Orrenius and Zavodny (2016), the majority of those who come to the United States legally have a plan on what they need to do and how they will survive in the country. On the other hand, illegal immigrants come to the country hoping to get well-paying jobs once they arrive. In most cases, they end up becoming homeless individuals who are susceptible to crime. Immigration laws are meant to restrict illegal immigration into the country by putting systems and structures that would limit the ability of foreigners to infiltrate the country’s borders. The existing laws define what an individual needs to do to immigrate into the United States legally. Blix (2017) explains that social welfare policies are important in helping those who come to the country either legally or illegally. These individuals may need assistance in different ways before they can support themselves in the country. In this paper, the researcher will look at the significance of social welfare policies on immigration laws.

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History and Development of Social Welfare Policies and Immigration Laws

The concept of social welfare has become increasingly important when dealing with the issue of immigration in the United States. Dettlaff and Fong (2016) define social welfare policy as “acts, laws, and rules that help to improve the lives of people in the community” (p. 73). A good example of social welfare policy is the initiative that was put in place by the previous administration to provide healthcare for all. Blix (2017) argues that social welfare policies are meant to help the less fortunate members of society to have access to basic needs such as food, shelter, and quality healthcare services. The government may not have the capacity to provide housing services to every immigrant in the country. However, it is possible to have policies that would allow them to have access to healthcare services and food stamps on humanitarian grounds.

It is important to analyze the history of immigration laws and the current social welfare policies that are put in place to protect immigrants in the country. According to Dettlaff and Fong (2016), the first immigration law that was enacted in the United States after independence was the Naturalization Act of 1790. The law defined what it took to naturalize an immigrant into a United States citizen with the right to vote or hold office. It did not limit immigration into the country. Naturalization was limited to white immigrants. The Alien Enemies Act of 1798 was the first immigration law that gave power to the United States president to expel an immigrant from the country. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted to limit the immigration of Chinese into the country (Winslow & de Gruyter, 2017). It was the first legislation to define illegal immigration and the manner in which the government needed to respond to the issue of illegal immigrants, especially those from China.

The Immigration Act of 1917 broadened the restriction of immigration to include all Asians. Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002 was enacted to increase the security at the border of the country by having border patrol agents as a way of limiting illegal immigration into the country (Blix, 2017). The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals of 2012 was enacted to regulate the deportation of children who meet certain qualifications (Winslow & de Gruyter, 2017). It is equally important to note that various rulings of the United States Supreme Court have defined actions taken by the government to regulate immigration into the country. Rodriguez v. the United States of 1999, the United States v. Verdugo-Urquidez of 1990, and Plyler v. Doe of 1982 have all played a significant role in determining how immigrants should be treated in the country.

The development of these laws has defined the approach that the government should take when developing social welfare policies and related services to immigrants. As Orrenius and Zavodny (2016) explain, the government has a responsibility, from a humanitarian ground, to ensure that people, who immigrate into the country, whether illegally or legally, are not subjected to the inhumane environment. Sometimes the government may be forced to take some illegal immigrants into camps where they can be assisted with basic needs before their fate is decided. Social welfare workers may need to be involved to help find the best way of handling such issues. It may involve balancing the government’s interests in fighting illegal immigration by helping those who are already trespassed to the borders. The government should remain ethical when handling illegal immigrants. If they are to be deported, the process must be conducted in a humane way based on the existing legal structures.

Social Welfare Policy Issues and Practices

Social welfare focuses on the well-being of members of society. Policies related to social welfare are legislations, executive orders, and court decisions relating to the wellbeing of members of society. According to Dettlaff and Fong (2016), it involves “poverty reduction, social security, unemployment insurance, living conditions, pensions, health care, social housing, family policy, social care, child protection, social exclusion, education policy, crime and criminal justice” (p. 85). In 2017, the United States federal government spent $729 billion on social welfare, which represented 19% of its total budget (Keithly, 2018). In 2018, the local, state, and federal governments spent $1,091 billion on social welfare (Keithly, 2018). It is an indication that social welfare is one of the most important areas of focus for government at all levels. It is necessary to look at specific areas of social welfare relevant to immigration laws in the country. The following are some of the major issues that arise from social welfare policies along with what and who takes part in their delivery.

Health Care

Health care is one of the most important areas of social welfare that the government of the United States has remained committed to over the past decades. According to Blix (2017), of the $1,091 billion that the government spent on social welfare, more than half ($642 billion) was spent on Medicaid (Winslow & de Gruyter, 2017). The government is focused on providing healthcare services for everyone living in the United States irrespective of their economic capacity. The middle working class and the rich members of the society have a medical cover that they can use to access quality health care services when they are sick. However, a section of the less privileged cannot afford the insurance cover. They rely on social welfare policies to ensure that they can get medical services. Significant portions of the population of those who lack medical insurance coverage are immigrants, especially those who came into the country illegally.

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According to Orrenius and Zavodny (2016), most illegal immigrants are often willing to take any job opportunities that come their way. They often work in industries considered unsafe or less attractive by other members of American society. They are exposed to numerous health risks in their workplaces. Some of those companies hiring illegal immigrants know that these individuals are desperate for employment. As such, they rarely take issues such as occupational health and safety seriously (Blix, 2017). These illegal immigrants end up being exposed to numerous risks, which make it necessary for them to get medical attention regularly. Although the federal government is always committed to deporting illegal immigrants, those who need medical attention are often granted the same in both public and private healthcare institutions, especially in cases of emergency. Any legal action relating to their residency in the country can only be taken after they are granted the services they need.

Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system refers to agencies and processes that the government has established to control crime and to ensure that those who break the law are subjected to appropriate punishment (Orrenius & Zavodny, 2016). The system is meant to ensure that laws, rules, and regulations that define the relationships among different people are respected. They are also meant to promote ethics within society. The criminal justice system has various components with specific functions. It starts with the law enforcement unit that is responsible for arresting individuals believed to have broken the law (Winslow & de Gruyter, 2017). The prosecution team is then expected to take over in representing the state in an attempt to punish an individual suspected to have committed a given crime. The defense attorneys would be expected to protect the interest of their clients during the legal proceedings. The court is expected to make the decision as to whether the individual is guilty as charged. In case the suspect is found to be guilty, the correctional facilities would be responsible for the rehabilitation and incarceration of the individual.

Immigration laws are currently focused on reducing crime. According to Orrenius and Zavodny (2016), fighting crime in a society where there are a high number of undocumented immigrants is difficult. Government agencies do not have data about these undocumented immigrants that can help in tracing them when they commit a crime and go into hiding. Given that a significant portion of these immigrants is unemployed, they can easily be tempted to engage in criminal activities. These challenges explain why the criminal justice system is fighting for strict immigration laws as one of the ways of reducing crime in the country.

Social Exclusion

Social exclusion is another issue relating to social welfare that affects some immigrants. Some of these immigrants are from war-torn countries such as Somalia, Syria, and Iraq. Although the country has become tolerant of diversity, the perception that immigrants from Islamic nations pose a terror threat is still rampant in the United States (Blix, 2017). People may not speak publicly about their perception, but the truth is that these individuals are often subjected to social exclusion. Many Americans are not comfortable sharing buses, trains, and planes with these immigrants because of the fear of suicidal acts meant to harm innocent citizens (Winslow & de Gruyter, 2017). In this case, social welfare policies should focus on sensitizing the public about this issue. A good example is to use social media to help American society to understand the concept of Islam and the fact that not every Muslim is a terrorist. Some of the worst criminals the country has ever had are actually born in the country.

Child Protection

Child protection is another area that has raised the attention of American society over the past two years when dealing with the issue of immigration laws. As Blix (2017) notes, illegal immigrants are embracing a new strategy where they use their young children to gain entry to the United States. Many immigrants from Central American countries came with their infants hoping to get the sympathy of the government without following the proper procedure of immigrating to the United States.

The problem with that strategy is that these children are put in harm’s way. When the government denies them entry, the United States will be viewed as a country that does not show concern to the weak and vulnerable. When they are allowed entry, it may turn into an approach that many illegal immigrants will use to come to the country. As such, the child protection system is an appropriate social welfare policy that allows children to be granted some form of protection when adults who came with them are subjected to appropriate punishment for breaking the law. Homeland Security Act of 2002 is an example of laws that outline how immigration officials should handle children at the border (Vargas, Sanchez, & Valdez, 2017). These laws are meant to protect minors while at the same time discourage any form of illegal immigration.

Social Housing

Social housing is one of the human services often offered by the government under social welfare policy. These housing units are offered at a subsidized fee or at no cost to deserving individuals. Orrenius and Zavodny (2016) explain that this policy is meant to reduce cases of homelessness in the country, especially in major cities where the problem is rampant. Social housing services are given based on merit. Poor American citizens are often given priority over any other person, especially single mothers. However, some immigrants also deserve these services. Some of the legal migrants who come to the United States on the green card are economic immigrants who may not have any other means to sustain their livelihood in the country. Blix (2017) argues that the government should have a policy where these individuals are offered subsidized housing units for at least six months after they enter the country. The period would allow them to get jobs and plan for their future in the country.

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Immigration laws are meant to define how non-American citizens can immigrate into the United States if they meet specific criteria set by the government. They are meant to fight cases of illegal immigration, which poses a threat to national security. Social welfare policies are meant to enhance the wellbeing of members of the society, especially those with limited economic empowerment, including immigrants. Most of these policies focus on helping immigrants irrespective of the legal status of their residency. Access to basic needs such as food, shelter, and a quality healthcare system cannot be based upon the legality of an individual in the country. When it is established that a group of people, who are getting these services, is in the country illegally, then processes of their deportation can commence while they are still getting them. Humanity and the need to protect the lives of people are supreme to any other law relating to immigration.


Blix, M. (2017). Digitization, immigration and the welfare state. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishers.

Dettlaff, A. J., & Fong, R. (Eds.). (2016). Immigrant and refugee children and families: Culturally responsive practice. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Keithly, D. M. (2018). The USA and the world: 2018-2019, (14th ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Orrenius, P. M., & Zavodny, M. (2016). Do state work eligibility verification laws reduce unauthorized immigration? IZA Journal of Migration, 5(5), 1-17. Web.

Vargas, E. D., Sanchez, G. R., & Valdez, J. A. (2017). Immigration policies and group identity: How immigrant laws affect linked fate among U.S. Latino populations. Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics, 2(3), 35-62. Web.

Winslow, R. R., & de Gruyter, W. (2017). The best possible immigrants: International adoption and the American family. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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