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Immigration Debate - 2002-04-11


English Feature #7-33481 Broadcast March 13, 2000

Nearly a million immigrants arrive in the United States each year. Not surprisingly, this steady influx of people from around the world has formed the basis for a sometimes heated debate on the pros and cons of continued high levels of immigration.

Both sides of the debate often focus on the economic impact of immigration. Proponents of limitations on immigration believe that immigrants take jobs away from Americans and keep wages low. Mark Krekorian, executive director of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies, puts it this way:

"Here the research in academia is way out ahead of policy, in other words the research is generally coming to the conclusion that the high levels of unskilled immigration that we have had for the past couple of decades are harmful to blue-collar Americans, to working class Americans, by introducing significant new job competition for low-skilled jobs when fewer and fewer of those low-skilled jobs are available in our modern high-tech economy."

Mark Krekorian admits that the political discussion and the media debate regarding immigration do not reflect this conclusion. Indeed, another expert on immigration, Jeanne Butterfield, the director of the American Immigration Lawyers' Association, offers a quite different point of view.

"Well, I think the economic impact of immigration to the United States over history and continuing until the present day is overwhelmingly positive. These immigrants who come bring an incredible reservoir of skills and energy and entrepreneurship that builds businesses, creates jobs, serves the economy, fills positions in our economy, and overall contributes to our economic well-being."

Another question raised in the immigration debate is the degree to which new immigrants are assimilated into the life of this country. Here's what Jeanne Butterfield says:

"If you look at statistics like intermarriage, if you look at statistics like the rate at which people learn to speak English and use English as their primary language, you will find over the first and second generation of immigration that that becomes American, that become English, that becomes part of this dominant culture."

Mark Krekorian of the Center for Immigration Studies agrees that on a certain level, new immigrants assimilate more readily than they have in the past. But he believes that it is only a superficial assimilation, and it hides a deeper problem.

"In fact, immigrants often arrive here with more knowledge of English and more knowledge of American popular culture than they would have a hundred years ago because of the global hegemony of our culture. But there's a much more problematic issue in this question of national cohesion and assimilation. The world has shrunk, because of advanced communications and transportation technology. That makes the process of immigration much less final, much less dramatic than it was in the past. Now in a sense people can live in two countries at the same time. And so this phenomenon of trans-nationalism and the development of tight-knit diasporas among many ethnic groups makes it much more difficult to completely integrate immigrants and their children into the American nation."

Concern about the integration of immigrants into American society is, of course, not new. Dr. Carl Haub, chief demographer for the non-profit Population Reference Bureau, points out that back in the 18th century Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers, worried that a community of German settlers in Pennsylvania would change the nature of this country. Dr. Haub believes that Benjamin Franklin was wrong, as are the people who are concerned about immigrants now.

"I think the U.S. has a unique capacity to absorb people of different nationalities and really to take what's best from each group and blend them together. You know, we're not called a melting-pot for nothing. We take from different cultures, blend them together, and I think the record has proven that it's been pretty successful."

As we continue this series of programs, we'll talk about other aspects of the immigration debate. And staring next week we'll bring you the voices of the immigrants themselves, as they talk about life in their new country. Next week - some of the reasons people decided to pull up stakes and emigrate to the United States.

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