Immigration. For hundreds of years, it has been one of the primary issues dominating American political debate. Consequently, presidents throughout American history have been faced with how to regulate the cycle of immigrants who wish to enter into the United States.
Roberson alumna Hrisanthi Kroi was born in Albania and in the past year, became a United States citizen. Due to an oversight when her parents gained citizenship in 2005, she never took the oath of citizenship and consequently, was never naturalized. She explained her parents’ process as thorough and expensive with each of them having to pay $300, fill out a lengthy application, and take part in an interview where they were asked a series of questions about the country.
“I wouldn’t say the process is difficult. It’s tedious and expensive. The obstacles I faced were just getting all the documents that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services required. I would not recommend anyone go through the process without some form of legal guidance,” Kroi said.
Kroi has concerns over the changes that could come to the immigration process with the new presidential administration due to what she believes is the already subjective nature of the interview process. She regards many of the questions interviewees are asked as an unfair test of acclimation to the country.
“I think what scares me most is that the new administration hasn’t bothered to find out just what it takes to get into this exclusive club that is America. They are just assuming that the system is broken. The system isn’t broken. It’s slow and for good reason,” Kroi said.
Business and finance teacher Jim Galloway, on the other hand, believes that the lengthy citizenship process is a primary problem regarding immigration into the U.S. He believes that the system does need to be reformed.
“There are too many rules and regulations and too long of a time frame for the immigration process. I do, however, believe that there needs to be vetting, and we need to ensure that the information we’re receiving is true and is correct. I don’t really blame the good people for bypassing the system,” Galloway said.
According to the American Immigration Center, immigrants must first become a legal permanent resident and live in the U.S. for five years before applying for citizenship. Then they can apply for the naturalization process, which can take up to a year.
While American immigration policies stretch far back into the late 1700s, the amount of immigration into the United States has fluctuated throughout the decades. According to AP United States History teacher Robert Browning, no significant turning point occurred in immigration trends, but instead, immigration to the United States occurs in cycles.
With every cycle, Browning believes, comes resistance in various forms.
“There have always been periods of mass immigration into the United States. We still have quotas today, and we still have numbers of people that we say that we will legally take in every year. Part of that is because the transition process into becoming a citizen can only process so many people at once,” Browning said.
One of the primary arguments regarding immigration policies relates back to the impact immigrants have on the overall economy. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, while many native-born workers fear immigrants will take their jobs, this belief does not always hold its ground.
The occasional time immigrants could potentially hurt native-born workers, the study found, is during times of economic depression, when jobs are already scarce.
“The correlation between immigration and the economy depends on whether or not we have been in times of economic strength or economic weakness,” Browning said. “At times of economic strength, or at least perceived strength, we have had policies where we encourage immigrants coming into the country. For example, the Bracero Program welcomed immigrants of Latino descent into the United States.”
Past American economist Milton Friedman has argued that if the United States is going to offer welfare payment to all legal immigrants, then a quota must be set on the permitted number allowed into the country. The shift in immigration, according to Friedman, occurred in the early 1900s when further welfare programs were enacted in the U.S. In his lecture titled “What is America,” Friedman claims that free immigration without welfare programs would be the ideal policy concerning American immigration.
“When we’re talking about good, hardworking people, all they really want is to get a job and create a new life for themselves. Most of these immigrants don’t want to come here and sign up for welfare and just sit around all day. What’s wrong is letting illegal immigrants sign up for welfare benefits, creating a welfare state where we’re just helping out the world around us,” Galloway said.
While the majority of the presidents have had to deal with immigration in some way, Browning believes that Trump’s situation is unique because of his specific platform he ran on during his campaign.
According to Browning, Trump’s proposed and already enacted immigration policies tend to reflect the Quota Acts of the 1920s, in which the number of immigrants permitted to enter into the country was significantly reduced. Other laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, were among those aimed at notably restricting immigration.
“I don’t really recall a president in my lifetime making nearly the political hay over immigration. All the presidents have had to deal with it, but as far as I can recall, they have never addressed it as a core part of their campaigns,” Browning said.