The lasting value of legal immigration for the United States of America

Essay, 2007

11 Pages, Grade: A (85%)




Socio-cultural, economic, and political benefits of legal immigrants

How the benefits of legal immigration counterbalance its difficulties

A point-system to guide the legal immigration reform




The United States of America has always been a nation of immigrants. After the earlier settlement by Europeans, the next great wave of immigration started in 1840 and ended in 1924. Another wave of immigration can be dated from 1960 to the present. From the year 1970 to the year 2000, the U.S. has admitted more than 20 million people as legal permanent residents (LPRs).[1] In the fiscal year of 2006, the U.S. admitted a total number of 1,266,264 LPRs.[2] Immigration is controlled by a policy that aims at several purposes. Besides the economic goals of increasing U.S. productivity and the U.S. standard of living, it serves the important social goal of unifying families, the socio-cultural goal of promoting diversity in the U.S. population, the economic goal of increasing America’s prosperity, and the political goal of maintaining stable demographics. In short, the main focuses of legal immigration are the socio-cultural, economic, and political goals.[3] According to Linda Chavez, author and chairperson of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C., debates about immigration have become “one of the most controversial public-policy debates in recent memory”[4]. To weigh the benefits of legal immigration, it is essential to know its difficulties. In fact, the advantages of legal immigration not only counterbalance its problems, but also illustrate the need of legal immigrants for the U.S. in terms of socio-cultural, economic, and political factors . Nonetheless, legal immigration is only beneficial with a proper immigration policy. For this reason the proposal of a point system by George J. Borjas, an economist at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, seems to be the right step to guide a reform of American legal immigration policy.

Socio-cultural, economic, and political benefits of legal immigrants

First, immigrants are willing to adapt themselves to the American cultural principles and contribute social, economic, and political benefits. Instead of disrupting the societal coherence, or changing American culture, the majority of immigrants not only adapts to the American way of life, but enriches it through diversity. Chavez underlines that immigrants integrate themselves much better into American life than is commonly believed. One indicator, for instance, is the population’s high rate of Hispanic intermarriage, where one quarter of Hispanics marries outside their ethnic group.[5] Wattenberg and Zinsmeister conclude as follows:

(…) the simple fact is that those traits and attitudes [of shared national values] – self-reliance, a disciplined work ethic, strong family attachments, religiosity, an inclination toward entrepreneurship, a stress on education, independence of mind, an appreciation of individual liberty – are often notably prominent among immigrants to this country. It is no accident: in some large measure, after all, they come to America because they admire what America stands for.[6]

In brief, most immigrants want to enrich the U.S. To exemplify, foreign-born persons receive a disproportionately large number of the Nobel prizes awarded to American scientists: 26% in chemistry, 31% in economics, 32% in physics, and 31% in medicine. American universities, laboratories, and manufacturers gain substantially from the discoveries and intellectual contributions made by these Nobel laureates.”[7]

Besides cultural and scientific achievements, legal immigration has social and economic benefits for the U.S. Native-born Americans benefit with regard to social and economic factors from legal immigration in several ways. Legal immigrants participate actively in the labor force, as the 86-percent rate of legal immigrants in the labor force underlines.[8] Legal immigrants increase the number of workers in the economy and, as Chavez underlines, “the overall economy would hardly benefit from fewer workers”[9]. Due to the additional competition in the labor market, the wages of some native-born workers may decline. At the same time, however, businesses gain as they are able to hire workers at lower wages. Consequently, many consumers also gain because the lower labor costs lead to cheaper goods and services.[10] Borjas illustrates how the U.S. population gains from immigration by comparing immigration gains to the gains for the United States resulting from foreign trade:

When the United States imports toys made by low-wage Chinese labor, workers in the American toy industry suffer wage cuts and perhaps even lose their jobs. These losses, however, are more than offset by the benefits accruing to consumers, who can now buy toys at lower prices.[11]


[1] George J. Borjas, Heaven’s Door ( New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999), 211.

[2] Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report: U.S. Legal Permanent Residents: 2006 <> (March 2007).

[3] Jeffrey S. Passel and Michael Fix, “Myths About Immigrants,” in Robert Emmet Long, ed., The Reference Shelf: Immigration (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1996), 162.

[4] Linda Chavez, “The Realities of Immigration,” Commentary (July-August, 2006), 34.

[5] Chavez, “The Realities of Immigration,”38.

[6] Ben J. Wattenberg, and Karl Zinsmeister, “The Case for More Immigration,” in Robert Emmet Long, ed., The Reference Shelf: Immigration to the United States (New York: The H. W. Wilson Company, 1992), 150.

[7] Borjas, Heaven’s Door, 88.

[8] Linda Chavez, “The Realities of Immigration,” 37.

[9] Chavez, “The Realities of Immigration”, 37.

[10] Borjas, Heaven’s Door, 12.

[11] Ibid., 12.

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The lasting value of legal immigration for the United States of America
Topics in U.S. Public Policy
A (85%)
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United, States, America, Topics, Public, Policy
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Julia Geigenberger (Author), 2007, The lasting value of legal immigration for the United States of America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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