Immigration woes, both at home and abroad

By Kristen Mcavoy
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, May 30, 2012
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Kristen McAvoy is an intern for and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Kristen McAvoy is an intern for and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

On May 15, the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau began a campaign to crack down on illegal foreigners residing in China. This campaign will last until late August and consists of household checks in addition to random checks in public areas. Foreigners must have valid identification and proper documentation or risk fines, detention and possible deportation.

As a new foreigner living in Beijing, this recent campaign got me thinking. Is this campaign necessary? How many "illegal" foreigners currently live in Beijing? And perhaps most poignantly, how does China's illegal immigration situation compare with the United States?

For decades, illegal immigration has been a highly contested topic in the United States, with a half a million illegal migrants, mostly from Latin America, trickling into the country each year. This issue is especially salient in the southern states where the majority of these undocumented immigrants have settled down. Many American citizens have become very frustrated with the fact that their tax dollars pay for services and benefits received by illegal immigrants. This has caused some states, such as Arizona, to pass stringent immigration bills.

In 2010, Arizona passed a bill that allows police to identify and deport citizens who do not have valid immigration documents. Under the new law, all residents must have proof of citizenship or immigration documents on their person at all times. Opponents, however, feel that this law is unfair and that it will bring about discrimination for illegal and legal residents alike. The law is currently suspended pending a Supreme Court review of its constitutionality in June.

The case will not only set precedents on the U.S. government's stance on illegal immigration, but also affects a state's right to pass laws affecting immigration. It also will help determine the question of whether immigration should be a federal or state issue.

In 2011, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Indiana passed laws similar to Arizona's, further intensifying the issue. These laws have also been blocked in anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruling. Through amicus briefs submitted to the Court, 16 states have thus far supported the Arizona law while 11 maintained that the federal government is responsible for controlling immigration.

Immigration is poised to be a major issue in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. The Obama administration strongly opposes the Arizona law, and has been criticized for its lack of action when it comes to securing U.S. borders and bringing about immigration reform. Obama's administration has, however, deported a record number of illegal immigrants. Republican contender Mitt Romney has very strict views on illegal immigration, which may cost him the votes of 21.7 million eligible Hispanic voters. Currently, Obama has the support of the majority of Latino voters, but it is unclear how things will pan out after the Supreme Court's final ruling in June.

As a resident of North Carolina, I can attest to the fact that many Americans discriminate against Latinos in the United States. Illegal immigrants stereotypically attain work that is labor intensive and dangerous (jobs that many American citizens will not do). This need for labor perpetuates an unfortunate cycle that ultimately causes many U.S. citizens to believe that they are somehow superior. Thus, illegal immigrants are abused due to the threat of deportation, and U.S. citizens' taxes are used to fund the public education and other costs of illegal immigrants living in the United States, leaving both parties with a sour taste in their mouths.

These problems have been ignored by the federal government, often causing the states to take matters into their own hands. Now the Supreme Court will have to play referee, and we can only hope that bold immigration reform will emerge to fix some of these problems. The U.S. cannot afford to dance around illegal immigration any longer.

The issue facing the U.S. Court of whether or not it is legal for authorities to question a foreigner's immigration status has not been contested in China. The question is whether this practice encourages discrimination and harassment, and whether it is necessary.

I have only been in Beijing for a very short period of time, but I have to say that I have thus far experienced no such discrimination. I do think that campaigns to manage illegal immigration are ultimately necessary in order to control the issue in the long run. The number of illegal immigrants living in the United States in 2010 was approximately 11.2 million. However, it is important to note that only about 20,000 foreigners were found to have entered or stayed in China illegally in 2011, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Thus, it is easy to see why many worry the new U.S. laws will encourage a backlash against foreigners; however, the lasting impact of Beijing's recent crackdown is less clear.

Both the United States and China offer a multitude of opportunities for foreigners who are fortunate enough to live in these countries; and both have very stringent entry requirements. The United States, however, has a much larger problem on its hands, and it will be interesting to see how the Supreme Court rules on this topic. If these laws do pass in the United States, I hope that discrimination and harassment do not result, but due to the number of illegal immigrants and years of controversy over the topic, I am doubtful that this debate will end well.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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