After the attacks of 11th September 2001 on the United States, the government greatly enhanced security measures at the borders, in an attempt to keep dangerous people out. For some time it seemed that immigration and travelling to the United States was a casualty. However, this did not last. Lately the US government has been making strides in increasing immigration and travel to the United States without compromising on security. While things are not perfect, the United States continues to accept more immigrants than most countries and overall numbers are steadily increasing.
Immigration to the US continues to grow
Immigration is deeply rooted in the history of the United States. The plaque at the base of the State of Liberty reads:
“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
After the 1940s, when immigration had practically come to a halt, there has been a steady rise in the number of immigrants coming to the United States. America admitted more than a million immigrants in 2001 alone.
United States remains a world leader in immigration
A quick snapshot of the world shows 19 cities that have a population of 1 million or more foreign born residents. Eight of those cities are in the United States, with a total estimate of 37 million foreign born people in the United States. From 1995 to 2000 the US admitted 6 million migrants, compared to the 470,000 in Australia, and 490,000 in the UK.
Immigrants do relatively well in the United States
The accusations that immigrants in the United States are not given the same opportunity, or are somehow ‘used’ are disingenuous. In 2006, 71.5 percent of the foreign born population lived 1.5 times above the poverty level. On average male foreign born workers make $31,749 a year. The number of foreign born people in the United States living in poverty is slightly higher than native-born Americans - although the percentage of those people have been declining over the past few years.
Immigrants quickly assimilate in the US
Immigrants are assimilating faster than ever over the past two decades, despite the fact that immigrants today are more dissimilar to Americans in that they often do not speak the same language or share similar cultural traits. A study, which graded immigrant groups on three traits: economic, civil, and culture showed that most were completely assimilated when it came to economics. Most immigrant groups were in the 90 percentiles, with Mexicans being the lowest at 66 percent. Most other immigrant populations were 100 percent assimilated economically. According to this study, immigrants who come to this country as young children, eventually grow up to be identical to American natives.
Americans are against illegal immigration, not immigrants
During recent immigration debates, it was pretty clear that Americans would not grant amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants. This does not mean that Americans are anti-immigrant, or anti-Hispanic. The popular fear is that by granting amnesty to illegal aliens, as was done in 1986, would encourage more immigrants to cross US borders illegally and ultimately undermine America’s legal immigration system. Accepting immigrants legally has never been a very contentious issue.
Coming to America is difficult but by no means closed
Many foreigners who have attempted to emigrate to the United States for school, work or for permanent residence understand how difficult it is. While this should be fixed, the problem is not that the US is trying to keep people out. Extra security measures, and old bureaucratic programs are largely to blame. In addition, the US still has a large number of people applying who quickly use up the maximum number of visas. For example, within two days of soliciting applications for skilled work visas (H1-Bs), the US government received enough applicants to fill the 65,000 visa quota for the year. Admittedly, the US immigration process could use some tweaking to increase our quotas, and make the process friendlier. Recommendations have been made to Congress and to the Bush Administration to address this issue.
Adding New Countries to the Visa Waiver Program
While tourism is not essentially immigration, the ability to accept visitors is an important function for the US. After 11 September 2001 the U.S. government greatly increased security at borders, and pondered terminating the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. Instead, Congress passed a bill reforming the VWP, and allowing the U.S. to add 6 more countries to the existing list of 27. The US government has currently signed 6 Memoranda of Understanding with other countries to join. Travel to the United States can be difficult, and there is recognition in government that this should be remedied. Expanding the visa waiver program is a step in this direction.
Launch of Electronic Travel Authorization
ESTA has been implemented for those countries with visa waiver status for the United States. A common misperception of the programme is that it is another layer of security that will be an obstacle to travellers. In fact, ESTA is merely an electronic version of an activity that would have been conducted by a border agent at the airport while travellers waited in customs lines. The program asks for basic information such as name and passport number. With ESTA, it is now done prior to boarding a plane, allowing passengers advanced knowledge if they will be denied entry to the United States.
 “Immigration to the United States: Fiscal Year 1820 to 2001,” MPI Data Hub: Migration Facts, Stats, and Maps, Migration Policy Institute, at http://www.migrationinformation.org/datahub/charts/final.immigbyyear.shtml (August 12, 2008).
 “European Migration,” Migration Policy Institute, at http://www.migrationinformation.org/datahub/europe.cfm (August 12, 2008).
 “2006 American Community Survey and Census Data on the Foreign Born By State,” Migration Policy Institute, at http://www.migrationinformation.org/datahub/acscensus.cfm# (August 12, 2008).