In recent years, the debate over immigration into the United States has become increasingly vitriolic. During the 2000s, millions of job-seekers flooded into the United States from across the world. Since many of these individuals spoke Spanish or other languages, this influx dramatically altered the look and feel of some formerly-homogeneous parts of the country. For instance, many new immigrants arrived in small Midwestern and Great Plains towns to work at the hundreds of corn processors and meatpacking plants that exist in that part of the country. Others arrived in the inner suburbs of major cities and began enriching the surrounding cultural and culinary environments.
Although the rate of immigration has slowed thanks to the recent drop-off in economic activity as well as ongoing labor-market improvements in the countries that once served as sources of immigrant labor, thousands of people still arrive in the United States each year. What's more, many of the immigrants who arrived here over the preceding decades are now establishing families, paying taxes, buying property, and sending their English-speaking children to public or private schools in their neighborhoods. This has had undeniable cultural and economic benefits for the communities in which these families live.
It's important to remember that most of the immigrants who have arrived in the United States since its founding came here legally. The Department of Immigration and Naturalization Services manages a complex system of visas and work clearances. These permit people who wish to come to the United States on a temporary or permanent basis to do so in a manner that complies with American law and respects the country's sovereignty.
However, there are a substantial number of workers who are unable to use these legal-immigration provisions. This is often the result of quota systems that prevent large numbers of unskilled workers from receiving work visas during a constrained time frame. Although Congress often discusses raising these quotas for the purposes of encouraging legal immigration, this appears unlikely to occur in the near future.
When workers and their families immigrate to the United States on a non-legal basis, they run the risk of deportation and prosecution. However, they may be able to receive certain government benefits without directly paying for these services. For instance, many public hospitals are legally obligated to provide healthcare to anyone who requests it. If a relatively poor immigrant can't pay for these services, the taxpayers who support the hospital must indirectly subsidize his or her care.