Aidan W. Pennsylvania

The Ethics of Immigration

Do we choose economics or ethics?

To the next President of the United States,

Hi, my name is Aidan Williams, and I’m a student at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA.

Immigration has changed over the years, and so has the public’s view of it. At the origin of the United States, in 1783, George Washington said, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respectable stranger but the oppressed and persecuted of all nations and religions…” The United States was born from immigrants, and it was aimed to be a melting pot: A safe-haven for all seeking a democratic republic.

So, why did it change? Throughout the 1800s and the industrial revolution, immigrants found work in agriculture and factory work. The country expanded in size and wealth, and immigrants kept coming in. With the creation of the American Party, also known as the ‘Know-Nothing Party,’ organized opposition to immigration in the US began, using violence and intimidation against those coming into the country. Though they had left the public eye by the start of the Civil War, they paved the way for public and legislative anti-immigration sentiment. Between 1861 and 1880, somewhere to the tune of 200,000 Asian immigrants made their way to the United States, and they found lots of work, as they were willing to work for low wages. This kept many from being able to work, as they demanded higher wages than many immigrants.

As they say, time is a flat circle, and we are doomed to repeat ourselves over and over again. I can see many parallels between 1880 and the present day. I see parallels between George Washington’s philosophy, and the philosophy of many today, and I see the ‘Know-Nothing Party’ in its modern reincarnation. Today, there is a vast divide among citizens of the United States in their views on immigration, and it must be inconceivably hard to satisfy a nation of polar opposites. The decision itself is inconceivably hard, as I’m sure you know, and, as much as I have thought about it, there doesn’t seem to be a right choice. Do we deny all entry and deport those not naturalized? Do we open the gates to all? Can we find a good middle ground?

Deportation, ultimately, is a question of ethics on both poles. Allowing current events to continue, while it would keep families together, and provide work for many, a good portion of those undocumented workers are making less than minimum wage for labor-intensive, and sometimes hazardous, jobs. However, this is beneficial for the economy, somewhat akin to indentured servitude, and it is something we have been benefitting from for many years. Will you choose ethics or economics?

As for unrestricted immigration, I don’t know how the country would be able to afford public services for, and documentation of an increase in people. I’d be curious as to how we could make something like that happen while maintaining a strong economic structure, or if it is even possible.

So, is there a happy medium? I’ve heard arguments for making emigration unnecessary by working to improve life for people around the globe. However, this seems expensive, and I would assume that many countries would not want our help. Could we only admit the people we needed? Vetting immigrants to find skilled workers seems like it could be a good idea, but most likely would fuel an anti-american sentiment, as many without the qualifications would not be admitted, and countries would lose many good workers who could have helped to improve their country of birth.

It’s not up to me, and realistically never will be. I don’t think I would be able to make the decision even if it was, but I suppose it’s good to think about whether we would choose ethics over economics, or vica versa. Call it food for thought.

All the best,

Aidan Williams.

Science Leadership Academy @ Center City

Science Leadership Academy @ Center City

We are high school students from Philadelphia! We've been studying immigration in U.S. history so many of our letters include our opinions on this issue.

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