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Sociological Views on Illegal Immigration

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Autor:  mangafica  28 April 2011
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Throughout human history there have been many theories developed in the attempt at understanding and explaining human behavior, no one theory is without flaws but each one provides a unique view on human interaction and society as a whole. The idea that society's parts work together in order to maintain a status quo and meet social needs is called functionalism, functionalism is about cooperation and interdependence. In sharp contrast to functionalism, conflict theory states that individuals are out to promote their own self-interest, and that conflict, not cooperation is what motivates society. Symbolic functionalism analyzes the way members of society communicate and the subjectivity of everything from religion to language. Each theory has its own merits and problems, as they are all unique ways of looking at the same thing. Illegal immigration is a hotly debated issue as of late and sociologists that subscribe to each of these theories have argued the pros and cons of illegal immigration and its effects on society as a whole as well as the individual. When looking at illegal immigration through each of these theories, there is a sharp contrast between the conclusions a person will reach through each theory.
"From each according to their ability, to each according to his need" (Marx and Engles) is an often quoted idea originally written by Karl Marx. Marx believed that capitalism was inherently oppressive and that a society could only be free when the members of society are freed from their class struggle. Although it can coexist with capitalism, functionalist theory is along the same lines as Marx's theory; in functionalist theory there are groups of people who are all interdependent on other groups (Layton), they all play their own role and by playing this role they are advancing society toward meeting their own social needs. Solidarity is the staple of functionalism, society is an organism and each group of that society is a vital organ (Urry). Groups work together to form social order and advance the greater good. Equilibrium is the goal of a society (Durkheim), and it can only be reached through cooperation and interdependence between each and every social group and class. The wealthy and powerful depend on working class people to put money, work, and trust into society in order to maintain equilibrium just as the working class people depend on the powerful to establish governing laws and programs that are generally considered fair and widely accepted. If the working class individuals lost trust in society and no longer worked toward maintaining equilibrium there would be no money or trust in the laws and social programs set up by the powerful making them useless. If the powerful individuals in society established unfair and unjust laws that oppress the less wealthy and powerful people then the social needs of society as a whole would not be met because the social needs of a certain group cannot be met. Hegemony is the only thing that gives power to societies laws, money, and general well being; this idea forces the government and the powerful members of society to earn the trust of the working class, because without this trust they could have no power. Societies have formed throughout history with the goal of meeting social needs that could not be met otherwise; there have always been individual groups with something unique and vital to contribute to the society as a whole. Without this contribution there could be no equilibrium and a society would not be able to function until a new equilibrium was met.
Illegal immigration has become a more and more commonly debated issue, there are strong opinions on both sides of the argument. Functionalism would seem to favor illegal immigration, or at least more open borders because there are so many industries dependent upon the labor of illegal immigrants. Since America became America society has been reliant on the work of immigrants and these immigrants, however that is not to say that immigration has not been met with firm opposition. Although there is and always has been a large group of American citizens who are adversely effected by and therefore strongly dislike the idea of immigrant labor, these laborers have established themselves in our society and have formed their own social group which other social groups have become increasingly dependent upon. A new equilibrium was formed because jobs available to immigrants have historically been low paying and required very little skill, instead focusing on physical labor. Ever since the Irish were an oppressed minority that could not get a well-paying job there have been industries that capitalized on their desire to work and earn a wage. Because these industries seized the opportunity to hire workers at a fraction of the cost of what they would otherwise pay they have become dependent upon them. If cheap immigrant labor were to all of the sudden become unavailable to an industry that has grown to be dependent upon it prices for the product that industry produces would sky rocket and either cripple the industry or empty the wallets of the members of society who have grown to become dependent upon said industry. Immigrant laborers are a social group that has found their way into more and more industries, making these industries more and more dependent upon them. The agricultural and housing industries would not be what they are today without the work of migrant workers, they have worked their way into our society and established a new equilibrium that includes them as a vital part of society. If these industries were forced to pay a minimum wage and hire workers that are not willing to put in the hours that illegal immigrants are then prices for these industries products would be greatly affected. Completely stopping illegal immigration undoubtedly alter the equilibrium. One of three things would happen without the labor of illegal immigrants. The first scenario would be massive outsourcing like we have been seeing with technical support for computer and phone companies, if an industry was forced to outsource to maintain their costs and deliver their goods to the public at the same price many jobs would be eliminated and many people who have become dependent on these jobs would not have their social needs met. The second scenario is an abolition of labor laws, minimum wage, child labor laws, and other laws in place to protect workers are all things that are circumvented by illegal immigrant labor. Without illegal immigration industries could only continue to operate at their current efficiency if American citizens were willing to work under the conditions that illegal immigrants are willing to work at. The third and final scenario would be a drastic increase in price of the goods and services provided by the industries that are dependent upon the labor of illegal immigration, this would make many individuals unable to afford the services and goods they have become dependent upon from these individuals. Stopping illegal immigration would drastically alter the equilibrium and in every scenario it would be detrimental to society as a whole. So in order to continue meeting the social needs that have grown to become expected, society must turn a blind eye to illegal immigrant labor or suffer a drastic negative change.
Conflict theory, on the other hand, takes a different view on human relationships and how societies function. Instead of viewing society as a whole working toward equilibrium, conflict theory views society as a group of individuals competing amongst one another for a limited amount of resources. Scarcity and competition for resources are what fuels every member of society, every individual is self interested and consensus exists only as an unintended consequence of similar interests and not as an overall goal of society (Livesay). In this theory there are people who benefit from the status quo and there are people who are oppressed by it. As self-interested individuals, the people who benefit from certain privileges offered to them by society strive to keep those privileges, likewise those that don't have those privileges strive for change. According to conflict theory change is brought about by competition and power shift, it is often a sudden and sometimes violent event. Just as similar interests produce a consensus conflicting interests lead to a power struggle and in some cases lead to drastic change.
The current status quo is detrimental to illegal immigrants, they are a group of people who are working and striving toward change and social reform. They are naturally met by opposition from many working class Americans whose livelihoods are threatened by people willing to do the same job for much less money than the Americans that have grown to depend on them. As self-interested individuals, many working class Americans have fought, voted against, and grown to generally despise the idea of illegal immigration. Working class Americans are at the forefront of the fight against illegal immigration, their jobs are being filled by people who work for a wage that is not generally considered a livable wage. Because labor provided by illegal immigrants is much more cost efficient than labor provided by citizens, industries hire illegal immigrants, after all these industries are made up of self-interested individuals as well. Working class Americans have fought for the protections that they currently receive from laws established by the government, and these protections, such as minimum wage, mandatory overtime for working a certain amount of hours, and child labor laws are all threatened by illegal immigration. In addition to threatening governmental protection of the working class, illegal immigration threatens the jobs and livelihood of the working class. Working class citizens are the overwhelming majority of American citizens, they therefore have the power to fight illegal immigration through legislation and economic coercion against industries that illegally employ non-citizen workers. The people that are adversely affected by illegal immigration fight tooth and nail to close the border and force regulation upon industries to make them operate legally.
Symbolic internationalism is a less broad view of society; it analyzes how people interact and communicate with each other. Humans communicate through a series of symbols whose meanings are both generally understood in a society and subjectively interpreted by the individual (Blumer). The most commonly used symbol in most every society is spoken word, words are given meaning through how they are commonly interpreted and used, however there are words that mean different things to different people. Although the meanings of symbols are eventually established through consensus and common use, the way any individual interprets these symbols is ultimately up to his or her self. Societies all have unique interpretations to their own symbols and symbols of other societies, and when societies merge cultures clash and the definition of the symbols used in society become more and more subjective and ultimately changes the commonly accepted definition of these symbols. To change the definition of a symbol that has been established in a culture or society is to change that society as a whole. Since communication is at the heart of every transaction in society, changing how people communicate or introducing new symbols that society is not familiar with changes everything about society. The unique ability of humans to not only respond to their environment, but also to subjectively interpret their environment is what gives symbolic internationalism merit.
As new groups of immigrants enter America in search of the American dream they bring with them their own cultural symbols such as traditions, languages, and general ideas about social structure and justice. Illegal immigration threatens America's way of life through introducing new symbols, it forces citizens to either adapt to the symbols and form a new way of life or be left behind in a changing society. When a new group of people finds its way into society it brings with it its own culture as well as its own established interpretations of symbols. Because two very different meanings can be interpreted from the same symbol conflict will undoubtedly arise. Communication becomes miscommunication when two cultures meet and their own well-established interpretation of these symbols clash. The swastika is a symbol that carries a lot of meaning in our society, it is generally seen as a symbol of hate and racial conflict, but in other societies it is seen as an important religious symbol, in Hinduism it is referred to as the wheel of life (Adams). Because the overwhelming majority of our society sees the swastika as a symbol of hatred and not one of religious devotion, it is met with harsh criticism and is seen as a social taboo even when the person who uses it is not intending to convey that message. An American in India who sees this symbol in a religious context would be confused and would take away a different meaning and it would establish an inaccurate view on the people as a whole. While the swastika is an outdated example of these conflicting points of view pointed out by symbolic functionalism, it clearly demonstrates how miscommunication could lead to unwarranted conflict. Illegal immigrants are not forced to learn English or to understand American culture, they instead bring with them their own culture, their own symbols, and their own interpretations of symbols used in both cultures. Language is a huge barrier to illegal immigrants, not just because of the different symbols but because different languages have developed different ways of saying the same thing. If Spanish were literally translated into English, the phrase "te amo," which means "I love you," would mean "I have love for you." The difference in manner of speaking as well as the difference in the interpretation of symbols is detrimental to society because it threatens the commonly established way of communication that Americans have been using for years. In order for our way of communication to be preserved, immigrants must be educated about American society and forced to adapt to our interpretations. Illegal Immigration forces society to adapt to another cultures interpretations.
In the end, self-interest is an undeniable fact of American culture. Greed is seen as a positive motivating factor in society as opposed to a flaw. The overwhelming majority of American people are people whose livelihoods are being taken away by illegal immigrants as their niche in society grows larger and larger. Because we live in a democratic society the working class has the power to force legislation against illegal immigration, even though there are other social groups that see great benefit from it. Just as a person is self-interested, our nation as a whole is self-interested. A person values his own interests above anyone else's, likewise America values the interests of Americans above the interests of any other nation. Even though illegal immigrants are themselves a self-interested group, their interests take a back seat to those of American citizens. Since American citizens are ultimately the ones with the power to control legislation, regulation on illegal immigration is the only logical outcome of this social issue. This is already seen in groups like the minutemen as well as new legislations being introduced, such as the immigration laws passed in Arizona.
Each theory's view on illegal immigration does hold water, but in American society self-interest is at the forefront of everything a person does to make society function. There are industries that benefit from illegal immigration, and there are people that benefit from these industries, but there are many more self-interested individuals who have been backed against a wall and forced to fight through legislation, protests, and manning the border against illegal immigration. All of these theories have been argued in the political spectrum, and each has its own group of dedicated followers, but this is America, and America has to stand up for Americans.

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