The Undermining of the American Dream through Illegal Immigration
The United States of America is often referred to as ‘a nation of immigrants’. Over centuries, the prospect of achieving the American Dream has attracted immigrants from all over the world to the country. However, in recent decades many immigrants entered the USA illegally or stayed on after their visas had expired. Actually, the approximated number of undocumented immigrants currently living in the USA widely ranges from “11.5 million to 20 million” (Orchowski 2008, 69), the majority of them hailing from Latin American countries. This uncontrolled influx of immigrants causes various problems in the host nation. Illegal immigration from South and Central America to the USA undermines core elements of the American Dream such as the opportunity of climbing the social ladder, security of life and liberty, and America’s social security for everyone living in the U.S.
First, undocumented immigrants from South and Central America often cannot climb the social ladder to achieve the American Dream. Because of their illegal status, they face unfavorable labor conditions. Many illegal workers are forced to take wearisome jobs in agriculture and other labor-intensive branches with extremely poor working conditions. Davis stated that “half of all field hands on California’s 82,000 farms, and as much as 20 percent of manufacturing, restaurant, and construction workers are illegal immigrants” (1990, 68-69). Moreover, some unscrupulous employers in these branches neglect to provide illegal aliens with the usual safety provisions for workers trying to save costs. Furthermore, illegal migrant workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries are usually being paid acutely low wages. While the U.S. federal law currently states a minimum wage rate of 7.25 dollars an hour (U.S. Department of Labor 2010), many undocumented workers in restaurants and agriculture merely earn about three dollars an hour (Davis 1990, 72-74). Due to the persistent influx of illegal immigrants, they constantly need to “compete with the newcomers for the low-paying jobs” (Novas 2003, 93). Consequently, employers can further reduce wages and exploit their illegal employees who have hardly any chance to achieve the American Dream.
Furthermore, many illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries encounter poor living conditions in the USA. Many immigrant families have to live a life below the poverty threshold. Coming from a humble background, the immigrants’ main motivator for leaving their homelands is the prospect of “making a living and providing for the immigrant’s family” (Orchowski 2008, 19). However, approximately a third of all Latin American illegal immigrants does “not earn enough money to provide their children with the bare necessities of a decent life” (Suro 1994, 85). Consequently, their housing conditions are extremely meager compared to American standards. In order to finance accommodation, lots of illegal immigrants have to share their apartments with relatives and friends. This system even developed into a typical “feature of Mexican society to survive in the United States” (Davis 1990, 206). Exemplary descriptions of immigrants’ poor housing conditions can be found in Davis’ book Mexican Voices/American Dreams: Illegal aliens often have to live in shabby boroughs, lack essential furniture items, or share their condominium with up to 14 people (1990, 199-246). These poor living conditions highlight the fact that illegal aliens are often denied the full opportunities of living in the United States of America.
A lot of illegal immigrants from Central or South American countries are discriminated against in the United States of America. Because of their undocumented status and lack of legal work permits, they often have to endure discrimination at the work place which is expressed through “prejudice, exploitation, and abuse” (Novas 2003, 93) by their employers. In spite of frequently earning much less than the American minimum wage and being treated inhumanely, they to do not dare to publicly complain about job discrimination since they fear deportation to their home countries. In addition to widespread discrimination at the work place, illegal aliens are sometimes discriminated against by American citizens and legal residents. Some Americans consider them to be a “threat to the linguistic and cultural unity of the country” (Meier and Ribera 1993, 191) since immigrants from Latin America often lack English language skills and bring their cultural heritage with them. In fact, “hostility toward illegal immigrants has increased in recent years” (Archibold and Steinhauer 2010). Thus, illegal immigrants are oftentimes misleadingly accused of vandalism, burglary and other serious crimes because residents “suspect they are being cheated by people who have sneaked across the border” (Suro 1994, 112). Hence, illegal aliens from Latin America are quite often prevented from climbing the social ladder, living isolated from the mainstream American society.
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- University of Leipzig – Institut für Amerikanistik
- American Dream Illegal immigration immigration USA Mexican immigration border Mexican border