The Unanticipated Consequences of Immigration Policy

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    • 00:07

      [The Unanticipated Consequences of Immigration Policy]

    • 00:12

      PETER KIVISTO: Hello, my name is Peter Kivisto.And I'm a sociology professor at Augustana College.We're living in the United Statestoday at a moment in time when unprecedented levelsof immigration are occurring.We have, at present, 40 million immigrants

    • 00:33

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: residing in the United States.And if we take into account their children, the childrenborn in the United States, that figure jumps to 80 million,which if you think about it, is a pretty significant number,given that the population of the United Statesis slightly under 320 million people.

    • 00:54

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: This means that approximately onein four residents of the United States todayis either an immigrant or the offspring of an immigrant.Add to this the fact that 11 million of those immigrants,by most counts, are undocumented,and we have a perplexing problem with immigration that

    • 01:15

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: has created considerable political turmoiland controversy.And such has been the case for decades and decades.The question is, how did we get here?Certainly, nobody wanted 11 million undocumented immigrantsto come to the United States.And in fact, probably most people

    • 01:37

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: in the country, and most legislators,didn't want 40 million people.So how did this happen?[What are unanticipated consequences of social action,and why do they occur?]In order to understand where we are today,we need to go back in time 50 years to a piece of legislation

    • 01:57

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: that was passed in 1965, somethingcalled the Hart-Celler Act.And what we're going to look at todayare what are known as the unanticipated consequencesof this legislation.Now the term unanticipated consequencescomes from a sociologist by the name

    • 02:18

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: of Robert Merton, who wrote a very famous essayon unanticipated consequences back in the 1930s.Why is it that we plan things with a certain kind of outcomeexpected, and yet something else happens?He identified five different reasonsfor unanticipated consequences to occur.

    • 02:41

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And they are simply stated, ignorance,you simply don't know enough about the situation.You don't have the facts at hand that you need.Error, where you oftentimes have the facts,but you put them together, or you compute them, incorrectly.Short term interests-- we're all familiar with this.

    • 03:02

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: We make decisions based on what weknow is the short term, rather than the long term.So things may work out for a while,but then somethings happen down the roadthat we didn't anticipate happening.Sometimes our basic values get in the way.We have certain fundamental principlesabout how we treat people, and we simply

    • 03:23

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: allow those values to override the facts on the ground.And connected to that, there's the fifth oneis what Merton called self-defeating predictions.You simply predict something about the futurethat is unwarranted.Now these things are, what we wouldcall in sociology, ideal types.

    • 03:44

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And that means that in any particular instance whenthings go awry, a couple of these things can be at play.And moreover, when Merton was writing,he was thinking about individuals making decisions.What we're talking about in this talk todayis the situation that occurs when a whole lot of people--

    • 04:06

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: in this case legislators-- get togetherto try to put together an immigration policy.[The Key Goals of the Hart Celler Act]What we want to do is begin in 1965 with Hart-Celler,the immigration law that transformed US immigration

    • 04:29

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: policy, and that unleashed the largest wave of migrationin the nation's history.You should note that before Hart-Celler,for four decades, the United States-- even though wesee ourselves as a nation of immigrants-- to the UnitedStates, in effect, closed its doors to mass immigration.

    • 04:50

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: From the 1920s to the 1960s, we were not that beaconthat we once thought we were.But Hart-Celler, as you're going to see,was not designed to unleash waves of migration.The purposes of Hart-Celler can be summarized

    • 05:11

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: in a couple of points.The first is that it was intendedto end the quota system that had come into existence in 1924with the last major piece of immigration legislation.And what the quota system did wasit privileged certain countries, in termsof emigrants they could send to the United States.

    • 05:34

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And by privileging them, it worked against the interestsof other nations.To be more specific, the quota systemwas intended to ensure that immigrants to the United Stateswere from Europe and not from Asia, Africa, or anywhere else.Now one of the problems with the quota system,

    • 05:57

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: by the 1960s-- and this is the height of the Civil RightsMovement and so on-- was that there was a growingawareness, a political awareness,that this was a racist system.And it worked against US interestsduring the Cold War period, because the Sovietscould point to the United States as a country thatdidn't live up to its ideals.

    • 06:18

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: So one of the goals was to end the quota system.The second goal was to ensure that low levels of immigrationcontinued.This was not an act that was designed to bringin large waves of people.The third goal was to limit immigration

    • 06:39

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: from the Western Hemisphere.One of the curious features of the 1924 Actwas that there were limits placed on how many immigrantscould come into the country from the Eastern Hemisphere,but not from the Western Hemisphere.And this meant that any number of people,from Mexico and anywhere south of Mexico,

    • 07:00

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: could come to this country.There were no limits on the numbers that could come in.But now we were going to limit migration from the WesternHemisphere, just as we were going to limit migrationfrom the Eastern Hemisphere.There was a priority placed on family reunification.And this gets at values.The idea was that single migrants, especially

    • 07:23

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: single men, probably not a good thing to have in large numbers.People deserve to be able to live with their families.And people lived healthier, more law-abiding, productive liveswith families.And so there was a priority attachedto family reunification.

    • 07:44

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: Clearly one of the reasons for Hart-Cellerwas that there were labor shortages.Various sectors of the economy, especially at both the highestend, the most skilled kinds of professions,but also at the lower end, peoplepicking crops in the agricultural sector, and so on.So there was an intention to ensure that various labor

    • 08:08

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: shortages were addressed.And finally, there was a concern that during this Cold Warperiod, where conflicts in much of what was thencalled the third world were occurring,we didn't want to be inundated with a huge influx of refugees.So there was an attempt to control refugee numbers.

    • 08:31

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: [The Assumptions Lawmakers Made in Crafting Hart Celler]Now in designing this legislation,the lawmakers made a variety of assumptions.They assumed that low levels of migrationwould continue into the future.In fact, people like Lyndon Johnson,

    • 08:53

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: who signed the bill into law, said at the signing ceremonythat this was, in effect, not a big deal.This was not going to change life in America as we know it.The second assumption was that most immigrantswould come from Europe.

    • 09:14

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: They would continue to come from the source countries thathad provided us with the largest numbers of immigrantsin our nation's past.And the flip side of that is thenthere would be very few immigrants who wouldcome from Africa and Asia.Ted Kennedy, who was then a young senator, and whohelped to sponsor this legislation,

    • 09:36

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: said on the floor of the Senate that there would be very, veryfew immigrants, especially poor immigrants,coming from Africa and Asia.He insisted on this.And he was not alone in this.And finally, there is the assumption,as I mentioned a moment ago, that family reunification isa good thing.It's something to be valued.

    • 09:57

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: So with these assumptions, the law was passed in 1965.And I should point out that this was a period of time whenthe Vietnam War was raging, when the Civil Rights Movement wasunderway, when the counterculture was transformingmuch of social and cultural life in America.And suffice it to say that very few people saw immigration

    • 10:21

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: as a front burner kind of issue.So when this law was passed, very few peoplewere concerned that somehow things weregoing to change dramatically.But in fact, as it turns out, that's not what happened.[Four Unanticipated Consequences of Hart Celler & SubsequentLegislation]What I'm going to identify are the unanticipated consequences

    • 10:45

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: of the 1965 Act.And I will then add, subsequently,another unanticipated consequence, that'snot directly the result of the Act, but of subsequent events.The first thing that happened wasthat mass migration from Asia began.And it began in earnest.Huge numbers of migrants came from China,

    • 11:07

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: originally from Hong Kong and Taiwan, from the Philippines,and elsewhere in Asia, with the locations of those migrantschanging over time.So by the 1990s, huge numbers of peoplewere coming, for example, from India.But this was something that was unanticipated clearly.

    • 11:29

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: Mass migration due to family reunificationwas curiously something that lawmakers didn't anticipate.And I say curious because one of the features of the Actwas that, although there were caps on how many migrants couldcome into the United States-- and the caps were quitelow actually-- from both the Eastern and the Western

    • 11:49

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: Hemisphere, in fact, there was no cap.There was an exemption made to family reunification.So family reunification became the big reason,or the big factor, for the dramatic increasein immigration during this time.Now one of the other things that happened--

    • 12:09

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: and this was unanticipated, but I suppose peoplewho are critics of government can say,I don't know why this wouldn't have been thought about.But one of the things that became clearwith the passage of time was that, in fact, the rules,and the regulations, and the bureaucracy,the red tape associated with the labor

    • 12:30

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: needs issue were so inflexible and cumbersome that in fact,labor needs were not adequately met.So one of the major goals of the Act, in fact, wasn't met.So people were not coming here in as large numbersas was thought for labor specific reasons,

    • 12:51

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: but rather because they were being reunited with familymembers who were already here.And furthermore, in terms of family reunification,the assumption of the lawmakers wasthat those people who would reunifywould largely be from Europe.And it turns out that that was not the case.The fourth unanticipated consequence

    • 13:11

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: is the one that gets at the 11 million undocumented immigrantsin the United States today.There was a dramatic increase in undocumented immigrants.Now why did this happen?Well, it happened because we had, before 1965,no cap on migration from the Western Hemisphere.

    • 13:32

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And after, we had a cap.And we also have a very long historyof a large movement of people from south of the border,especially from Mexico, into the United States.So since the early 20th century-- perhaps even earlier,but certainly since the early 20th century--Mexicans have come to the United States

    • 13:54

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: in search of short term, temporary employment.They've come for seasonal factors, like picking crops.They've come when there's a boom in the construction industry.But then they've gone back.And so there's been this kind of circular flow of migrantsover an extended period of time.

    • 14:15

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And it met labor needs in the US,or at least in areas of the US.But then, when those laborers were no longer needed,they returned home.This kind of circular migration-- and itwas a chain migration, because peoplewould follow other people, friends, relatives,people from their community, their town, or their village.

    • 14:37

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And one of the things that is clearlythe case, that the immigration scholars know,but what legislators didn't know,was that once you start a mass migrationyou don't just stop it overnight.There's a dream sometimes of having an immigrationpolicy that is, in effect, kind of a tap

    • 14:58

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: on, sort of like your water faucet.But in fact, that's not the way it works.It only works if you understand that your waterfaucet has a leak, because it's going to continue.So in effect, what happened was that many,many people, especially many, many Mexicans,kept coming to the United States in this circular pattern.

    • 15:20

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: But their legal status had been redefined.Sort under their feet it had been redefined.So they were undocumented.Whereas once, they were legal, temporary workers.Now I should point out that there has been,then, one other unanticipated consequence.And this is a consequence that materialized after 9/11.

    • 15:46

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: As we all know, one of the things that happened after 9/11was a demand for an increased security against perceivedthreats from the external world, which interestingly enough,given who committed the atrocities of 9/11,focused on the Mexican American border, which it has been,

    • 16:11

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: historically, a very open border, a borderthat people can come back and forth rather openlywithout need of much documentationif you're doing it on a temporary basis.But that changed with 9/11.And one of the things that began to happen

    • 16:32

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: was what has become known as the securitization of the border.A wall was built. Additional personnelwere sent to secure the border.Enforcement methods were intensified.Increasingly, people were deported.

    • 16:54

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: In fact, during the Obama presidency,we've had unprecedented levels of deportation.And one of the things that happened was we built a wall.It doesn't cover the whole of the border,but it's a substantial feature of that border today.And in short, what has happened is

    • 17:16

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: it's become much more difficult for people to move freelyacross this border.And so one of the interesting and unintended consequenceswas that, after 2008 and the economic crisis thatbegan at that time, what we saw was that instead

    • 17:37

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: of migrants who are now unemployed--these were undocumented migrants, and sometimes evenlegal ones.But undocumented migrants, who had come to the United Statesto work, we're now out of work because of the deep recession.Normally, in the past, what they would have doneis they would have returned home.

    • 17:58

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: But what happened this time was, because of that wall,because of the securitization of the border,they were, in effect, kept in.So many people who wanted to leave didn't.There were people who left.But they were, essentially, saying,I'm done with the United States.I'm just going back home.

    • 18:19

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: I'm going back to Mexico.I'm going back to somewhere in Central America.Those who, however, wanted to continuethis pattern of circular migrationthought, it's best to stay put, because I may notbe able to get back in.This was not, I can assure you, somethingthat people who pushed for the securitization of the border

    • 18:41

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: had in mind.But in fact, one of the things that happened because of thatwas that the high level of undocumentedpersisted over a period of time when it otherwisewould have gone down.So the question at the end of the day is this.Is there is there anything that could

    • 19:03

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: have been done to have avoided these unanticipatedconsequences?I think, in thinking about this, oneof the things that is important to noteis that when you pass legislation,it's no one person's intentions that are at play.There's a kind of horse trading that goes onin the legislative process.

    • 19:24

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: And there are all sorts of compromises that take place.And so it's a very, very complex picture.But the question is, in thinking about howyou can avoid the worst consequences of legislation--the worst unintended consequences--

    • 19:47

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: we might think reflectively about the following things.First, which of Merton's causes--remember ignorance, error, and so on.Which of Merton's causes seem to be the most relevantin producing the unanticipated consequences that we'vebeen talking about?Secondly moving forward, because we've been stuck, actually,

    • 20:08

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: for a decade trying to reform Hart-Celler,and it would appear that between nowand the immediate future, at least,there is no chance whatsoever of any kind of substantive reformto our legislation.But is it possible to create laws

    • 20:28

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: that actually meet the goals of legislators,and that don't somehow get away from them, producing all sortsof unanticipated results?And third-- and this is, as a sociologist,is something that I think about-- what rolecan sociologists-- and I would add political scientistsand others-- play in formulating policy and legislation?

    • 20:52

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: I will end by simply noting one interesting featureof the debates that go on in American societytoday in which sociologists should and canplay a constructive role.If you listen to political debates today,

    • 21:13

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: you would assume that the undocumented, whocontinue to come into the country,continue to be Mexican and CentralAmerican, when in fact, as it turns out, that isn't the case.Most undocumented immigrants thatare coming into the country in the past few years

    • 21:33

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: have come from one or another place in Asia.And moreover, whether or not mass migration from Mexicowill continue is, in the longer term, a somewhat open question,given the fact that the fertility rate in Mexicohas changed dramatically since the passage of Hart-Celler.

    • 21:58

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: Around the time that that law was passed in the 1960s,the average Mexican family had seven point something children.And today it's more like 2.2.And that this dramatic demographic shiftis something that is not a short term phenomenon.

    • 22:21

      PETER KIVISTO [continued]: It's a long term phenomenon.And one of the things that resultsis that there is far less pressureto migrate than there was 50 years ago.

The Unanticipated Consequences of Immigration Policy

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Professor Peter Kivisto explains the sociological concept of unanticipated consequences and their causes. He also focuses on the Hart-Celler immigration law passed in 1965 and its unintended consequences, including extremely high immigration levels and undocumented immigrant populations.

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The Unanticipated Consequences of Immigration Policy

Professor Peter Kivisto explains the sociological concept of unanticipated consequences and their causes. He also focuses on the Hart-Celler immigration law passed in 1965 and its unintended consequences, including extremely high immigration levels and undocumented immigrant populations.

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