Since its earliest days as a nation, America has touted itself as the world’s premier haven for those who seek freedom from various forms of persecution, more significant opportunities within higher education institutions and greater pathways to careers that allow for incomes with which they can more easily provide for their families.
Hundreds of thousands of immigrants continue to flee their homelands using any transportation available – from walking with infants in tow to riding in boats, too small, overcrowded, and far from seaworthy – all in search of the mythical “American Dream.” Unfortunately, many of today’s immigrants often find the “Welcome Home” mats removed from America’s doors and shores replaced with signs saying, “Do Not Disturb.”
America has become a far different place than it was in 1903, when the words from the sonnet, “The Colossus,” would be used to reinforce the narrative of the nation’s “open door” policy. An excerpt of the sonnet, written by Emma Lazarus, was placed on the inner wall of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor served as a message for immigrants as they first viewed America. In recent years, those words have been more closely considered, particularly with the election of Donald Trump. Lines 10 and 11 of the poem, “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have been frequently highlighted by those anxious to illustrate the contrast between Lazarus’s humanitarian vision of the nation and the former president’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
Amid reports that Trump had described Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations as “shithole countries,” former FBI director James Comey tweeted a portion of the sonnet, including his interpretation of its meaning which he said supports diversity. His tweet echoes Nancy Pelosi’s interpretation from early 2017: “You know the rest. It’s a statement of values of our country. It’s a recognition that the strength of our country is in its diversity, that the revitalization … of America comes from our immigrant population.” For Comey, diversity is greatness. For Pelosi, diversity is the existing strength of America and its source of revitalization. But are their beliefs aligned with most Americans, or do they represent a growing minority?
Recent Trends and Future Prospects of Immigration to the U.S.
In a report by Charles Hirschman for Malays J Econ Studies (2015), about 13% of the American population is foreign-born. If the children are included, about 1 in 4, Americans can be counted as part of the recent immigrant community. And while immigrants face lingering prejudice and widespread fears, evidence suggests that the U.S. economy and society benefit from their contributions.
Meanwhile, America is again in the midst of an age of immigration. But unlike during the “Age of Mass Migration,” from 1880 to 1920, when immigrants came mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe (Italy, Germany, Poland, and Russia), immigrants after 1965 have been dominated by those of Latin American and Asian origin. More than 11 million (30%) have come from America’s closest neighbor to the South, Mexico, with another 20% primarily represented by those from Central America and the Caribbean. One-quarter of the foreign-born are from Asia – the most significant percentage coming from China, India, and the Philippines.
Meanwhile, as stated earlier, despite the national tradition of mass immigration, new arrivals have rarely received a welcome reception, fueled partly by a robust conservative backlash. Immigrants must routinely contend with a receiving society that is ambivalent – even hostile – to their presence. Legal permanent and temporary immigration rose in 2022 after a few years of chill brought about by the COVID-19 public-health crisis and the Trump administration’s restrictive policies and rhetoric.
However, amidst a worldwide crisis, the Biden Administration extended or expanded Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for certain eligible immigrants already in the U.S. and announced special humanitarian parole programs allowing some migrants from several countries to enter America and stay temporarily. In January 2023, Biden announced another humanitarian parole program to include up to 30,000 authorized newcomers from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela every month, if they have a U.S. sponsor. Controversial proposed changes to the U.S. asylum system followed this program.
Journalists Critique New Jersey’s Stance on Asylum Seekers
On March 28, several dozen reporters from across the Garden State joined a press conference via Zoom to discuss New Jersey’s current policies on asylum seekers, refugees, and undocumented immigrants. In 2023, New Jersey Governor Murphy announced that the state was prepared to accept migrants and declared that he would not use them as political pawns. Since then, the state has offered primary program services, but advocates insist the state needs to do more to promote these programs.
Two immigration experts, Mustafar Chesty, Director at Migration Policy Institute, and Johanna Taya, Director of New Americans New Jersey Department of Human Services said immigration must be discussed at a broader level, especially since August of last year, when about 50,000 immigrants and asylum seekers arrived in the New York and New Jersey areas – most coming from border states like Florida and Texas.
“Our policies, indeed, our laws, and our resources or infrastructure are actually built for the 2008 border – and the border has radically changed since then,” Chesty said. “In 2014, it became more from single males to families coming in units, and then sometimes children coming by themselves. In the last two or three years, the nationality composition of people has risen from 5% coming to the southern border from Mexico and Central America to 43%. So, Mexico has become a staging ground for migrants from all parts of the world to come to the U.S. quickly.”
“They remain under a Title 42 healthcare measure from the Trump Administration which allows authorities to expel migrants coming in the border. But while we can no longer obviously justify that as a health goal, it has remained a policy. And it has become a political topic more than an issue of healthcare, illustrated by four of the major nationalities of people coming to the border, Cubans, Haitians, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans, with whom three of those countries we don’t even have diplomatic relations. “Since the midterm elections, Republicans have lost little time in weaponizing, referring to ‘nation’ rather than using the word’ immigration,’ because it’s a complicated thing for them. They admit we need immigrants in certain industries and certain cities but call it a border crisis because it’s easier for them,” he said.
Taya painted a picture of what happens when new immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers arrive in the Garden State. “New Jersey’s a very populous state and a very diverse state with a large immigrant population – 2.2 million immigrant residents,” she said. “Over 20% of our population is foreign born. And because they represent populations that are very diverse in their own right, immigration has become far more complicated. For example, how do we establish an office whose priority within state government is to ensure that foreign born and limited English speaking communities across the state of New Jersey are aware of programs and services in our state, while also responding to the recent public health emergency (COVID-19)?”
Both experts said America must improve its legal immigration policies with a multi-pronged approach, because of the demand for more workers in the U.S.
“Republicans must face the fact that we actually need workers – we have an aging problem in our country as Baby Boomers are retiring 10,000 a day,” Chesty said. “In the next few years, we’re going to have more people over the age of 65, than under the age of 18. That is a demographic milestone. We must expand the legal opportunities for those coming to the U.S. and it must be both speedy and fair. At the same time, we also need a removal policy with teeth,” he said.
Outmigration Surge Leads to Drop in Jersey’s Population
As first reported by NorthJersey.com, New Jersey’s population dropped again last year as more residents migrated to other states based on the latest U.S. Census data. Bureau officials estimated the state lost more than 6,200 residents between July 1, 2021, and July 1, 2022, even though 11 of its counties reportedly saw population growth. The northern counties of Essex, Hudson, Passaic, and Union all saw net migratory declines of more than 4,900 residents. Outmigration helped lead three counties, Essex, Passaic, and Bergen, to the state’s most significant overall population losses, combining to nearly 11,000 residents. Essex County reported the most significant individual loss for 2021-22, estimating a decline of almost 4,650 residents, with Passaic County following closely with an estimated loss of more than 4,400 residents.
A January 2023 report by the National Association of Realtors said residents continue to leave significant population centers for less dense and more affordable areas. In 2022, Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas took on domestic migrants, Bureau records show, while California, New York, Illinois, and New Jersey lost the most.
For New Jersey, the decline in population from 2011 through 2019 has resulted in the state hemorrhaging a total of more than $23.6 billion in net adjusted gross income, according to U.S. Internal Revenue Service 2021 data. While education plays a role, the migration story for New Jersey largely centers on wealth. Among U.S. states, New Jersey has one of the highest concentrations of millionaires and a progressive tax rate. As wealthier households bear the highest tax burden and are sensitive to taxation, they can avoid some taxes by moving to a property in another state for most of each year.