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Immigration Facts

The United Nations estimates that there are more than 125 million displaced people in the world today; every day, another 10,000 people have to move because of war and violence. Economic pressures also force people to migrate, migration which has quadrupled since the 1960s.

While the U.S. government is encouraging "globalization," the mobility of goods, information and money across borders, it is attempting to restrict the movement of people. Many people in poor, third-world countries are left with few choices but to migrate illegally.

Within the United States, median hourly wages have steadily fallen as corporations export production and jobs to poorer countries, who compete in the form of the low wages, suppression of union organizing, lax environmental controls and unsustainable export-based economies. Oftentimes, these measures - forced by terms from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and international trade treaties - result in widespread poverty and crises in education, health and infrastructure.

An immigrant's eligibility for public benefits will depend on immigration status and whether immigration occured before or after the 1996 welfare reform act (see Timeline). Access to certain benefits varies from state to state. "Not qualified aliens" are still eligible for certain basic kinds of assistance, including: emergency Medicaid; immunizations; testing and treatment for the symptoms of communicable diseases; short-term noncash disaster relief; school lunches and breakfasts; and certain other programs.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, the average immigrant contributes $1,800 more in taxes than he or she receives in benefits. The federal government reaps approximately two-thirds of immigrant tax dollars. However, states and localities provide the bulk of services immigrants use - most notably education, health and public assistance. As a result, states and localities often find themselves "shortchanged" - forced to provide services without sufficient revenue.

In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed three major bills which contained provisions limiting the rights of immigrants (see Timeline). Since 1996, state and local governments have added measures that limit immigrants' rights by ending affirmative action, limiting access to social services and curtailing bilingual education.

A number of recent legislative and legal decisions have made it more difficult to enter the U.S. legally and to acquire and maintain permanent residency status. Most resources have been devoted to immigration as a "law enforcement" issue: constructing new detention spaces, training and deploying border patrol and other agents, and using high-technology surveillance equipment despite its infringement on human and civil rights.

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