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What are the factors behind illegal immigration?

Before the borders of different countries took shape, folk used to wander to whichever lands they liked. If their homelands were suffering from poverty or did not offer them a good enough livelihood, they would pack up and move to another land, seeking a fortune. Ever since modern times, the restrictions around borders have tightened and one can no longer freely travel between countries or provinces without some form of legal documentation. In some cases, people attempt to skip these checks and migrate illegally for various reasons – despite the risks.

There are numerous instances of lorries and trailers full of illegal immigrants being caught halfway en route, with many of the immigrants within found to be in a dire state. One such tragedy happened in 2018, when 61-year-old James Matthew Bradley Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment for transporting illegal immigrants, ten of whom died on the journey. He was found driving a tractor-trailer carrying 39 undocumented immigrants into San Antonio, Texas. The police were first alerted to the case by an employee from the nearby Walmart where the trailer was parked. A man from the trailer had asked the employee for water, who became concerned and called the police to conduct a welfare check. They found 31 people suffering from various injuries in and around the trailer, as well as eight bodies inside the trailer. Of the 31 injured, two later died at a hospital. Unfortunately, this tragedy is not the only one of its kind in the history of illegal immigration. This brings up the question: why would anyone knowingly suffer so much just for easy entry into a first world country? Perhaps the immigrants had not known that they would be subjected to such inhumane conditions. Or perhaps it is more likely that they had known it, but thought the sacrifices would be worth it for a world of better living.

Thus, one of the factors behind illegal immigration is simple: people are looking for better opportunities. In a world where job pickings are slim and one can barely scrounge up enough for their family’s next meal, traveling to somewhere with better pay rates, employment opportunities and human rights can sound like a dream come true – a future ideal enough to hedge a bet on. In particular, with just a single border separating the United States and Mexico into first world and third world, it should not come as a surprise that workers look to the more appealing job market right next door when jobs become scarce in their home country. This practice is nothing new either – since the 19th century, Mexican nationals have been regularly traveling across the border for agricultural jobs. Why should the old traditions change? There has also been no shortage of jobs available in the greener pastures, with the growth of the world’s economy and population. Over time, it has not just been the Mexican neighbors who have sought temporary work in the United States, but also laborers from other countries who seized the opportunity and followed suit. For some, it can well be their only hope for making enough to support their family.

Legal immigration into another country can also be a challenging and daunting task. It is often costly in both time and money, and entrance to the country of one’s choice is not always guaranteed. For most who live in third-world countries and are looking to support their family’s income, they may not have the means or the resources to apply for legal migration. Some may be hard pressed to move as soon as possible and unable to wait out the lengthy processing periods, which can often take many months for an uncertain outcome. As such, when people are offered the opportunity to travel directly to first-world countries for a cheap price, they may be tempted to jump at the chance, even if they are aware that it is risky. There has always been consistent demand for labor-intensive jobs in the United States. However, over the 20th century, Congress actually reduced the number of immigrant visas granted to Mexican nationals. The Immigration and Nationality Act was passed in 1965, making unskilled Mexican workers unable to receive legal permanent resident visas, while leaving the United States with a labor deficit and Mexico with a large untapped amount of unskilled labor. This naturally correlated to a threefold increase in illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States from 1965 to 1970. Although this may have occurred some five decades ago, it is not just a problem of the past. In the recent years, the United States has tightened its borders even more, making it more difficult to migrate from another country especially for low-skilled workers. As such, there is a greater incentive to gain illegal entrance in the hopes of starting a new life.

On another note, we should not forget that it takes two hands to clap. Aside from the reasons why illegal immigrants make the decision to move, another clear factor making the immigration possible is the greed of transporters who are benefitting from the whole operation. While illegal immigration can be a lot cheaper and easier than getting legal entry, the fees these people have to pay to their transporters can often cost them a small fortune – and there is no guarantee that they will be able to earn it back once in the new country. However, the ones who are really benefitting from the entire farce often hardly consider the wellbeing of the immigrants they are transporting. Greed is a powerful motivator, sometimes even more powerful than one’s conscience. Immigrants are charged unnecessarily high fees for the trip and are cramped into close, tight quarters during the journey, often without basic supplies such as food and water. Many of them fall ill and some even die along the way. Unfortunately, their families often do not get any of their payments back, costing them not only the fortune they scraped together but also the priceless lives of their loved ones.

In the end, as long as there are available jobs for foreign workers and those looking to benefit from transporting them, there will probably still be illegal immigrants no matter what measures are taken. However, that is not to say the volume of illegal immigration cannot be reduced. Perhaps the easiest way would be to go lighter on some of the immigration policies and grant more visas to foreign workers. In making the legal immigration process easier, foreign workers would have less of a reason to pursue illegal means of entranceillegal immigration, thereby also reducing the number of accidents related to illegal immigration. 


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