American Immigration Policy

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American Immigration Policy

Immigration Policy

Since 1960 citizens of many industrialised democracies have obtained greater rights, including access to social welfare programmes. Several countries have also offered similar rights to immigrants. Some researchers hypothesise that, as a result of extending rights to immigrants, these countries face constraints in relation to the reduction of immigration flows. We evaluate this rights-based hypothesis by comparing long-term immigration of children and older adults to nine countries over a 25-year period. We find the rights-based hypothesis is a strong explanation for immigration of children, but is not the key to evaluating entry of older immigrants.


Is the apparent increase in immigration to industrialised democracies related to the concurrent expansion in rights? Since World War II, increasing numbers of people have immigrated to industrialised democracies. Many of these countries have extended civil, political, and social rights over this same period. This extension of rights has received attention among researchers interested in immigration and state sovereignty (Stasiulis, 24). Some researchers claim that these rights have benefited not only citizens, but also immigrants (Cornelius et al. 1994). As Yasemin Soysal (p1) notes, `(a) new and more universal concept of citizenship has unfolded in the postwar era, one whose organizing and legitimating principles are based on universal personhood rather than national belonging'. Immigrants now seem to enjoy at least some civil, political, and social rights of citizens (Hollifield 45). (1)

This expansion in rights, however, raises concerns. Analysts hypothesise that the extension of rights to immigrants makes it difficult for governments to impose restrictions on immigration (Weiner 1995: 9). Whether a government can impose restrictions on immigration when rights are available to immigrants is a concern of citizens and governments of immigrant-receiving countries, as well as international non-governmental organisations (Cornelius, 15). Yet the increase of rights could have the opposite effect. Greater rights often means increased expense to the state (Pierson, 3). States that provide immigrants with far-ranging rights may have greater incentives to reduce immigration levels.

In this article we examine the rights-based hypothesis: `Do countries that provide extensive rights to immigrants have higher immigration levels than countries that offer more narrow rights?' We answer this question by exploring the relationship between immigration levels and access to social welfare programmes for the 25-year period from 1960 to 2005. We examine nine Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries: Australia, Canada, Denmark, (the former) West Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and the USA.

For reasons discussed below, we focus on younger (nine and below) and older (50 and older) immigrants and use immigrants' access to social welfare programmes as a way to measure `rights'. Specifically, we consider younger immigrants' access to family allowance programmes and older immigrants' access to old-age, public pension programmes. The rights-based hypothesis suggests that countries that offer immigrants more rights will experience constantly increasing or at least consistent immigration levels. We anticipate, however, not only that immigration levels will vary, but that we will find a negative relationship between rights and immigration. We predict that ...
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