Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants, Its Pros and Cons

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 4
Words: 1226
Reading time:
5 min
Study level: College

Illegal immigration is considered to be a serious problem in many countries. Recently, there has been a wave of immigration to Europe from the countries of Middle East affected by war. In the United States, a large number of unauthorized immigrants resulted in building a fence on the border with Mexico. A temptation to move to a prosperous and wealthy country has always influenced the minds of inhabitants of poorer countries. Still, the inability to receive appropriate documents and visas often leads to the attempts to move to the desired country illegally, which causes the growth of shadow labor market and crime level. Although the legalization of unauthorized immigrants might encourage people to cross the border illegally, it would benefit the economy because it would reduce the influence of the informal sector and make legalized immigrants and their employers pay taxes.

The practice of immigrant amnesties has been applied in many countries over the last century. Some researchers state that “potential fiscal gains are crucial in any kind of amnesty, and governments usually proceed only when the expected revenues are considerable” (Magris and Russo 76). Applying for an amnesty is usually a free will of an unauthorized immigrant and involves self-incrimination. It should be noted that many applications are rejected by the government, and the immigrants who have not received the legal status must leave the country immediately.

Thus, the process of legalization has certain difficulties, which may prevent some immigrants from applying because crossing the border illegally usually involves high sunk costs and they might lose the opportunities they have already gained. Nevertheless, despite a high percentage of rejections, such programs help immigrants to get an official job and reunite with their families. It will benefit the economy of the country because legal immigrants pay taxes, as well as assist in eliminating a crime level and identifying employers who hire unauthorized workers. It is believed that such programs benefit to the attempts of a government to minimize an existing stock of illegal immigrants.

The opponents of the programs for unauthorized immigrants state that such amnesties result in increasing an immigrant flow to the country. For example, the big amnesty that was launched in 1986 in the United States led to multiplying the number of immigrants up to twelve million people (Ting 4). Thus, it is proposed to limit the number of new legal immigrants and enforce the laws dealing with illegal immigration. Still, the United States has always been a country of immigrants and the current system allows admitting more legal immigrants than any other country in the world.

Economic Benefits from Legalizing Unauthorized Immigrants

The studies of the impact of new immigrants show that they influence the wage rates of other immigrants in the country because they share the same labor market due to similar education, occupations, and language skills (Bansak 7). There is also a possibility to mistake legal immigrants with illegal ones. Still, immigrants usually occupy the jobs, which the other citizens of the country refuse to do. The workers who obtain legal status are also given an opportunity to participate in social health and welfare programs, which results in raising fiscal costs.

It is stated that some programs for immigrants might be costly but lead to higher revenues from taxes. Nevertheless, it is emphasized that “labor force participation may fall for some groups after legalization, possibly due to higher reservation wages, better access to social benefits, increased costs for firms, and discrimination” (Bansak 6). Sometimes workers who get a legal status lose their jobs unable to compete in the official sector or are fired by the employers. It might explain the fact that a shadow labor market in many countries remains relatively large.

It is also stated that legalization of unauthorized workers influences native-born workers who have to move to another region or change occupation and improve their skills to keep their wages on the sufficient level. Thus, there is always a competition in the labor market between native workers and immigrants who have the same education and skills. Such competition usually benefits the business.

Crime Level and Negative Effects of Unauthorized Immigrants

In the United States, people tend to judge illegal immigrants categorically. Some researchers state that “fully forty percent of survey respondents either rejected or accepted all illegal immigrants they assessed regardless of those immigrants’ ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic attributes” (Wright et al. 230). Still, a large percentage of people oppose the legalization of unauthorized immigrants. Usually, it is caused by a certain image of an immigrant, to which many illegal immigrants do not correspond due to their appearance and behavior. Thus, Mexican immigrants are more likely to be opposed than those ones from European countries. It is also stressed that Americans rarely distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants using the same markers of identification for them. Therefore, the debates over legalization of immigrants are usually explained by the attempts of certain employers to find a low-wage labor market.

It is argued that illegal immigrants have no civil rights and access to social privileges, which is against the moral values proclaimed by American laws. Still, the opponents of an amnesty claim that legalizing immigrants who broke the law to get into the country would violate the existing legislation as well. It is also stated that an immigration policy should prevent unauthorized workers from entering the country. Such policy varies from increasing of border control and construction of fences to eliminating benefits from staying in the country illegally.

It is a general opinion that launching an amnesty for unregistered immigrants might lower the crime level. Illegal workers often experience pressure from their employers and renters who threaten them with the deportation if they do not meet their demands. Many illegal immigrants are used in the shadow market at hard and unofficial jobs. Such people might have a chance to find a decent job if they apply for an amnesty program.

The opponents of the amnesty for illegal immigrants state that establishing appropriate legislation might decrease the level of crime as well. For example, Arizona has passed legislation against illegal immigration. According to it, the police should check the immigration status of any arrested individual. It is also noted that police is allowed to arrest anyone who is suspected of a crime, which may cause deportation. People also should have legal papers to apply for a job and have a driving license in this state. Some researchers state that the passage of this legislation “significantly reduced the flow of undocumented workers into Arizona from Mexico by 30 to 70 percent” (Hoekstra and Orozco-Aleman 252). It proves the statement that illegal immigration is affected by the expected conditions and bonuses that can be gained in the foreign country. Still, it also might lead to the further growth of shadow market because illegal immigrants usually have lower expectations in wages due to poor life conditions in their native countries.


Although the legalization of unauthorized immigrants might encourage people to cross the border illegally, it would benefit the economy because it would reduce the influence of the informal sector and make legalized immigrants and their employers pay taxes. It might also reduce crime level and prevent illegal immigrants from becoming unofficial slaves and criminals. Legalized immigrants can also participate in health and social programs to increase fiscal revenue.

Works Cited

Bansak, Cynthia. “Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants.” IZA World of Labor, vol. 245, no. 3, 2016, pp. 1-10.

Hoekstra, Mark, and Sandra Orozco-Aleman. “Illegal Immigration, State Law, and Deterrence.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, vol. 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 228-252.

Magris, Francesco, and Giuseppe Russo. “Fiscal Revenues and Commitment in Immigration Amnesties.” European Journal of Political Economy, vol. 42, no. 1, 2016, pp. 75-90.

Ting, Jan C. “The Case Against So-Called Comprehensive Immigration Reform and for, Instead, Enforcing the Numerical Limits on Immigration Adopted by Congress.” Journal of International and Comparative Law, vol. 1, no. 1, 2016, p. 4.

Wright, Matthew, et al. “Public Attitudes Toward Immigration Policy Across the Legal/Illegal Divide: The Role of Categorical and Attribute-Based Decision-Making.” Political Behavior, vol. 38, no. 1, 2016, pp. 229-253.