Illegal Immigration in the United States

This is one of the many sociological problems that the united states is currently facing and it’s of much significance as it touches on many aspects of the life of not only citizens of the united states but also the lives of the immigrants and their families(Hanson,2005).

Illegal immigration is such an important issue as it forces the members of the society to face their beliefs on how the society should be organized (Oja, 2002). This issue brings the sociological perspective of the members of the society to the fore; as such it should be given the attention it deserves. To begin with, illegal immigration must be clearly understood to ensure that there is no misunderstanding as a result of ambiguity or just the general lack of clarity. So what exactly is illegal immigration?

As Frank Duvell puts it, illegal immigration is the movement of people from one country to another with the view of settling and working in their chosen location in a manner that is contrary to the laws of the country they are heading to (Duvell 2006).

For many people in the world, the United States of America has been a dream destination, a land of opportunity.

Illegal immigration has been a serious problem for many years. Many people have crossed the borders of the United States without proper documentation in violation of the immigration laws of the land. Other people who have entered the United States with legally acceptable documents, upon reaching the country violate the terms and conditions on the documents they hold.

As we try to find a solution to illegal, immigration, this problem has to be considered from various perspectives. In this way with a greater understanding of the problem perhaps a good and acceptable solution can be found. An attempt to understand the problem of illegal immigration may be made by the application of the various sociological theories.

One of such theories is functionalism.

This relatively old and very much dominant perspective is based upon two emphases. The first is that this theory, emphasizes applying the scientific method to understand the objective social world. The scientific method is used to search for the social laws that govern the behavior of individuals in social systems. With this emphasis, it is asserted that in the same manner as the physical world is studied, the social world can also be. As such proponents of this theory believe that the world can be objectively viewed using such observation methods as the use of interviews and surveys. The proponents also believe that the values held by the individual investigating the social world will by no means interfere with or influence the investigation being carried out (McClelland, 2000b).

The second of these two emphases is that it stresses the use of an analogy between society and an organism. According to this theory, society can be viewed as an organism with various parts which function together for the betterment of the whole. The function of a part is viewed as its contribution to the whole. In this theory an analogy is drawn between society and a living organism. This theory suggests that society has needs and social institutions coexist to meet these needs. Once the society determines its needs, an effort is made by the organ which can meet this need to do the same. The assumption here is that the organ with the capability to meet these needs already exists. However in a case where one is nonexistent, a new social institution develops as a result (McClelland, 2000b).

By use of the analogy of an organism, a state of equilibrium is maintained by the social systems. this is compared to having for example a balance of ions within and without a cell. Much like in an organism should the equilibrium shift, institutions work to bring it back to a stable state. The method by which stability is achieved according to this theory is through socialization of members. Through this means the society reaches a consensus. This theory also has a provision for a case in which consensus does not work for whatever reason. In such a scenario, social control mechanisms try to bring about conformity. The control mechanisms which include such things as informally imposed sanctions may also segregate the individuals who do not conform to the rest of society (McClelland, 2000b). An example of segregation as a result of nonconformity to the norms is being locked up in a mental institution or a prison.

In functionalism, then a view of the Society as a system consisting of parts that are interrelated is presented. Because of the close connection between the parts, a change in any one part affects the rest of the system. As stated above, when a change occurs in the society the organs work to bring it back to a state of equilibrium. According to functionalists, most changes that occur in society are a result of either natural growth or evolutionary processes. There is also the possibility of the causes of change being external to the system (McClelland, 2000b).

This theory focuses on how the society influences the behavior of the individual. it attempts to explain how external forces influence the decisions made by individuals.

A criticism of the theory is that it treats the individual as a predictable puppet, a conformer unable to initiate action out of their own free will without any influence from the society. The theory presents an individual who has no control of his destiny. The theory has also been criticized as being one that does not recognize rapid change, one that assumes the presence of social order (Holmwood, 2005).

When the problem of illegal immigration is viewed from a functionalist perspective, its role in the American society becomes quite clear. Illegal immigration could be seen as a part of the American society which has a distinctive role to play in ensuring that the whole is better off. By carrying out functions such as carrying out certain jobs like construction work it improves the whole. Looking at it in this manner would make the immigrants an integral part of the American society.

In his writing, Circles of Influence and Chains of Command, Anthony M. Orum suggests that there is a possibility that the immigrant community may transform the host community. He takes into account a scenario where instead of adapting to the host community, the incoming community brings about change (Orum, 2005). This writing negates my theory as an organ would not bring such radical change to a body of which it is part. In fact Orum approaches the immigrants from a stand point of a foreign body.

Another way of possibly viewing this problem is by using the conflict theory.

The conflict theory puts emphasis on the ability of a person or a group to influence and control other persons or groups. By way of this influence and control, the individuals attempt to maximize benefits and as a result bring about change which may not necessarily be their desire. The conflict according to this theory is the constant struggle between opposing forces such as different social classes and contrasting ideological differences (McClelland, 2000a).

The theory shows that political oppression comes as a result of economic exploitation.

One illustration of the continuous conflict between different aspects of society is the class difference whereby elite tends to dictate on the larger population.

The systems in the society are created in such a manner as to maintain the status quo. The system has institutions and laws to keep the ‘superior classes as such. This class of people controls most of the resources of the land. The ‘inferior’ people are exploited by the system for the benefit of the superior. Laws are put in place as a means to control the masses and any challenge to the status quo is either made illegal or where suitable labeled as deviant behavior. Institutions such as those which are religious are used to pacify the masses. The masses are fed with utopian ideas of a better after-life to blind them from the present suffering and exploitation that they are undergoing. Through stratification, the upper class maintains social inequality. The upper class creates positions such as “king” and make it difficult for the members of the lower class to qualify for such positions. The positions are also made permanent using laws (McClelland, 2000a).

Education is also used to ensure that things remain the same. The elite learn how to control while the masses do not have access to education that can change the system. Even employment requirements are tailored to ensure that things do not change. Other conflicts involve race and ethnicity, gender and religion among others (McClelland, 2000a).

If the problem of illegal immigration is seen from this point of view, it can be seen as yet another form of exploitation. Laws are used to deny the immigrants rights to better pay and proper working conditions. At the same time, the benefits of their labor such as tax and company profits go into the pockets of the rich and powerful. These poor people continue to lead the United States to greater economic growth while they are continually being exploited and subjected to inhumane treatment and condition. Is it not hypocritical to label one an illegal immigrant and still continue to collect revenue from that individual (Brokaw, 2006)?

Dwight Whitaker agrees with this point of view and explicitly expresses the above sentiments albeit in different words (Murray, 2007).

A final view point is the interactionist perspective which focuses on the ability of the individual to determine his own needs and strive to satisfy them. The individual aims at interacting with others and may even conform to society to avert the threat of ending the interaction. Illegal immigration could be viewed as a result of the individuals involved trying to promote interactions between themselves and the people of the United States (McClelland, 2000c).

In his book, Host Entorf agrees with this perspective when he writes on the incentives that drive individuals to engage in illegal immigration. He elaborates on the personal reasons for engaging in illegal immigration (Entorf, 2002).

It is clear that illegal immigration presents a serious sociological problem in the United States. A possible solution to this problem would be to accord the immigrants legal status in order to ensure that they are not exploited any further. This will also be recognition of their being an important part of the American society.


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Duvell, Franck, Illegal Immigration Europe: Patterns causes and consequence: University of Oxford: 2006, Web.

Entorf, Horst Rational Migration Policy Should Tolerate Non-zero Illegal Migration Flows: Lessons from Modeling the Market for Illegal Migration: Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2002, Web.

Functionalism: 2000, Web.

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Hanson, Gordon H. Why Does Immigration Divide America? Public Finance and Political Opposition to Open Borders (Institute for International Economics, 2005).

Holmwood, J., (2005) “Functionalism and its Critics” in Harrington, A., (ed) Modern Social Theory: an introduction, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

McClelland, Kent Conflict Theory: 2000, Web.

Murray, Mark, Senate begins work on immigration: 2007. Web.

Oja, Melinda S. Illegal immigration and Human Smuggling: Central America and Mexico: 2002, Web.

Orum, Anthony M. Circles of Influence and Chains of Command: The Social Processes Whereby Ethnic Communities Influence Host Societies: 2005 University of Illinois at Chicago. Web.

Symbolic Interactionism: 2000, Web.