One of the most divisive
and politicized issues
America today is the
question of immigration. The debate encompasses many, intertwined
aspects including illegal immigration and
securing the border, the optimal level and mix of legal immigration,
-There are more than 11 million illegal
immigrants living in the United States. A bit less than half of
them are from Mexico. In 2014 about 42% of the undocumented
population in the U.S. were people who overstayed their visas.
Jens Manuel Krogstad,
Jeffrey S. Passel and D’Vera
"5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S." Pew
Center, April 27, 2017.
Robert Warren and Donald Kerwin. "The 2,000 Mile Wall in Search of a Purpose: Since 2007 Visa Overstays have Outnumbered Undocumented Border Crossers by a Half Million. Center for Migration Studies, 2017 (+).
-The foreign born share of the population has increased steadily from 4.7% in 1970 to 13.4% in 2015. The record level was 14.8% in 1890.
Gustavo López and Kristen
Bialik. "Key findings about U.S.
Center, May 3, 2017.
Gustavo López and Jynnah Radford. "Statistical Portrait of the Foreign-Born Population in the United States." Pew Research Center, May 3, 2017.
U.S. Census Bureau. "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States." https://www.census.gov/newsroom/pdf/cspan_fb_slides.pdf
Jens Manuel Krogstad and Jynnah Radford. "Key
refugees to the U.S." Pew
Center, Jan. 30, 2017.
Phillip Connor. "U.S. Resettles Fewer Refugees, Even as Global Number of Displaced People Grows." Pew Research Center, Oct. 12, 2017.
Trump Administration Immigration Policy Priorities (Oct. 8, 2017)
Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements (Jan. 25, 2017)
Immigration Data & Statistics
"With more than 60,000 employees, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP, is one of the world's largest law enforcement organizations and is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade."-U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
"responsible for identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities in the nation’s border, economic, transportation and infrastructure security."-U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
"responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and priorities."
Department of Justice
-Executive Office for Immigration Review
"The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) was created on January 9, 1983, through an internal Department of Justice (DOJ) reorganization which combined the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board) with the Immigration Judge function previously performed by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)..."
"honoring our immigrant
history and shaping how
Americans think about and act towards immigration now and in the
Educating citizens about the enduring contributions of America's
immigrants; Standing up for sensible and humane immigration policies
that reflect American values; Insisting that our immigration laws be
enacted and implemented in a
way that honors fundamental constitutional and human rights; Working
tirelessly to achieve justice and fairness for immigrants under the law.
non-profit research organization founded in 1985. It is the nation's
think tank devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the
social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the
States... It is the Center's mission to expand the base of public
knowledge and understanding of the need for an immigration policy that
gives first concern to the broad national interest. The Center is
by a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants
but a warmer welcome for those admitted."
non-profit think-tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people
"a nonpartisan research
organization that seeks to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic
population and to chronicle Latinos' growing impact on the
controlling the border
Federation for American Immigration Reform
"FAIR seeks to
improve border security, to stop illegal immigration,
to promote immigration levels consistent with the national
interest—more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year."
"FAIR's affiliated legal
organization. It is the only
non-profit law firm in the United States devoted exclusively to
protecting the rights and interests of Americans in immigration-related
"NumbersUSA Education &
provides a civil forum
for Americans of all political and ethnic backgrounds to focus on a
single issue, the numerical level of U.S. immigration."
Campaign to Reform Immigration for America
Reform Immigration for America is a united national
effort that brings together individuals and grassroots organizations
with the mission to build support for workable comprehensive
immigration reform. The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America is,
in part, a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund."
of America’s Voice is to realize the promise
of workable and humane comprehensive immigration reform."
"the meeting place and
united voice of the dynamic
advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and the civil rights of
immigrants in America... FIRM is a project of the Center for
Community Change, a national organization dedicated to improving the
lives of low-income people and people of color."
"The mission of the
Immigration Forum is to embrace and uphold America’s tradition as a
of immigrants. The Forum advocates and builds support for public
that welcome immigrants and refugees and are fair and supportive to
in the United States."
"United We Dream is the
largest immigrant youth-led
organization in the nation. Our powerful nonpartisan network is made up
of over 100,000 immigrant youth and allies and 55 affiliate
organizations in 26 states. We organize and advocate for the dignity
and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of
"Immigrants who want to
become citizens and live in
would have to comply with existing laws and procedures. The Red Card
Solution creates a different system for the vast majority merely
seeking work in the U.S."
"Welcoming America leads a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong. We believe that all people, including immigrants, should be valued contributors and are vital to the success of both our communities and our shared future."
"We represent the collective power and resources of the country’s 37 largest regional immigrant and refugee rights organizations in 31 states. Our members provide large-scale services—from DACA application processing to voter registration to health care enrollment—for their communities, and they combine service delivery with sophisticated organizing tactics to advance local and state policy."
"a major national initiative aimed at increasing citizenship among eligible U.S. permanent residents and encouraging cities across the country to invest in citizenship programs."
"a nationally coordinated nonpartisan effort to encourage eligible legal permanent residents to take the first step in participating in America's democracy by becoming a U.S. citizen."
Church World Service: #GreaterAs1
"#GreaterAs1 is a global
homebase for refugee
solidarity — a campaign
to unite the global community in our support of refugees. Today, we
face both the worst global displacement crisis since World War II and
unprecedented political pushback against life-saving refugee
resettlement programs. With more than 65 million people now forcibly
displaced from their homes because of war, violence and persecution, it
has never been more urgent than now to come together and stand for
"Refugee Council USA
(RCUSA), a coalition of 22
non-governmental organizations, is dedicated to refugee protection,
welcome, and excellence in the U.S. refugee resettlement program."
"...the national immigration
network, which is working
to end U.S. immigration detention by monitoring human rights abuses,
elevating stories, building community-based alternatives to detention,
and advocating for system change."
"a national coalition of
organizations and individuals
expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration
detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that
promotes the rights and dignity of all persons."
"The mission of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is to work with and educate immigrants, community organizations, and the legal sector to continue to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people."
"one of the leading organizations in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of immigrants with low income."
American Immigration Lawyers Association
"the national association of more than 15,000 attorneys and law professors who practice and teach immigration law. AILA member attorneys represent U.S. families seeking permanent residence for close family members, as well as U.S. businesses seeking talent from the global marketplace."
CASA's primary mission is
to work with the community to improve the
quality of life and fight for equal treatment and full access to
resources and opportunities for low-income Latinos and their families.
CASA also works with other low-income immigrant communities and
organizations, makes its programs and activities available to them, and
advocates for social, political, and economic justice for all
The immigration issue is highly politicized, and both sides routinely talk past each other. Discussion often seems driven by political calculations rather than what is best for the country. At the broadest level, the United States must determine what is the optimal overall level of immigration, including the mix of high-skill migrants, low-skill migrants and refugees. The immigration level appropriate for the early 20th century may not be appropriate as the United States progresses through the 21st century. A flow of immigration can help boost the economy as the baby boom generation retires. Too much immigration can have downside effects on our quality of life, overwhelming infrastructure and causing, for example, even more time spent in traffic.
As the refugee crisis in Europe shows, migration problems are not limited to the U.S.. Around the world people are dying in efforts to escape conflict and/or poverty (>). In the United States the tradition of welcoming immigrants is exemplified by Emma Lazarus' sonnet on the Statue of Liberty. At the same time there are many Americans who want to uphold the rule of law, who see America's way of life being eroded by an influx of illegal immigrants, and who are concerned about securing the border. Daily one hears reports of the human toll of detentions, deportations, and families being broken apart, including many people who are working hard and contributing to this country. The foreign born share of the population has risen steadily from 4.7% in 1970 to 13.4% in 2015. According to the Pew Research Center, the share could rise to 18% by 2065 (>).
Illegal immigration is the flashpoint in this debate. The problem is not limited to the Southern border with Mexico; estimates are that from a third to over 40% of those in the U.S. illegally are visa overstayers. Conservatives emphasize law and order as well as national security concerns. People who want to control illegal immigration are frequently accused of going against America's immigrant tradition or being racist. One also hears arguments about the impossibility and consequences of suddenly deporting millions of people. Most of the 11 million here illegally are working and contributing to society. There are many heartwrenching personal stories of detention and deportation. Progressive and labor groups seem motivated by the possibility of adding to their ranks. Potentially millions of votes are at stake.
The DREAMers, youths brought to this country illegally by their parents, have drawn particular attention and concern. An August 2010 report (>) by the Pew Hispanic Center found that one in eight children born in the United States in 2008 had an "unauthorized immigrant parent [or parents]." According to the report, "In total, 4 million U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrant parents resided in this country in 2009, alongside 1.1 million foreign-born children of unauthorized immigrant parents." (One recalls the discussion of "anchor babies," birthright citizenship and whether the 14th Amendment should be revised). The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in Congress in 2001 to provide a pathway to legal status for undocumented students, but has never passed. After continued congressional inaction, on June 15, 2012 the Obama Administration announced a temporary, and controversial, fix: Deferred Action for Childhoold Arrivals (DACA). The process addressed qualifying youths brought to this country illegally by their parents (>). About 690,000 immigrant youth have received DACA; considerably more were eligible but did not apply. On Nov. 20, 2014 President Obama went further, announcing the very controversial executive actions Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). The U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked on the matter in a decision issued on June 23, 2016 (+).
Tough talk on illegal
immigration was a
pillar of Donald J. Trump's
campaign for the presidency as he promised to "build a wall and make
Mexico pay for it (+)." On
the campaign trail he would sometimes set out his views on refugees and
illegal immigrants by reading "The Snake" by Oscar Brown. By
contrast, Hillary Clinton vowed to "fight
for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship" but
routinely left unsaid or glossed over the question
of border security (+).
She promised to introduce immigration reform
legislation in her
first 100 days, but what that meant if Republicans maintained
in Congress was unclear.
Both candidates seemed to be pandering
to elements of their bases.
President Trump regularly uses the immigration issue to fire up his base; it appears to be a or the central part of his strategy for the 2018 midterm elections. The "zero tolerance" policy and subsequent furor over family separations in June 2018 led to a temporary rebuff, but did not dissuade Trump from his course. For example, on June 22 he tweeted, "Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November. Dems are just playing games, have no intention of doing anything to solves this decades old problem. We can pass great legislation after the Red Wave!" And on June 24, "We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents..." Meanwhile, some Democrats went to the other extreme, calling for the abolition of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
The Trump Administration has followed the hard line that candidate Trump set out during the campaign, implementing a catalogue of restrictive measure. For example:
- Within a week of his inauguration, President Trump issued a couple of executive orders on immigration (1, 2).
- The administration's travel ban on people from predominately Muslim countries, which started as an executive order issued on Jan. 27, 2017, caused chaos at airports. The ban went through three iterations as it wound through the courts. On April 23, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Trump v. Hawaii (+), and in a 5-4 decision issued on June 26, 2018 the Court ruled in favor of the administration, finding that, "The President has lawfully exercised the broad discretion granted to him under §1182(f) to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States." [PDF, +]
prototypes were completed in late Oct. 2017.
- On Aug. 2, 2017 the Trump Administration put its support behind a bill to create a merit-based immigration system (+); the RAISE Act (S.354) was seen as having virtually no chance of passing.
- Despite many expressions of concern (1, 2, 3), on Sept. 5, 2017 the Trump Administration announced its decision to rescind the DACA program in six months, while calling on Congress to act (+). On Oct. 8 the administration announced a hard line set of immigration policy proposals (+). Although Congress failed to act, the fate of the DACA program is still being litigated in the courts.
- On Sept. 29, 2017 the administration announced a ceiling of 45,000 refugees will be admitted into the country in FY2018 (+).
- Following the Oct. 31, 2017 attack in New York City by an Uzbek immigrant driving a rental truck, Trump said he would end the diversity visa lottery program (+).
- In 2017-18 the administration has announced it is terminating Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Sudan, Nicaragua, Haiti, El Salvador, Nepal and Honduras (+); these moves would force tens of thousands of people who have lived and worked in the United States to return to their countries.
- The administration has attempted to rein in sanctuary cities (+), however, these efforts have generally not succeeded (+). On Nov. 20, following up on earlier rulings, U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick blocked an important provision of the Executive Order on "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States," finding the administration's attempts to withhold some federal funding from sanctuary cities was "unconstitutionally broad (>)."
- The adminstration has made changes to the immigration court system that have drawn criticism from immigrant rights advocates (+).
- On April 4, 2018 the administration authorized deployment of the
National Guard to the Southern border (+).
- On May 7, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced "a 'zero tolerance' policy for illegal entry on our Southwest border (+)." (The arrival at the end of April of a caravan of migrants from Central America seeking asylum had attracted enormous attention).
- In March 2017 then DHS Secretary John
Kelly mooted the
idea of separating border crossing
parents from their children as a
deterrent measure, but there was widespread opposition. By the
latter part of 2017, however, the policy was being quietly implemented
in May 2018 threatened to dramatically
pace of separations. More than 2,200
families were separated, and starting in early June a tidal wave of
to retreat. On June 20
President Trump signed an executive order "Affording Congress an
Opportunity to Address Family Separation (+).
Jeff Sessions issued a decision that will end asylum for victims
of domestic abuse and gang violence (+).
Deferred Action for Childhoold Arrivals (DACA) and the DREAMers
administration's Sept. 5, 2017 announcement that it would phase out
created a sense of urgency leading up to Mar. 5, 2018. Activists
engaged in many
demonstrations, events and actions large and small on Capitol Hill and
the country in late 2017 and early 2018.
hundred and twenty-two people were losing their status each day.
Trump himself sent mixed messages on the DREAMers. On Sept. 13 he dined with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the White House; the Democrats reported a deal on DACA, but details were murky. Subsequently they rejected the administration's Oct. 8 policy announcement. DREAMERs pressed hard for action in the form of a "clean Dream Act" before the end of 2017, seeking to tie it to the short-term continuing resolution to fund the government but Congress left town for the Christmas break without acting.
On Jan. 9 Trump convened a high-profile meeting with members of Congress to discuss immigration. During the meeting he called for "a bill of love" but also "a bill where we’re able to secure our border" (+). White House press secretary Sarah Sanders summarized the meeting by saying four issues are under discussion: border security, chain migration, visa lottery, and DACA. Coincidentally, late evening on Jan. 9 another major development occurred: a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction against the administration's termination of DACA, allowing applications for DACA renewals to again be accepted [U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al. v. Regents of the University of California et al.] (+).
Despite the promising meeting of Jan. 9, negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders appeared bumpy. In a Jan. 11 Oval Office meeting on immigration, Trump ignited yet another controversy by reportedly using racist and offensive language (+). Urged on by activists, Senate Democrats sought to tie immigration to yet another continuing resolution to fund the government. At one point Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) observed, "Negotiating with this White House is like negotiating with Jello. It's next to impossible." After a three-day government shutdown, Democrats backed down.
On Jan. 25, the administration announced a legislative framework which included a path to citizenship but also limitations on legal immigration. The proposal met with generally unfavorable reactions (+). On Feb. 7 congressional leaders announced they had reached a bipartisan budget agreement, but, to the dismay of DREAMers, DACA still was not addressed. On the plus side, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did agree to an open debate on immigration in the Senate. Speaker Paul Ryan did not go as far, prompting House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to take to the House floor and make a "prayerful human plea to the Speaker." Pelosi spoke for more than eight hours, a record in the House. "Give us a vote; what are you afraid of?" she asked Ryan.
Debate in the Senate started on Feb. 12. The two sides appeared very far apart, with Democrats favoring a narrow fix and conservative Republicans advocating legislation similar to Trump's framework. There was even some talk of a short-term measure to protect the DREAMers if a deal could not be reached. (Of note, on Feb. 13 a second federal judge issued an injuction preventing the administration from terminating DACA >). On the afternoon of Feb. 15 the Senate voted on four different immigration proposals; each fell short of the requisite 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster (+). While prospects for a legislative solution on DACA were dim, the legal route continues to unfold. On Feb. 26 the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the Trump adminstration's appeal in DHS v. Regents (+); the case will proceed on its normal course to the U.S. Court of Appeals and then likely to the U.S. Supreme Court, providing a reprieve for DACA recipients. Trump stuck to his line, for example tweeting on April 1, "Border Patrol Agents are not allowed to properly do their job at the Border because of ridiculous liberal (Democrat) laws like Catch & Release. Getting more dangerous. “Caravans” coming. Republicans must go to Nuclear Option to pass tough laws NOW. NO MORE DACA DEAL!" Seven Republican attorneys general also weighed in in May with a lawsuit challenging the "unconstitutional" program (+).
Congress was not done with immigration yet,
howver. On May 9, 2018 a group of Republican House members
announced they would seek to
debate on immigration using a discharge petition. Speaker Paul
opposed the effort, but if the petition, introduced by U.S. Rep. Carlos
Curbelo (R-FL), had obtained 218 signatures, the House would, under a
resolution by U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) (H.Res.
774), have taken up four bills addressing immigration and border
security: the Securing America’s Future Act (H.R.
4760, the Goodlatte bill), the DREAM Act (H.R.
3440, the Roybal-Allard bill), the USA Act (H.R.
4796, a bipartisan bill introduced by Hurd), and an immigration
bill of Speaker Paul Ryan’s choice. The discharge
petition fell short, but the House was set to vote on
two immigration bills (+). On
June 20 the House defeated the Goodlatte bill by a vote of 231-193 (+). The second
"compromise" bill was defeated a week later on June 27.
Congress has not managed
significant action on the immigration since
President Ronald Reagan signed
into law the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. on Nov. 6, 1986. On Jan. 28,
2013 a bipartisan group of eight senators
(Republicans Graham, McCain, Rubio and Flake and Democrats Bennet,
Durbin, Menendez and Schumer) unveiled the “Bipartisan Framework or
Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Three and a half months
later the group formally introduced the Border Security, Economic
Opportunity & Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. S. 744
weighed in at 844 pages. The Senate passed the bill, which as
amended totalled 1,197 pages, on June 27 on a 68–32 vote, but
immigration reform failed to advance in the House. President
announced the very controversial executive actions Deferred Action for
Parents of Americans (DAPA) on Nov. 20, 2014. The U.S. Supreme
Court deadlocked on the matter in a decision issued on June 23, 2016 (+).
Finally a couple of significant actions on illegal immigration at the state level in recent decades should be highlighted. In 2010 the immigration issue was brought sharply into focus by S.B. 1070, the tough measure signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) on April 23. The U.S. Department of Justice filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's law on July 6, and half a dozen other lawsuits were filed as well. In Phoenix on July 28, one day before the law was to take effect, U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton issued a preliminary injunction blocking major provisions of S.B. 1070 from being implemented. In February 2011, the State of Arizona filed a countersuit against the federal government. During 2011 other states including Utah, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina passed laws similar to S.B. 1070. Meanwhile, the Arizona case was winding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States on April 25, 2012. On June 25, 2012 the Court issued an opinon striking down some portions of the SB 1070, but upholding the controversial "papers please" provision (>). More than a decade earlier, in 1994 California voters passed Proposition 187, which would have denied public services to illegal immigrants; the measure wound its way through the courts before dying in 1999 (1 ,2). more photos
revised 07/01/18 ema