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.
Jens Manuel Krogstad and Jynnah Radford. "Key facts about refugees to the U.S." Pew Research Center, Jan. 30, 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 grassroots movement 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 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.
"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
"Welcoming America leads a
movement of inclusive
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
"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."
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."
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
politicized, and both sides
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
migrants, low-skill migrants and refugees. A steady flow of
immigrants is seen as a key to economic growth; but a
steady influx of cheap labor can depress wages.
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.
Tough talk on illegal immigration was a pillar of Donald J. Trump's successful campaign for the presidency as he promised to "build a wall and make Mexico pay for it (+)." 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 control in Congress was unclear. Both candidates seemed to be pandering to elements of their bases. Within a week of his inauguration, President Trump issued a couple of executive orders on immigration (+). Trump's wall was initially put on a fast track; on March 17, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued RFPs and on Aug. 31 the agency awarded contracts for border wall prototypes (+), but the prospects of a wall being built along the entire Southern border and of Mexico paying for it are almost nil. The administration has moved to step up enforcement (>), but critics have highlighted many poignant individual stories and faces of the deported.
One group which has drawn particular attention are the DREAMers, youths brought to this country illegally by their parents. 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." This led to a discussion of "anchor babies" and whether the 14th Amendment needed to 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. 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 (>); almost 800,000 young immigrants have received DACA. Despite many expressions of concern (1, 2, 3), on Sept. 5, 2017 the Trump Administration announced its decision to rescind the program in six months, while calling on Congress to act (+).
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 Obama then 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 (+).
There have also been significant actions at the state level. 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).
Legal immigration has been much less discussed, but 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) is seen as having virtually no chance of passing.
A flow of immigration can help boost the economy as the baby boom generation retires. At the same time, too much immigration can have downside effects on our quality of life, overwhelming infrastructure and causing, for example, even more time spent in traffic. The immigration level appropriate for the early 20th century may not be appropriate as the United States progresses through the 21st century.