Immigration Reform: A Look at the Immigration Policy in the United States

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Immigration is a complex issue, that is rampant with challenges and doesn’t have an instantaneous or single fix. This paper through the use of public policy (government’s choices of actions intended to serve the public purposes) seeks to address immigration policies which keeps changing over time. Immigration policy determines who is eligible for admission into the United States and outlines the procedure for removal of individuals in violation of immigration laws.
According to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), few laws governed immigration to the United States during the 1700s and 1800s. “Americans encouraged relatively free and open immigration during the 18th and early 19th centuries, and rarely questioned that policy until the late 1800s, but, as the number of immigrants rose in the 1880s and economic conditions in some areas worsened, congress began to pass immigration legislation. After certain states passed immigration laws following the Civil War, the Supreme Court in 1875 declared regulation of immigration a federal responsibility. (USCIS, 2006)”.
Immigration had begun to threatened the public purposes of the government which were protecting the rights of citizens, maintaining or ensuring the supply of essential resources, promoting steady and balanced economic growth, good quality of life and personal opportunity to succeed (Johnson, 2014). Administrators had to put objectives into place to either end or control the threat of immigration and maintain the public purposes.
One such objective was the Immigration Act of 1891 which was initiated to inspect, admit, reject and process all immigrants. This law broadened the list of forbidden classes from entering the country (including Chinese, polygamists, convicted felons, and disease-bearing). Over the next 50 years, congress passed numerous acts to address policies around naturalization, which wasn’t successful as statistics showed that14.5 million entered the US between 1900 and 1920. This increase in immigration caused great concerns about jobs and employment which led to the immigration acts (1921 and 1924) that established quotas for each nationality, and officially limiting immigrants for the first time in US history. This inevitably led to illegal immigration.
The immigration policies expanded in reaction to arguments surrounding who may become a citizen of the United States or enter the country as a temporary worker, student, refugee, or permanent resident. It also grants the President the authority to “suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate for such period as he shall deem necessary, if he finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States (Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, Section 212)”.
US immigration was further shaped by the Immigration Nationality Act of 1952 and respective Amendments of 1965. This replaced the national origins quotas of the 1920s with a visa-based system (open to all nationalities). The Act (further amended in 1976 and 1978) focused on family reunification, encouraged those with occupational skills required in the US, and set policy around admission of refugees and asylees. Prior, to the 1990 Immigration Act, the body of law governing current immigration policy, which placed greater importance on skills and expanded the number of permanent work visas for high-skills and decreased those for less-skilled, a pool of visa was created that would be awarded via a blind lottery to focus on diversity and help those immigrant groups hurt by the 1965 amendments.
Despite these options, visas are oversubscribed, and it is estimated that there are approximately 11- 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Additional alternatives had to be provided. History has shown that migration contributed immensely to the growth of the US population, and as a nation of immigrants, empathy should be shown to immigrants, illegal or not. The opportunity for economic advancement is the key reason many come to the United States, these people who enter the United States outside of legal channels did not do so to cause harm, they work here, they pay taxes, their kids are in school and they plan to raise their families here but are forced to live underground and in the shadows because of their legal status, sometimes they are even denied basic civil rights.
Although congress has sought to revise its governance on immigration without any success, there is discord across the board with the implementation of the current policy (1990 Immigration Act) by the federal government. Still, significant factors have impeded reform efforts, including conflicts over conditions for admission of future immigrants (for skilled or unskilled employment and family unification), the future of undocumented persons now in the U.S. (ranging from amnesty and ultimate citizenship to deportation), means of border protection to keep out persons not legally admitted, and regulation of employment of undocumented persons.
The opportunity for economic advancement is the key reason many come to the United States, but it leaves to chance who decides to take concrete steps to come to and better their lives, and when and how they do it. A better system is one that expands and reforms employment-based immigration policies and moves away from a primarily family-based system.
Attracting the best and brightest from around the globe, based on their skills and education and the demand signal of the market, while not injuring the economic and job opportunities of America citizens, is in our national interest. Immigration programs like the diversity visa program and the per-country immigration caps may have made sense in the past, but they make little sense in a 21st century immigration system that is designed to select future Americans in a purposeful manner based on merit, their skills, and the demands of an ever-evolving and dynamic work force, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or national origin.

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