Every person who is not a citizen or national of the United States and does not fall into one of the categories of nonimmigrants as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) §101(a)(15) (e.g., ambassadors, public ministers, career diplomats).
Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)*; Green card holder
Any person with the status of having been lawfully accorded the privilege of residing permanently in the United States as an immigrant in accordance with the immigration laws, such status not having changed. Lawful Permanent Residents are granted a permanent resident card, commonly called a green card as proof of LPR status.
Undocumented Immigrant; Unauthorized Immigrant; Illegal Alien
Any non-citizen, non-national of the United States who enters the country without permission and/or inspection or has fallen "out of status" (e.g., has overstayed a visa, has let necessary paperwork expire). Undocumented immigrants are deportable if apprehended. Note that it is only illegal to enter the United States without permission and not at a legal port of entry. It is not illegal to overstay a visa.
Any person who is not a citizen or national of the United States that has been granted the right to reside in the United States temporarily, such as workers and students.
Note: Table produced using information from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov)
*These are general definitions. LPRs and nonimmigrants can be further categorized by visa type; for example, for LRPs there are 5 types of work visas, and for nonimmigrants there are 3 types of student visas.
Friday, August 16, 2019
Perhaps you‘ve heard of a spoiler alert? Well this is an URGENT special interest alert.
Contrary to foolish and outdated, yet somehow still prominent beliefs, autistic people are empathetic - oftentimes to an extreme. I know that when I experience empathy it freezes me. I may not be able to react in any way, including words. I often describe it as deer-in-headlights-overwhelmed-with-empathy. Many autistics are also deeply aware of and passionate about social injustices and the knowledge or sight of a group or person being wronged is unbearable. Some experience this as physical pain or sickness, or weeks of depression, or addition fatigue and difficulty staying awake. It tends to amp me way up, then I tend to withdraw and gradually become more and more worn down and fatigued from explosive energy...until the point of a massive shutdown during which I will sleep much more than usual and sometimes 18-22 hours at a time…other times it manifests as many 2 hour naps during the day.
Okay - so I would definitely consider autism a special interest of mine, but I am really telling you about autistics and empathy and social justice not to talk about autism, but because one of my intense passions is immigration. I am passionate about it because I believe in it and in the beauty of diversity and in the human right to be able to move freely between lands. For this reason, I felt the absolute NEED to compose a poem on immigration and other extremely important and disturbing issues in the US today..and also to record it and share it on the internet (feeling compelled to share is rare, so it when it strikes, I know the topic is serious in nature).
Oh say, can you see? By the dawn’s early light
The ones who have risen to work and do right?
The ones who have journeyed so far from the land
That they knew in and grew in with nothing in hand.
Seeking more for their children; like safety and school;
Education, protection and rulers less cruel.
Draining all of their savings to come here to live
With hopes and with dreams and with so much to give.
Oh, beautiful, for spacious skies...o’er amber waves of grain,
ThAt’s Plodded, plowed, planted and picked by this labor force that came
As it’s been for generations, and for which there’s still a need,
A need without a policy so it remains an illegal deed.
Because of them we feed and we eat … we eat so well indeed
While they’re stuck in illegal limbo with no rights for them to plead
Their case, their story, their motivation, the asylum that they seek
And when they can we do demand it in a language they can’t speak.
My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty for people with white skin,
A nation of immigrants that hates new immigrants and locks up their children.
In ice cold metal cages and without proper care
and raids homes and workplaces to keep its own complexion fare.
Spare me the excuses - i’ve heard them all before...
but with increased immigration there comes fewer crimes
They do take all our jobs- all the ones that we don’t fill
And when they are removed, local economies don’t thrive- they go down hill.
This land is your land, this land is my land, in theory and in prose
but statistically, anecdotally, and in reality what shows
Is that racism is alive and well; thoroughly institutionalized
disparities of health and wealth and access all disguised
By a myth of meritocracy that’s bolstered by boot straps
In schools where children learn white history and nothing about blacks.
Except that all is equal and a total load of crap -
Truth be told I learned much more from Tupac and from rap.
God bless America, land I want to love.
I’ll stand beside her and guide her until we rise above.
I pledge allegiance to no flag of these united states
Marking its territory by walls and wires, armed forces, fences and gates.
A nation claiming greatness when all its actions say otherwise,
Fragility, insecurity, fear and all the lies,
And power-hungry elite white males clinging to their privileged status.
and their bibles, and assault weapons and blaming shooting sprees on madness
And mental health and anything else that isn’t permission and the tools -
to access guns and shoot up clubs, and churches, stores and schools.
We aren’t yet the land of the free, but we are the home of the brave:
those who keep on fighting and those who do not cave
Under the weight of years of oppression and deeply-rooted hate
There are some that lift us up and DO make America great:
Immigrants and refugees bringing their diverse perspectives,
New customs and traditions, other skills and different methods.
Families, friends and communities grieving from their loss
channeling their frustration to try to change gun laws.
Black Lives Matter activists and Colin Kaepernick,
prioritizing civil rights over sports and athletics.
The women’s march, planned parenthood, Omar and AOC
persevering; making congress a little more like you and me.
The youth on strike for climate change; demanding political action,
All the unnamed people who came before and did gain traction
To get us where we are today - to put us in position
To use all this momentum to fulfill their initial vision.
The ones who have been screaming it since before we all took note,
The ones who do inform themselves and get out to vote,
The ones who work to advocate for, educate and mobilize
Communities and groups of people we historically marginalize.
The ones who use their fame and fortune to be heard and to empower,
The teachers, coaches, pastors and mentors who don’t get paid enough per hour.
So give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
Resist, persist, coexist, recycle, take a knee,
turn thoughts and prayers to actions; SI SE PUEDE! don’t repeat the past
estamos en la lucha until they’re free at last.
In addition to writing poem and prose...
I enjoy learning about it and knowing our immigration system - the policies, processes and practices. I am driven to researching the effectiveness of the current system and / or individual policies within it, the effects of immigration overall on the country, and the outcomes associated with being an immigrant in the US. I also very much love thinking about how to create a system that works. I will be the first person to tell you that our system is totally broken, but a majority of people across the entire spectrum of political viewpoints will tell you that. Very few will tell you exactly how it is broken and what is needed to make it work.
Lately, there have been so many stories and pictures of what is happening at the Southern border of the United States and there have been ICE raids and announcements of policies to “crack down” on illegal immigration. Admittedly, as much as I think it is important to be up on the news and to stay current with events, I really cannot watch or listen to stories about this or look at pictures and read accounts. It is disgusting, overwhelming and mentally and physically sickening. I have seen many other autistic people on various social media sites announce that they will be taking time away from being on social media because it is draining them, depressing them, and consuming them. When I see these pictures or read these stories, it often leads to my brain being occupied for hours on end - plotting ways I could possibly form a mass of humans to travel to the border and free them all; endlessly analyzing how it could be that the politicians across this country could do nothing of substance to end this; losing all faith in humanity; becoming absolutely eruptive over the fact that all of this horrific treatment of humans is stemming from a made-up, socially constructed line in the sand across which, ignorant, white humans believe scary violent brown humans live. It is all so infuriating and wrong. Adding fuel to the fire are the troves of ill-informed comments accompanying these news stories, photos and related content. If the content and reality of the situation did not amp me up or wear me down enough, the THOUSANDS of false comments about immigrants and immigration and comments that offer unfounded reasoning and rationale for why they think the conditions at the border are perfectly acceptable will surely put me over the top.
Then I remember that no one is educated on our immigration system. Usually their only sources of information on immigration are the unit they did in grade school on Ellis Island and whatever they happen to see on the news station that is aligned with their existing views on the matter. What is really concerning is that even federal and local politicians and media have VERY little knowledge on the topic (this is very apparent based on the ways they go about “tackling immigration”). And yet, much to my absolute disgust and bewilderment, almost everyone just goes along unquestioning, with no critical thought and without investigating - another huge difference between neurotypical and neurodivergent minds here…this absolute need to know and unrelenting focus and energy to seek objective truth with all its nuances and complexities. Immigration is hardly considered. It is fantastic that public discourse has begun around hailing historical figures that were pro-slavery and segregation, but what about founding fathers who were anti-immigrant, racist, nationalists? Consider the words of the much celebrated Benjamin Franklin:
“Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant, stupid sort of their own nation.”
“The Spaniards, Italians, French, Russians and Swedes are generally of what we call a swarthy complexion; as are the germans also, the Saxons only excepted.”
…basically… those who come are inferior in that they are stupid and too dark-skinned, so immigration is bad. Sounds eerily familiar.
So, I really, really, hope you will all bear (bare?) with me and allow me to info dump upon you for my sake and for the sake of all those who lack any understanding of our immigration system in the United States. Let’s start with some basic definitions so we are all on the same page when it comes to vocabulary.
Definitions of Types of Immigrants and Non-Immigrants
So what do we know about Immigrants in the U.S.?
There are 42.4 million immigrants in the United States representing 13.3% of the total population (Zong & Batalova, 2016). Immigrants are defined by the federal government as all foreign-born, non-U.S. citizens who have migrated voluntarily to the United States, and who do not fall into special categories such as career diplomats, ambassadors and students (United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) (2016). Immigrants who enter the country with permission and after inspection (i.e., with a family- or employment-based visa at a port of entry) but who have not naturalized or are not yet eligible to naturalize, and who have stayed current with all necessary paperwork, procedures and fees are considered to be lawful permanent residents (LPRs; green-card holders). Although there are additional restrictions and limitations for LPRs compared to U.S. citizens, they can generally work, obtain housing and insurance, and access government services and resources, though they are subject to a five-year ban from receiving certain government benefits (USCIS, 2016).
Of the 42.4 million immigrants living in the U.S., it is estimated that approximately 10 – 11.2 million immigrants are undocumented (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Undocumented immigrants are those immigrants living in the U.S. without permission, proper paperwork, or an up-to-date visa. Some undocumented immigrants enter the U.S. without inspection (i.e., cross the border “illegally”). More than two-thirds of undocumented immigrants enter with permission and inspection and have overstayed a valid visa, with visa overstays having exceeded the number of illegal border crossings every year since 2007 (Warren & Kerwin, 2017). Undocumented immigrants are typically not eligible for employment, insurance and other health and human services programs unless they meet certain, very stringent criteria (Broder, Moussavian & Blazer, 2015). In addition to these restrictions, undocumented immigrants are deportable if apprehended, regardless of the legal status of their spouse, children and other household members (Department of Homeland Security, 2016).
The undocumented immigrant population is diverse in age, gender, race, ethnicity, country of origin, religious affiliation, location in the U.S., and across a range of demographics and characteristics (Migration Policy Institute, 2016). Data available on undocumented immigrants is limited in that this population is often identified using proxies indicative of undocumented status. However, a majority of undocumented immigrants are between the ages of 25 and 44 (53%), employed (64%), and have attained a high school diploma/equivalency or less (75% of the undocumented population over 25) (Migration Policy Institute, 2016). Over half of undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. were born in Mexico (56%) and a majority of all undocumented immigrants have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or longer (Migration Policy Institute, 2017). It is estimated that 61% of undocumented immigrants are uninsured and just 31% are homeowners (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). In addition, more than half of undocumented immigrants (54%) live in just four U.S. states: California (27%), Texas (13%), New York (8%) and Florida (6%) (Migration Policy Institute, 2016).
Although just 3 million children under 18 (4%) are undocumented (Massey & Pren, 2012), there are approximately 4.5 million U.S. born children with undocumented parents (Passel & Cohn, 2012) and it is estimated that nearly half (47%) of households with undocumented adults (i.e., persons over the age of 15) also include children (Fortuny & Chaudry, 2009). The majority of children living in households with undocumented members are themselves U.S. citizens. Estimates range from 86% to 93% of children of undocumented immigrants being U.S. citizens, with a higher percentage of children under six being U.S. citizens than children over age six (Capps, Fix & Zong, 2016). Households with citizen children and undocumented members are commonly referred to as mixed-status households (i.e., those households in which at least one member is a U.S. citizen or is lawfully present in the U.S. and at least one other member is undocumented (Matthews, 2010). It is estimated that there are approximately 6.6 million mixed-status households in the U.S. (Fortuny & Chaudry, 2009).
In general, rates of economic hardship and poverty are higher among children living in households that include foreign-born members compared to children living with native-born individuals (Fortuny, Capps, Simms, & Chaudry, 2009). Poverty rates are higher still among children in mixed-status or undocumented households (Capps, Bachmeier, Fix & Van Hook, 2013). It is estimated that 51% percent of children under age 18 living with undocumented immigrants live at or below the Federal Poverty Line (FPL) compared to 24% of children of (all) immigrants and 18% of children living with native-born parents (Capps et al., 2013; Passel & Cohn, 2012). Undocumented household members also tend to have lower levels of education, with 47% having less than a high school education compared to eight percent of U.S. born residents and 12% of all immigrants regardless of legal status (Jiang, Ekono, & Skinner, 2015; Passel & Cohn, 2012). Even when they are born in the U.S. and hold U.S. citizenship, children of undocumented immigrants are more likely to lack health insurance coverage than children of LPRs and children with native-born parents (Capps et al., 2013; Gonzales, Suárez-Orozco, & Dedios-Sanguineti, 2013).
With all of the hardship and challenges that tend to come with living in the US without documentation, one may wonder… Why don’t they just “do it the right way?” We often hear this argument put forth by politicians and US citizens. It goes something like this: “I am all for immigration…if people want to come here, that is fine. BUT they HAVE TO do it the right way.” Or there is the good old, “my grandparents came here and it was really hard, but they did it the right way - that’s what these immigrants today need to do… they need to need to do it the right way. There are laws for a reason.” These types of sentiments are very common, but what they do not take into consideration is how challenging it is to do it the “right way,” and how different the “right way” is today than it was when their grandparents would have come to the US. In addition, as will be discussed later, the “right way” is much easier for immigrants from some countries than it is for immigrants from other countries because of US immigration policies that have not kept up with current immigration demands.
U.S. Immigration Policy
At present, the U.S. system of immigration policies is not equipped to accommodate current immigration needs, nor does it accommodate the needs of countries with high demand for out-migration to the U.S., and the economic, social and labor demands in the U.S. (Kerwin & Warren, 2017). The following section will provide an overview of the history of U.S. immigration policy focusing on its relevance in maintaining and even augmenting the size of the undocumented population at various points in history and especially today. A brief summary of policy prior to 1921 is provided, however this overview will primarily focus on the time period after 1921. Particular attention is given to the decades following 1965, a year in which several important U.S. immigration policy decisions combined to spur unprecedented growth in the undocumented immigrant population, particularly from Latin America. In addition, many of the policies from 1965 and later are still in tact and in use in some form today…which, of course, is a major concern.
The First 100 Years of the United States
Though Native Americans arrived in North America between 12,000 and 30,000 years ago from Siberia, and the arrival of Columbus in 1492 catalyzed European colonization of the U.S., the first major wave of immigration to the U.S. is considered to have begun in 1790 and to have lasted through 1820 (USCISHOL, 2012). In general, immigrants in the first wave were of British, Scottish, German, Dutch, French, and Spanish descent seeking religious and political freedom and economic opportunity (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2016). The journey to the U.S. was often challenging, but entering the country did not require paperwork, inspection or other formally defined processes. During this time, the federal government established laws pertaining to citizenship (U.S.C. Article 1, Section 8), such as the required length of residence to become a U.S. citizen (USCISHOL, 2012). However, from 1783, when the United States became recognized as an independent republic, through 1875, the United States federal government did not restrict immigration (Ewing, 2012; USCISHOL, 2012).
Immigration was encouraged, as the U.S. desperately needed immigrants to grow the population, develop land, contribute skills and trades to the growing market and to input money into the economy (Ewing, 2012). At the same time, industrialization, overpopulation, poverty, and political oppression in Europe provided an influential push for immigrants to leave their countries of origin for the “new world.” This represents one point in U.S. history where a match between U.S. immigration policy and bilateral immigration needs truly existed (Massey & Pren, 2012, Vialet, 1991). Policies pertaining to migrant flows were created, enacted, and enforced at the state level, particularly in port and border states such as Massachusetts (Guarnizo & Smith, 1998). Border and port states began passing restrictive laws that aimed to curb or halt the flow of “undesirable immigrants” into their cities, and towns (Boushey & Luedtke, 2011). Often, such laws were passed with the goal of banning immigrants who were determined by the state to be a potential “burden to society” (e.g., the poor, sick, disabled, ethnically diverse, enslaved populations, criminals, and anyone who was deemed likely to become a public charge) (Neuman, 1993). For example, in 1794, the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed “the poor laws,” which imposed a penalty on any person who knowingly transported a pauper or indigent person to any town in the Commonwealth (Act of 1794, Ch. 8, 1794 Mass. Acts & Laws 347; Neuman, 1993).
Between 1819 and through the 1860’s, U.S. territory was expanding westward as Mexico had ceded nearly 40% of its territory to the U.S. (Vialet, 1991). Westward expansion generated high demand for new laborers in the U.S. Simultaneously, the second major wave of immigration (1820 - 1860) was bringing mostly German, British, and Irish immigrants looking to escape famine, overpopulation, political persecution, and industrialization (USCISHOL, 2016). It is estimated that the size of the immigrant population during the second wave grew from 151,000 in 1830 to 1.7 million in the 1850’s (United States Census Bureau, 2014). Immigration increased approximately 600% between 1841 and through the 1860’s, with an estimated 6.6 million immigrants entering and 87.5% of immigration still coming from northwestern Europe (Vialet, 1991).
In 1862, the development of railways further increased the demand for the Western migration of immigrants to provide labor (USCISHOL, 2012). The Homestead Act in 1862 and the Contract Labor Law of 1864 made land in the west available for free to immigrants, and to citizens of the U.S., and encouraged immigration by providing monetary advances for travel to the U.S. Consistent with the contradictory nature of U.S. attitudes towards new arrivals, despite a high demand for labor, as immigrants from new locations in Southeastern Europe and immigrants from China began to come to take advantage of these opportunities, labor groups in the U.S. successfully got 1864 contract law repealed claiming it would hurt U.S. born workers (Ewing, 2012).
Federal Control of Immigration and Exclusion (1875 – 1920)
The immigrant population was rapidly expanding and immigration was still encouraged by the federal government. The presence of a large foreign-born population was also met with increased nativism inspired by anti-Catholicism, fear for U.S. born workers, and the linking of immigration with crime and poverty (Neuman, 1993). Thus, states continued to enact restrictive policies barring poor, disabled, or diseased immigrants from entering the U.S. (Neuman, 1993). However, in 1875, control of immigration policy shifted. California enacted a policy that created a commissioner of immigration with the sole authority to determine the suitability of each immigrant arriving in the state. In addition, the law created inspection fees and bonds to be paid by those sponsoring or transporting immigrants (Bushey & Leudtke, 2011). The law was reviewed by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled against the policy, stating:
“The passage of laws which concern admission of citizens…of foreign nations to our shores belongs to congress and not to the states. It has the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations…if it be otherwise, a single state can at her pleasure embroil us in disastrous quarrel with other nations” (Chy Lung v. Freeman, 1875).
For the first time, the Supreme Court legitimized federal control of immigration policy (Boushey & Luedtke, 2011; Smith, 1998). For many decades after, immigration policymaking at the state level ceased as states yielded to the federal government.
The first act of the United States federal government, with their newly legitimized control of immigration, was to exclude certain classes of immigrants as “undesirable” (Boushey & Luedtke, 2011). The Page Act of 1875 barred criminals, prostitutes and Chinese contract laborers, who often worked under the conditions of indentured servitude (USCISHOL, 2012). In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended the immigration of all Chinese workers to the U.S. for 10 years, barred Chinese immigrants from becoming citizens, and provided for the deportation of Chinese immigrants unlawfully present in the country (USCISHOL, 2012). The Chinese Exclusion act was renewed in 1892 and in 1902 with no end date to be reviewed. A separate act in 1882 specified that “lunatics” be added to the list of inadmissible classes established in the Page Act (Vialet, 1991).
The expansion of exclusionary laws enacted by the federal government occurred concurrently with unprecedented levels of immigration to the U.S. during the end of the second wave of immigration and into the third. The third wave of immigration to the U.S. (1880 - 1914) brought immigrants from many European (including Southeastern Europe) and Asian countries (that were not barred from entry) seeking greater economic opportunity and political freedom (USCISHOL, 2016). In 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that the foreign-born share of the population was 14.8% (i.e., a historic high; for comparison, in 2016 it was estimated to be 13.5%) (Migration Policy Institute, 2017). Between 1870 and 1930, more than 30 million immigrants arrived (Vialet, 1991).
Numerical Limits by National Origin (1921 – 1964)
With the changing demography of the U.S. and rapidly increasing immigrant population, immigration policy became more selective (Norgarrd, 2008). Policies were passed that favored individuals from certain countries over others and explicitly banned some immigrants solely based on their country of origin (Massey & Pren, 2012; Vialet, 1991). In 1921, the federal government implemented the first overall numerical caps on immigration and set per-country limits based on the national origin of immigrants (USCISHOL, 2012). Total immigration was capped at approximately 350,000 per year, and the number of immigrants from a single country could not exceed three percent of the number of people of that ancestry who had been living in the U.S. at the time of the 1910 census. The new quota system favored immigrants from northwestern Europe. The Western Hemisphere (i.e., Canada, Latin America) remained exempt from numerical limits. In 1924, the U.S. Border Patrol was created. The same year, the total number of immigrants accepted for entrance was reduced to 165,000 per year and the per-country limit was decreased to 2% of the number of people of that ancestry living in the U.S. as of the 1890 census (Vialet, 1991. This system remained in place until 1952, with immigrants from the Western Hemisphere still exempt from quotas and caps, along with wives and unmarried, minor children of (male) U.S. citizens.
During World War II and through the beginning of the Cold War, immigration policy continued to be selective based on the nationality of potential immigrant arrivals. For example, World War II prompted exclusionary policies and practices aimed at people of Japanese descent, but there was also an increase in humanitarian refugee policies and a lessening of the restrictive policies that had been placed upon other Asian immigrants previously (Ewing, 2012). For example, in 1942, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government placed approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent (two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens) in internment camps until 1945, however in 1943, the immigration of Chinese workers was resumed and Chinese immigrants were eligible for naturalization (USCISHOL, 2012).
World War II was also an important era in the history of Mexican migration to the U.S. The war created extreme labor shortages in the agricultural industry as U.S. citizens joined or were drafted into the army or left agricultural positions for factory work to aid in the war effort (Massey & Pren, 2012). At the same time, Mexico was experiencing high unemployment and devastating crop failure as a result of the Mexican Revolution. In response, the governments of Mexico and the United States worked to develop a temporary worker contract program that would bring Mexican farm workers into the United States. The Bracero program, as it came to be called, ran from 1942 to 1964 bringing approximately 450,000 migrants into the U.S. for temporary work each year (Danielson, 2015). Almost all workers holding Bracero contracts kept a circular migration pattern (i.e., entering the U.S. to work during the harvest season, and returning home to Mexico in the off-season), and thus the steady, legal flow of close to one half million Mexican migrants went virtually unnoticed by U.S. citizens for years (Mize, 2016).
The success of the Bracero Program is one more example of bilateral immigration policy that worked because it considered and met the needs of both the sending and receiving countries involved. During the same time period, however, the McCarran-Walter Act (1952) aimed to consolidate immigration laws of past years into one concise statute, and while it officially eliminated race as a basis of exclusion, the national origins quota system, that favored immigrants from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany by basing quotas on the 1920 census, was kept in place. Most of the immigration slots that were allocated for these favored countries went unused as there was little demand for migration from northwestern Europe during this time (Massey, Durand, & Malone, 2002).
Civil Rights and the “Rise” of Undocumented Immigration (1965 – 1985)
The fourth and current wave of immigration began in 1965, a year that is also considered a significant time point in the context of undocumented immigration. One year after the Civil Rights Act (1964) was passed, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, terminated the National Origins Quota system that had favored immigrants from Northwestern Europe for decades (USCISHOL, 2012). That is, race, ancestry and national origin could no longer act as criteria for exclusion from legal entry to the United States. The INA assigned 170,000 slots per year for immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere with a 20,000 per-country cap. The INA, for the first time, also placed a 120,000 per year cap on Western Hemisphere migration, but without per-country limits. The 20,000 per-country cap was applied to the Western Hemisphere in 1976 and the numerical ceilings for the Eastern and Western hemispheres were combined into a worldwide limit of 290,000 admittances per year in 1978 (Massey & Pren, 2012). A seven-category preference system for the admittance of relatives of U.S. citizens and LPRs that is still in place today also originated from the INA. At this point, immigrants from the Western Hemisphere were exempt from the preference system, as were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (USCISHOL, 2012).
The INA in 1965 was the first time that Western hemisphere migration to the U.S. had been numerically restricted. Following the INA, however, immigration from Latin America increased rapidly from approximately 459,000 arrivals per year in the late 1950’s to 4.2 million in the 1990’s, by which time migration from Latin America made up about 44% of the total migrant flow into the U.S. (USDHS, 2012). The population of undocumented immigrants from Latin America also increased, from close to zero in 1965 up to 9.6 million in 2008, comprising 80% of the total undocumented population (Hoefer, Rytina & Baker, 2012; Wasem, 2011). The events and processes that led to increased migration from Latin America were never intended to do so, and in fact, some later actions were intended to deter it, yet immigration from Latin America surged (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). Evidence suggests this was the result of immigration policies and the sociopolitical context in the U.S.
When the INA was passed, immigration from Latin America was not a pressing concern among the general public and even among the most conservative politicians of the time (Wright, Levy & Citrin, 2015). In general, there was bipartisan agreement that termination of the National Origins Quota system was necessary. However, there was also agreement that the Bracero Program, which had come to be viewed as an exploitive labor system, should be terminated as well (Massey & Pren, 2012). Despite objections from the government of Mexico, Congress ultimately opted to end the Bracero Program. The program was fully phased out by 1968, the same year the new 120,000 annual cap on Western Hemisphere immigration took effect (USCISHOL, 2012). The INA had not included any provisions for temporary migrant workers, yet the annual circular flow of nearly half a million Mexican farm workers over 22 years had become engrained for both migrant workers and the U.S. employers who relied upon the temporal flow of labor (Ewing, 2012). Neither the demand for seasonal, agricultural labor in the U.S. nor the demand for employment among Mexican farm workers had changed, but the legal avenues for meeting these needs had been very suddenly taken away. As a result, the migratory flows did not end, rather they continued without contracts, permission, paperwork and documentation (Boushey & Leudkte, 2011).
Mexico, then, went from an unlimited number of resident visas and 450,000 annual guest worker visas from the 1940’s through the early 1960’s to zero guest worker visas and 20,000 resident visas per year, despite continued bilateral need for Mexican migration. Therefore, “illegal” immigration after 1965 increased because U.S. immigration policy left no legal route to accommodate long-standing, and effective migrant flows upon which both Mexican workers and U.S. employers had become dependent (Massey & Pren, 2012). Growth in the undocumented population decelerated quickly after the circular pattern of migration had been re-established without authorization. However, the initial inflow of newly “illegal,” mostly Mexican workers played a critical role in the political agenda, public perception, and immigration policy-making going forward.
The undocumented population expanded from 1970 and through the 1990’s. At the same time, income inequality in the United States was increasing (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017). Unemployment also increased from 5.6% in 1974 to 10.8% in 1982, a historic high (United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). Economic depression, regression, and inequality have always been strong predictors of anti-immigrant sentiment (Almeida, Biello, Pedraza & Wintner, 2016). It was in under these circumstances that immigration from Latin America began to be framed by the media as a “crisis” or a “tidal wave” that would drown U.S. culture with a flood of foreign-born immigrants (Santa Ana, 2002). Later, this ‘Latino threat narrative’ became more intense, often describing immigration as an “invasion” of “aliens” attacking “outgunned” border patrol agents (Chavez, 2008). In 1976, the commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) even published an article in which he described immigration as having the potential to become a national disaster (Chapman, 1988).
Granting Amnesty, but Limiting Immigrant Rights (1986 – 2000)
The Latino threat narrative was further promulgated by not only the media, but by government officials, municipalities, and politicians as they found advantages to be gained by scapegoating Latino immigrants and undocumented immigration for economic conditions in the U.S. (Massey & Pren, 2012). In 1986, Ronald Regan stated that illegal immigration was a question of national security and that “terrorists and subversives” are just a few days’ drive from the southern border (Kamen, 1990). In 1992, the Chief of the San Diego unit of the U.S. Border Patrol released “Border Under Siege,” a video that showed Latino immigrants running through highway traffic to enter the U.S. without inspection (Rotella, 1998). Further media portrayals deemed Latino immigration to be a “war on the middle class,” or even a plot by Mexico to take back the lands they had ceded to the U.S. in 1848, and that immigration, then, would result in a total loss of the southwestern United States (Massey & Pren, 2012).
Within just a few decades, Mexican migration had gone from a legal, effectively invisible, circular flow of workers to a highly visible, publicized flow that was framed as an attack on U.S. economy, culture, safety, and territory being carried out by criminal, alien invaders (Mize, 2016). The loss of legal avenues for migration without the loss of demand for labor resulting in unauthorized flows, plus the relentless framing of Latino migration as a “crisis” or a “cultural inundation flooding North America” in a time of income inequality influenced public opinion and shifted it towards conservatism on immigration (Massey & Pren, 2012). Subsequently, immigration legislation became more restrictive and more heavily reliant upon enforcement efforts. With increased enforcement, came an increased number of border apprehensions and deportations, despite declining migrant flows following 1970 (Ewing, 2012). However, to the general public, an increased number of border apprehensions and deportations was equivalent to an increase in the number of illegal border crossings. This further led to a belief that more enforcement was needed to subdue the growing “crisis” that was undocumented immigration (that, in reality, had occurred legally for decades, had leveled off in the 1970’s once the established seasonal flow resumed without authorization, and had actually decreased through the 80’s and 90’s).
In 1986, the federal government implemented the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). IRCA did the following: (1) legalized nearly 2.7 million undocumented immigrants who had been living in the United States before January 1, 1982, who had no unpaid back taxes, had not been found guilty of any crimes, and had at least minimal knowledge of United States government, history and the English language (USCISHOL, 2012), or who fell into a special agricultural worker category (Kerwin, 2010), (2) increased border enforcement (Chishti & Kamasaki, 2014), and (3) made it a federal crime to knowingly hire or employ undocumented workers (Chishti & Kamasaki, 2014). IRCA policies were developed based partly on the assumption that immigrants who entered the country without permission came to the United States for existing job opportunities and because they were able to enter without inspection (American Immigration Council, 2017). Although IRCA initiated the H-2A visa category for temporary seasonal agricultural workers with very limited annual slots, it did not raise limits on legal immigration to match the growing demand for immigrant labor in the U.S. (Popat, 2014).
Later, with the Immigration Act of 1990, the federal government opted to raise the legal immigration ceiling and tripled the number of visas available for priority workers. Despite a higher legal immigration ceiling, increased border enforcement and more stringent rules surrounding employment, from 1990 through 1999, it was estimated that over 5.8 million undocumented immigrants entered the United States (United States Census Bureau, 2014). Mexico was the top sending country followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and China (USCISHOL, 2012). The continuous loop linking public perception of immigrants, stringent legislation and enforcement efforts towards immigration, especially from Mexico, was well-established. Further complicating immigration policy and public attitudes was a series of attacks against the U.S. throughout the 1990’s and into the early 2000’s.
1996: Anti-Immigrant Sentiment and Policy
Increased fear of terrorism and anti-immigrant sentiment contributed in part to the enactment of more restrictive immigration legislation and increased enforcement efforts (USCISHOL, 2012). Three pieces of legislation all passed in 1996 had significant negative outcomes for the immigrant population (regardless of status). The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) created new criteria both for being denied entry and for removal from the U.S. by expanding the definition of what is considered to be an “aggravated felony.” Aggravated felonies are criminal acts specifically delineated to carry severe consequences for immigrants such as loss of access to visas, loss of legal permanent resident status, loss of citizenship, asylum and limited or denied rights during deportation procedures (American Immigration Council, 2016). The list of what is considered an aggravated felony originally referred only to murder, federal drug trafficking and trafficking of certain weapons (American Immigration Council, 2016). It was expanded to include over 30 crimes, such as fraud, counterfeit and forgery, failure to appear in court, alien smuggling, tax evasion, and theft (USCIS, 2013). The new definition was applied retroactively, meaning that even non-violent offenses that had been committed years prior to the passage of the law obligated detention. IIRIRA also created an expedited removal process for “criminal aliens” that did not grant them the right to a formal hearing, implemented three- and ten-year bans to re-entry for immigrants who had been present for at least 180 days in the U.S., and increased border enforcement (Zimmerman & Fix, 1997).
Second, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) made most LPRs ineligible for means-tested public benefit programs for five years after obtaining a green card (Zimmerman & Fix, 1997). Undocumented immigrants were explicitly barred from all public benefit programs by the federal government. Finally, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act expedited the removal processes for foreigners suspected of being associated with terrorism, allowed the detention and deportation of non-U.S. citizens on the basis of evidence that neither the accused immigrant nor their lawyer were permitted to see, and made it more difficult to be granted asylum (Massey & Pren, 2012). These policies were all enacted to restrict access for immigrants, and especially to “crack down” on undocumented immigration, which had been proposed to be part of the cause of poor economic conditions in the U.S. for decades (Citrin, Green, Muste & Wong, 1997). Little, if any, consideration was given to U.S. labor demands, bilateral immigration needs or migratory trends. With policy mismatched to reality, there is more potential for increased undocumented immigration (Espenshade, 1995; Massey & Espinosa, 1997).
Immigration as a Matter of National Security (9/11 - Present)
The 1990’s saw unprecedented enforcement efforts at the border and internally (Massey & Pren, 2012). Specifically, annual deportations had not exceeded 50,000 for decades, but following attacks against the U.S., and legislation in 1996 (i.e., IIRIRA, PRWORA), removals increased to 200,000 people per year. Then, on September 11th, 2001, the United States sustained the deadliest attack on U.S. soil in its history (USCISHOL, 2012). Following 9/11, the U.S. government implemented further law enforcement measures, some of which explicitly targeted certain nationalities (Ewing, 2012). Passed just 45 days after 9/11, the USA PATRIOT Act generally expanded surveillance and data sharing for government agencies and officials. Specific to immigration, title IV of the PATRIOT Act tripled the number of border agents and INS personnel at points of entry, and required data sharing between the FBI, Department of State and Immigration and Nationality Services to conduct background checks on immigrants at point of entry (107th Congress of the United States, 2001-2002).
According to the Department of Homeland Security (2017) removals increased to approximately 400,000 annually by 2009. Though none of the accused involved in 9/11 were of Mexican descent, nor had they entered through Mexico, and though all involved had come to the U.S. on legal visas, the vast majority of persons removed as part of increased enforcement efforts after 9/11 were of Mexican descent (72%) (Massey & Pren, 2012). In 2002, the U.S. government also introduced a special registration system and a “voluntary” interview program that targeted foreign-born Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians (Ewing, 2012). The same year, the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act was implemented, which included new procedures for the review of visa applications and required entry documents to be machine-readable, tamper-resistant, and to include biometric identifiers (USDHS, 2002).
Following the USA PATRIOT Act, in 2005, Congress passed the REAL ID Act. The REAL ID Act mandated that states put in place a system to retain and store data on identity, criminal history and citizenship and legal immigration statuses, and that all databases be linked to required federal databases (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2018). In addition, the REAL ID Act imposed minimum documentation standards to verify identity before issuing any form of identification, as well as security and fraud protection measures that had to be implemented in each state (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2018). Specifically, the federal government mandated that states require a social security number and evidence of lawful entry and legal status in order to issue a driver’s license or identification card (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2018). To date, about half of states are compliant with REAL ID requirements, 21 have been granted extensions, and three states (Michigan, Louisiana, New York) are under review for possible extension (Department of Homeland Security, 2017). Finally, in 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, which called for an additional 850 miles of fencing to be built along the U.S. – Mexico border (Ewing, 2012).
Consequences of U.S. Immigration Policy
Even before the United States became a sovereign nation, it struggled with its identity as a refuge for immigrants and a country that relies upon immigrants, but also one that has consistently stereotyped and feared the newest arrivals to its shores. U.S. immigration policy has fit bilateral immigration needs at a few points in history: (1) unrestricted immigration in the first 100 years of the republic, when the United States desperately needed labor, land development, and population growth and Europe was experiencing severe overpopulation, (2) towards the end of the first 100 years of the U.S., with westward expansion, development of railways and industrialization was taking place in Europe, and (3) the Bracero Program when Mexico struggled with crops and unemployment and the U.S. was experiencing labor shortages due to the war. The U.S. federal government has not since implemented bilateral immigration policy that suits its own needs while attending to the reality of demand for immigration to the U.S. from other countries. More recently, since the mid-1980’s, the federal government has enacted policies focused on deterring undocumented immigration through increased enforcement efforts, and limiting immigrant access to resources, while neglecting to attend to the large undocumented population, most of whom have resided in the U.S. for more than a decade (Zong & Batalova, 2017).
Enforcement efforts have not only failed to decrease undocumented immigration from Latin America, but they have contributed to increased immigration into to the United States. For example, the first large increase in the undocumented population from Latin America stemmed from well-established, legal, circular flows of 400,000 Mexican farm workers being unaccounted for, and, thus “illegal” with the end of the Bracero Program. In 1964, the undocumented population was estimated to be less than 300,000, but in 1968 (i.e., the year the Bracero Program was fully phased out), the undocumented population grew to over one million (USDHS, 2012). In the following decades, as legislation continually called for increased enforcement efforts, Mexican workers stopped returning home once they made it into the U.S., increasing the net inflow of undocumented immigrants by decreasing the overall outflow (Redburn, Reuter & Majmundar, 2011).
Through the 1990’s and 2000’s, with the rise of the Latino threat narrative, anti-immigrant sentiment, and immigration policy-making that focused on border patrol and internal enforcement, the population of legal immigrants grew as well from less than 10% admitted outside country quotas as relatives of U.S. citizens to over 40% after 1996 and 65% after 2001 (USDHS, 2012). When U.S. policies have been more restrictive, or are perceived to be discriminatory, legal permanent residents who may have otherwise retained their LPR status, tend to be more likely to initiate the naturalization process to protect themselves (i.e., defensive naturalization) (Redburn, Reuter & Majmundar, 2011). This also affords them the opportunity to be able to petition for family members, as the immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are exempt from quotas and caps, a process known as defensive naturalization (USCIS, 2017). Not only have enforcement policies tended to result in less outmigration among undocumented immigrants (increasing overall net inflow), but fear among the immigrant population stemming from stringent U.S. immigration legislation, increased enforcement efforts and negative discourse around immigration have also contributed to increasing the size of the legal immigrant population. With the rise of the Latino threat narrative, in the mid 1980’s, negative words were paired with “Mexican” or “immigrant” across the U.S.’s four leading newspapers over 35% of the time. Following 1985 and into the 1990’s, legal immigration increased from approximately 61,000 entries per year to over 100,000 (USDHS, 2012).
IRCA, in 1986, was the last time Congress passed some form of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). Since then, the federal government has failed to pass CIR legislation. Additionally, the family- and skills-based visa systems have not been updated since enactment in 1965, except for the Immigration Act of 1990, which tripled the number of visas available. With an estimated 10.2 - 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. at present (United States Census Bureau, 2016), and a severely outdated system of immigration policies, there is bipartisan agreement that reform is needed (McElmurry, Brown & Zamora, 2016; Tichenor, 2014). Attempts to address comprehensive immigration reform over the past 31 years have consistently failed. For example, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (i.e., S.1348; the McCain-Kennedy Bill), which was the first attempt at a CIR bill since the early 2000’s, would have implemented tighter border controls and amnesty for undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., along with initiating a guest worker program. The bill, with some variation in policy details, was debated in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 2007, it was abandoned as compromise could not be reached and it was never voted upon in the Senate (Golash-Boza & Parker, 2007).
Given that 1986 reforms were not very comprehensive, since the 1965 legislation (yes...54 years!), there has existed a growing need not only for a functional immigration system, but for policy reform that addresses the current undocumented population, considers bilateral immigration needs, and that is driven by these bilateral needs as opposed to fear or extreme incidents. Doing it "the right way" in 2019 is, not surprisingly VERY difficult when policies were crafted in 1965. Making things more difficult is a 7% cap. This means that no country in any given year can account for more than 7% of total immigrants admitted legally to the United States. As you can imagine, some countries NEVER reach this 7% cap - because there is no need; there are no factors pushing them out of their current residence. Other countries have needs for outmigration, but also have closer options than the US (e.g., African immigrants migrating to Germany, the Netherlands). Still other countries have great need for outmigration and are geographically close to the US (e.g., Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala...to name a few). These countries have reached their 7% cap year after year and therefore very long waiting lists have amassed. So, a person from Central America can apply for a visa and be waitlisted for several years before they even have a chance to enter, whereas a person from Norway or Sweden can apply the same year and move swiftly through the process. This is one reason why there are such different accounts of the difficulty of navigating the US immigration system. It is a foolish and arbitrary cap that certainly does not take into realistic consideration global migratory needs.
We NEED to fix this system. First of all, the United States's population is stagnant and perhaps even declining slowly. Fewer people are having children; people have fewer children when they do have them, and they are waiting longer to have them. Yet our population is aging. At current, our labor force will not be able to support social security or care for older Americans as they retire and age. We NEED to grow our population. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that immigration will be the primary source of population growth through 2050 in the US...not if we leave our immigration system in shambles and continue to attempt to drive people away. Additionally, climate change is a serious concern. If our immigration policies do not account for differential effects of climate change in different parts of the world and the potential need for serious migratory patterns in response to unlivable conditions, we will be stuck with an outdated system once again in the near future.
Okay. I am stopping now. Really I am... I could go on forever.
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