Challenges With U.S. Immigration Policy

Instructor: Michael Gott

Mike is a veteran of the New Hampshire public school system and has worked in grades 1-12. His role has varied from primary instructor to special needs support.

The United States, which was originally formed by British settlers seeking religious freedom, has always been a country of immigrants. Since its founding, the United States has struggled to balance strong national identity with a desire to be open and inclusive of people from across the world.

A Struggle

In New York Harbor stands the Statue of Liberty, a gift from France. At the base of the statue the poem New Colossus by Emma Lazarus reads;

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The United States has struggled to live up to this sentiment over history. The struggle has consisted of many elements including balancing the practical application of incoming citizens with the need to address illegal immigration. The United States has also wrestled with racial prejudice that has influenced many laws over the years.

Understanding Legal Immigration

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was passed removing a racist quota systems previously in place. The new system gave preference to immigrants with ties to the US such as those with family already in the U.S. Since this time, the US has become a more diverse country. In 2013, the U.S. allowed over 990,000 people permanent and lawful residents into the United States. Of this number, roughly 60% were already living in the country.

Addressing Legal Immigration

Simply put, far more people wish to enter the United States than can be accommodated. In 2012, over 1 million Mexicans applied for citizenship to the U.S. with only 47,000 available openings. There is no clear solution for the discrepancy in those who wish to come, and those who are allowed entry. Because of this tension, immigration policy has remained a central issue in American politics. Due to continued economic uncertainty and concerns surrounding national security, immigration remains an important issue to most Americans.

Understanding Illegal Immigration

In 1990, the number of people had who illegally entered the country was estimated to be roughly 3.5 million people. This number steadily rose until 2007 reaching a peak of 12.2 million people living in the country illegally. Since that point, the number has dropped and remained at roughly 11 million people. This coincided with economic problems in the US during the recession with the net illegal immigration from Mexico believed to be at zero or less, meaning more undocumented immigrants from Mexico have been leaving the US rather than entering. Undocumented immigrants refers to people who have no legal status in the US. People from Mexico consistently make up roughly half of the total undocumented immigrant population in the United States.

Statue of Liberty
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Addressing Illegal Immigration

The US has worked to address illegal entry for years. In 1986, Congress passed legislation giving 2.7 million undocumented immigrants a path to permanent citizenship. In 2003, the Dream Act was proposed to give children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship. While never becoming law, President Obama used this idea as the basis to defer deportations of children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom were babies when their parents crossed the border. However, since taking office in 2009, President Barrack Obama also began new deportation policies resulting in the deportation of more undocumented immigrants than any other President. Deportation is a legal action returning a person to their country of origin. Despite continuing efforts to enact appropriate legislation, the number of undocumented immigrantss has remained steady and the U.S. government continues to struggle with how to address illegal immigration.

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