Modern immigration law is grounded primarily in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act. This act changed the way quotas on immigrants are allocated and ended the national origins formula put in place by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921. The 1965 Act marked a change in U.S. immigration policy, which had discriminated against non-northern Europeans.
The Hart-Cellar Act opened the doors of the U.S. to “those who can contribute most to this country—to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit.” The law created a preference system that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relations with citizens or U.S. residents.
Immigration has been part of the national political debate for many years. In recent years, comprehensive immigration reform has been unaddressed by Congress. In absence of reform. President Trump has proposed building a wall on the U.S. - Mexican border, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants, placing limitations on asylum in the U.S., and imposing a temporary ban on Muslins entering the country. The Administration has also proposed regulations, such as the Department of Homeland Security’s “public charge” eligibility which limits citizenship to those who access federal funding.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 43 million immigrants reside in the United States, about 14% of the population. The undocumented immigrant population is approximately 11 million. In 2017, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency reported a 26% drop in the number of undocumented apprehended at the southern border from the year before. At the same time arrests of undocumented immigrants increased by 40% as a result of increased enforcement by the Trump Administration.
In 2016, approximately 1.2 million immigrants were granted legal permanent residency in the U.S., more than two-thirds of which were admitted for family unification reasons. Other categories included 12%for employment-based preferences, 10% for refugees, 4% for diversity, and 3% for asylees. At the end of 2017, more than 4 million were awaiting visas according to the State Department.
Most Americans believe immigration is good for the United States, with 71% agreeing according to a 2017 Gallup Poll.
The last time Congress seriously considered comprehensive immigration reform was in 2013. Comprehensive immigration reform legislation would address the demand for high and low-skilled labor, the future legal status of undocumented immigrants (i.e. path to citizenship) living in the U.S., the future of “dreamers” (children brought to this country by undocumented parents), and border security.
Passing comprehensive immigration reform is crucial not only for national security, but for the thousands of families that fear deportation or separation from their families.