Immigration reform

Introduction to US Immigration Reform

  • The term Immigration Reform refers to changes or amendments to the existing laws governing immigrants and immigration into the United States.
  • From the nation’s inception, immigration policy has been a contentious issue, as immigrants have both bolstered the nation’s workforce and contributed to cultural diversity, but have also been seen as competition for jobs and a burden on welfare services.

Historical Context of Immigration Reform

  • The first significant immigration law, the Immigration Act of 1882, was enacted primarily to keep out convicts and the mentally ill.
  • The National Origins Formula in 1921 and 1924 discriminated against certain European immigrants and was designed to preserve the racial and ethnic profile of the United States.
  • The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 scrapped the National Origins Formula favouring family reunification and skilled immigrants.

Key Reforms under Different Administrations

  • Under President Reagan, the Immigration Reform and Control Act (1986) granted amnesty to nearly 3 million unauthorized immigrants, while at the same time making it illegal to hire unauthorized immigrants.
  • The Dream Act proposed during the Bush administration aimed to grant legal status to certain undocumented immigrants who were brought as children and went to school in the U.S. but it failed to pass Congress.
  • Under President Obama, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provided temporary relief from deportation for certain individuals brought to the U.S. as children.
  • The Trump administration took a hardline approach, rolling back DACA, increasing deportations, and repealing the policy that allowed undocumented immigrants to stay if they had no criminal conviction.
  • President Biden’s proposed immigration bill aims to provide a path to citizenship for many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., increase visas for skilled workers, and roll back many of Trump’s policies.

Impact of Immigration Reforms

  • Immigration reforms have far-reaching implications, affecting the U.S. economy, society, culture, and politics.
  • Immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy in key sectors, including technology, health care, and agriculture. However, some argue they also undercut wages for lower-skilled workers.
  • In society, immigrants contribute to cultural diversity but also challenge social cohesion and resources.
  • Politically, immigration is a deeply divisive issue. Democrats typically favour more liberal immigration policies, while Republicans often call for stricter controls and enforcement.

Current Debates and Controversies

  • The status of DACA recipients, commonly referred to as Dreamers, remains uncertain with on-going legal and political battles.
  • There is an ongoing debate over border security measures, including the border wall proposed by President Trump.
  • The role of sanctuary cities, which limit their cooperation with the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration law, remains a contentious issue.
  • The role of immigration detention centres, their living conditions and the policy of family separations at the border have been topics of fierce debate and criticisms.
  • The link between immigration and terrorism, and the travel ban on certain countries implemented by President Trump caused severe controversy.
  • The issue of Visa rules and quotas, particularly concerning H-1B visas for high-skilled workers and family reunification visas, is a another point of controversy.