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Immigration Policy USA

Immigration to the USA has occurred throughout all ages. People have moved to the US in search of good fortune. However, although immigration to the US was much easier before 1882, with time and increasing population, the US authority has put in place newer immigration policies and mechanisms.

After having made various efforts from time to time to regulate immigration, people in the US in present times are in favor of restricting immigration to the US to the maximum possible extent (more so after the 9/11 trauma). A series of immigration laws have also been passed in the late 1990s and mid 2000s to cater to such public concern about immigration to the US.

Debate on Immigration :
Immigration is one of the most discussed and debated public policy issues in the US. The debate over immigration centers around two major issues, viz., the economy and the national identity of the United States. Some think that immigrants are a burden on the U.S. economy, while others think that they benefit it. In addition, critics of immigration are concerned that the country is splintering along racial and cultural lines because immigrants are not being assimilated properly into U.S. society. Questions are regularly raised on:
  • whether the government place further restrictions on legal immigration
  • whether the government deny social services to illegal immigrants
  • whether English shall be the official language of the United States

Policy to Control Immigration :
There have been various attempts by the US officials to implement advantageous immigration policies and a brief overview of the policies can be undertaken here:

1880 to 1929 :
Early immigration laws aimed to preserve the largely European racial, religious, and ethnic composition of the United States and expelled nonwhites (like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882). Soon the Americans sought to stem immigration flow from the US. For instance, the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 encouraged immigration from northern and western European countries and discouraged immigrants from eastern and southern Europe. In 1929, Congress passed the National Origins Act , which set an annual quota of 150,000 immigrants (only 30 % of which could come from southern and eastern Europe). The Great Depression of the 1929-30 had naturally reduced in immigration and even encouraged emigration from the US.

Post World War II (1939-45) :
The US Congress had passed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 allowing some of the people who became homeless after the War to come to the United States. In 1952 the McCarran-Walter Act enabled people of all races to immigrate into the United States. (though it had made ideology a criterion for admission). The infamous McCarthyism syndrome of the 1940s and 50s also put a serious impact on the issue of immigration to the USA. The Immigration Act of 1965 implemented a major reform of all previous immigration laws. It abolished quotas that discriminated against nationalities, substituting an overall limit of 170,000 immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 immigrants from the Western Hemisphere.

Recent Laws on Immigration :
During the late 20 th Century, US government had set limits on the number of immigrants, such as refugee to reside in the country (The Refugee Act of 1980 is mentionable in this regard). In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act, passed to prevent illegal immigrants from Latin America by imposing sanctions against employers who hire illegal aliens. The Immigration Act of 1990 increased entry of immigrants into the United States by nearly 40 percent. In 1996, the US Congress passed three bills, including the 1996 Immigration Act which not only affected immigration control but also regulated immigrants' rights in the United States. The 2005 Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act aimed to prevent the illegal border crossing by Mexican immigrants while the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA) of 2006 deals with immigration reform. It increases the number of guest workers in the US beside those already present through a new "blue card" visa program .

As more and more multi-racial and multi-cultural elements enter the United States and the ethnic composition of the country changes, the issue of immigration turns more intense. Some Americans favor tighter immigration restrictions and argue that immigrants take jobs away from U.S. citizens, drain social services, and endanger the national security. Others point to America's historic commitment to immigration and believe that immigrants make their country economically and culturally viable. In light of this debating position in American society, arriving at a permanent and one-sided immigration policy by the US authority is far from feasible and thus the fine-tuning of the rules and reform on immigration will continue.


Last Updated Date: May 21, 2016

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