U.S. Immigration Policy



Join Active Minds for a look at the history of immigration in the U.S. and how this issue is currently playing out at both the federal and state level. We will discuss the economics and politics of various aspects of U.S. immigration and how these concerns are viewed by different constituencies within the U.S.

Key Lecture Points

  • Immigration policy has always been a divisive issue in the United States. It raises economic, human rights and national security concerns. The issue has become even more prominent with the rise of an undocumented/illegal immigrant population in the United States.
  • Early in its history, the United States had relatively liberal immigration policies in regard to émigrés from Europe. The combination of a desire to settle the vast American West and expand an Industrial base in the East necessitated a steady flow of immigration to meet the economic and security needs of the nation. From 1840 to 1920 approximately 37 million people came to the US.
  • In the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, US immigration policy shifted abruptly to greater restrictions upon immigration. Beginning in 1921, Congress imposed quotas on the number of immigrants who could come from a given country. In so doing, the US reduced immigration by 75%.
  • From 1970 to 2000, after the US lifted the system of national-origin preferences in 1965, more than 20 million legal immigrants came to the US. Of these, 80% were non-European immigrants. While race, language and religion have always been a point of debate in regards to immigration policy, that debate has intensified with the increased diversity of the recent immigrants to the US.
  • Until 2013, there has been no significant movement toward federal immigration reform since a bipartisan effort died in 2007, blocked by conservative opposition. Frustrated with the lack of federal action, many states, for example Arizona and Alabama, passed restrictive immigration laws.
  • Since Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 and the large Latino turnout that influenced that election, the President has said he will push for immigration reform early in his second term. In efforts to repair its relationship with the Latino electorate, many Republicans are changing their attitudes toward immigration reform, creating an perception of bipartisan support for a return to the issue.
  • Although the immigration debate has centered on the approximately 11 million undocumented/illegal aliens in the US, comprehensive immigration reform is broader than just the unauthorized population. Other issues which may be addressed include the number of visas available to meet the needs of the 21st Century US labor market, the issue of visa caps for family members of citizens and legal immigrants, and work place violations by employers who exploit immigrant workers.

Exploration Questions

  • What are the benefits of immigration?
  • What role have immigrants played in our history?
  • What are the key elements that need to be addressed in immigration reform?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you have family or friends who are immigrants to this country? How has this shaped your perspective on immigration?
  • Are you an immigrant or have you lived for an extended period in another country? What were the challenges to adjusting to another culture?

More to Explore

  • Center for Comparative Immigration Studies Click here
  • Web site for U. S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Click here
  • Resources on immigration policy Click here

Books For Further Reading

  • Askew, Rilla. Kind of Kin. HarperCollins, 2013. 432 pages. This novel follows the events tearing apart a family in the aftermath of a new state immigration law.
    Click here to order
  • Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement. Harper Paperbacks, 2011. 272 pages. The book describes the culinary heritages of immigrants in New York City at the turn of the twentieth century.
    Click here to order
  • Motomura, Hiroshi. Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States. (eBook) Oxford University Press, USA, 2006. This book provides new perspectives on the immigration debate and the citizenship process.
    Click here to order