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 large population of undocumented/illegal immigrants in the United States, concerns about terrorism and the election of Donald Trump.
  • 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, 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.
  • During the Obama Administration, federal immigration reform was blocked by conservative opposition.  Frustrated with the lack of Congressional action,  President Obama used an executive order to protect from deportation young illegal immigrants who were brought to the US as children.
  • In the first week of his presidency, Trump issued an executive order to extend construction of the border wall between the US and Mexico and restore the Secure Communities program.  The Department of Homeland Security followed up with sweeping orders that place the vast majority of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.
  • Trump also ordered a travel ban on 7 predominately Muslim countries, temporarily suspending the entry of refugees into the US including an indefinite stop to the admission of Syrian refugees.  The legality of a subsequent modified order is being litigated in Federal Courts.

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?
  • What are the key elements in Trumps’ immigration executive orders?  What are the pros and cons of his immigration actions?

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
  • Bindiu, Aura. Hope.  Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016.  A fictionalized account of a young family fleeing from Syria to Greece and the challenges they face as refugees.
    Click here to order