If you were President and had a House majority and Senate supermajority on your side, how would you reform our nation’s system of immigration?
If you’d like a summary of the issue, read below...
Immigrants to the United States primarily enjoyed an open door policy through a European wave that heightened during the second half of the 1800s and early 1900s with people seeking greater economic opportunity. Immigration numbers went down drastically after overseas quotas were installed in 1924 and the Great Depression occurred shortly afterwards.
After these overseas quotas were eased in 1964, a second wave of immigration began that continues today which is predominantly Asian and Latin American in origin. Today, over 1 million immigrants enter into the US legally every year and obtain permanent legal status, matching the percentage of the European wave the late 1800s, and is considered the primary factor in the continued population growth in the US despite declining birth rates. Approximately 45% of legal status recipients are granted to those with immediate relatives who are US citizens, with another 21% also family based. 13% are adjusted from refugee or asylum status, 12% are sponsored by employers, and 5% are granted green cards by lottery. It is estimated a total of over 40 million legal immigrants currently live in the US, or 15% of the total US population, which also equals the percentage during the European wave of the late 1800s.
Additionally in 1964, quotas were, for the first time, imposed on those coming from countries in the Western Hemisphere into the US, such as Mexico, and, thus, illegal immigration began via illegal border crossings. Illegal border crossings through the southern border peaked in the year 2000, but it had been declining since then, especially after the Great Recession of 2007-2009. In 2007, right before the Great Recession, approximately 850,000 were apprehended by border patrol (down from 1,600,000 in 2000) and roughly the same number of individuals successfully evaded patrol agents and got into the US. Ten years later, in 2017, these figures were down to 300,000 and 150,000 respectively (also demonstrating an improved ratio on the effectiveness of border patrol).
However, an increase in family units and children in recent years have led to a large surge this year, bringing the total number of apprehensions up to 450,000 in first half of 2019 alone. Recent government crackdowns resulted in the controversial separation of parents and children in these families, but this practice was abandoned after international protest. Underage Central American asylum seekers fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatamala has been the primary source of this surge. 178,825 unaccompanied minors from these countries were apprehended at the border from 2011 to 2016, and studies now estimate that for every 10 homicides in these countries, 6 unaccompanied children flee to the US. These children, along with other children entering the country in recent years, have been granted legal status through congressional acts and presidential executive actions.
Illegal immigration also occurs via overstays of temporary legal status. While this, too, has declined the past ten years, from 850,000 such cases in 2007 to 300,000 such cases today, it should be noted that, due to the drastic decline in illegal border crossings from 2007 to 2018, overstays accounted for 67% of all illegal immigration in 2018 compared to 50% in 2007. However, this percentage changed in 2019 due to the surge in family migrants.
Overall, since the Great Recession, more illegal immigrants had been leaving the US than entering it every year, both due to the declining numbers of those attempting to enter and an increased number of deportations. It is estimated that 11 million illegal immigrants currently live in the US, a figure that has been on the slight decline since 2007, when it was at a peak of 12 million.
Roughly 8 million of these undocumented immigrants make up 5% of the total US workforce, and are primarily relegated to low skilled, low paying jobs, often victimized from exploitation and lack of worker protections that their legal counterparts enjoy. Furthermore, federal restrictions prohibit them from receiving many federal, state, and local public benefits that citizens and legal residents receive, although they are still entitled to medical assistance, immunizations, disaster relief, and k-12 education.