US Immigration Policy Paper: A Brief to the US Secretary of Homeland Security
In 2011, an estimated 11.2 million people were residing illegally in the United States. Despite an increase in resources since 9/11 devoted to securing America's borders from terrorist threats, undocumented populations continue to thrive. Many undocumented workers are the parents of American citizens. The Obama Administration is considering using executive orders to revamp US immigration policy toward undocumented workers by offering a path to legal status to undocumented parents of American children who entered the country illegally, either five or ten years ago. The recommendation is that the Secretary of Homeland Security supports the plan with one modification: increase the number of temporary visas available to non-legal immigrating persons to the United States.
Current immigration policy debates center on changing the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965, which abolished the quota system and replaced it with a preference system of admitting various categories of people. The goals of US immigration are the preferences for family members, people with certain job qualifications, refugees and asylum seekers, and people from diverse countries of origin are the groups that the US government determined can be granted permanent admission into the United States.
In the wake of 9/11, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 moved the responsibilities for immigration and naturalization to the Department of Homeland Security in the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. In the area that is the most contested in US immigration policy in the public domain, the border enforcement is in two areas: the Bureau of Customs and Border protection; and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Not only was this change initiated because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and the need to rethink border security, but also because of the continuing issue of undocumented persons. The outcome was to increase enforcement and removal.
Currently undocumented persons within the United States are subject to apprehension and removal. There are a number of reasons why a person would be removed from the United States, or refused entry. According to the CBO those include illegal entry or status, health issues, criminal background, security or terrorist risk, inability to be self-supporting, seeking work without qualifications, former illegal immigration activities, for a variety of reasons the US government will not approve them to apply for US citizenship, or they were removed from another country. Most of the border enforcement to arrest persons violating US immigration laws is found on the US border with Mexico. In 2002, Border Patrol apprehended 98 percent of all violators along this border. In 2004, 1.2 million undocumented persons were apprehended and Border Control was responsible for 93 percent of them.
Alternative to the White House Immigration Policy
Most Americans support the alternative policy of increased enforcement and removal of undocumented persons. This policy is particularly attractive because opinion polls consistently show that Americans overwhelmingly want undocumented persons to be returned home. Results of a large poll released in 2013, 52 percent of likely voters want to see them go back to their home countries as opposed to 33 percent who agree that legal status is preferred. Those who want them to leave are far more forceful in their opinion than those who do not. Most also believed that enforcement of immigration laws has been woefully inadequate and most did not believe that the undocumented problem arose because too few people were allowed to migrate to the United States. Moreover, 69 percent agreed that giving legal status to undocumented persons does not solve the problem of undocumented persons continuing to come to the United States. As a whole, enforcement is the most popular policy among American citizens.
Support for Limited Amnesty With Temporary Workers
There are two main reasons why more enforcement is not the answer, and a limited amnesty accompanied by a new temporary workers program is a move in the right direction. First, the public's concern over illegal and legal immigration is based on a number of ill-conceived ideas. One is a fear over wages and jobs that are unrealistic and unsupported by evidence. Foreign-born population has been increasing as a total share of the US population since the 1970s, when the total was 9.6 million to over 40 million in 2010, or 12.9 percent of the entire population, and the undocumented population rising even faster. Yet, the evidence does not support arguments that they are taking jobs from Americans, or depressing wages, even though this is a main political argument in support of sending undocumented persons home.
Second, the American public might support a partial amnesty with a path to limiting the numbers of undocumented arrivals with a temporary workers program. The American public will not support full-scale amnesty in part because when amnesty was put into practice in 1986 it did little to stem the flow of undocumented persons. However, limited amnesty reflects crucial values already embedded in American immigration policy: family reunification. This policy could cut the number of undocumented people in the United States nearly in half. Moreover, increases in undocumented workers have followed one trend: after the ability to immigrate legally was shut down in the 1960s, the numbers of undocumented rose. Therefore, the combination of the two programs should provide the right incentives for public approval and ultimate success in revamping US immigration policy.
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