The United State’s immigrant population is estimated to be about 12 million people. The reason is because the country has for the longest time been the leading nation in the world in terms of receiving immigrants and refugees. It started receiving immigrants as early as the 1600’s during the colonialists’ period. From 1986 onwards because of the enactment of favorable immigration laws, there has been a surge of immigrants into the country with most of them being undocumented immigrants. However, as much as the laws have been effective on immigration, they have had negative consequences for some immigrants. The paper explores immigration in the United States and lays emphasis on the negative implications of the immigration laws. The paper also examines the main reason as to why the immigration issue in the nation has lacked a valid solution for decades.
Immigration as from 1986 to Present Day
Millions of people are always crossing the borders of the United States as immigrants. To curb illegal immigration in 1986, the government under President Ronald Reagan established the Immigration Reform and Control Act. It provided amnesty to all skilled illegal immigrants who were in the country before January 1, 1982 (Hanson, 2005, p. 347). The amnesty period was to last until 1988. By the end of the amnesty period, more than 3 million illegal immigrants had successfully applied for amnesty (Hanson, 2005, p. 347). However, the act even though effective in handling a large number of illegal immigrants, failed to provide a legal procedure for unskilled and manual-skilled immigrants who wanted to enter the country. The gap in the law resulted in the illegal entry of over 12 million immigrants into the United States (Hanson, 2005, p. 348). Since then, the George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations have tried to enact immigration laws to cater for the growing number of immigrants, but these policies were only mildly successful.
The most successful of the immigration reforms were during President Obama’s administration. Upon taking power in 2009, the president established ‘Operation Streamline,' where the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Unit embarked on a deportation program for illegal immigrants. By the end of the program’s deadline in 2010, the unit had removed over 150,000 undocumented immigrants from the United States (Abrego & Gleeson, 2013, p. 3). To prove that his government did not just want to aimlessly get rid of immigrants, the government in 2013 proposed the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Bill. The bill was initially introduced in the Congress in 2001 but was rejected and had since then been severally re-introduced (Mahony, 2012, p. 460). The legislation guaranteed conditional residency to immigrants before granting them permanent residency after they successfully met further qualifications. According to the bill, for an immigrant to be granted conditional residency, he/she must have undergone background checks on security. Moreover, he/she must have undertaken medical examinations and graduated from an American high school (Mahony, 2012, p. 460). Such a person should be of good moral character and should not have abused a student visa granted to him/her. He/she should also not have committed any felony. Unfortunately, the government did not succeed in getting the legislation passed. The bill was successful in the House of Representatives but failed to pass in the US Senate.
Even with the defeat of the bill, President Obama was determined to solve the immigration crisis in the United States. In June 2012, he declared that his government would not deport young undocumented immigrants matching the criteria elaborated in the DREAM Bill. He created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program provided an estimated 553,000 undocumented immigrant youth with a temporary two-year relief from deportation (Abrego & Gleeson, 2013, p. 4). In January 2013, eight bipartisan senators led by New York Senator Charles Schumer introduced comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The policies in the law included improved work visa options for low-skilled workers, the program for the acquisition of citizenship by illegal immigrants and a permanent residency for the undocumented immigrants (Abrego & Gleeson, 2013). In June 2013, the Senate adopted the proposed legislation as Section 744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (Abrego & Gleeson, 2013, p. 5).
In November 2014, President Obama launched a series of executive actions on immigration. His first work was cracking down on illegal immigration at the U.S. border (The White House, 2014, par. 5). Any person attempting to cross the border illegally faced the full force of the law. So as to prevent the breakdown of families caused by the U.S. immigration laws, President Obama’s second executive action involved the deportation of felons and not their families. The president focused on only deporting people considered a threat to national security like terrorists. Moreover, to ensure accountability, the president’s third executive action provided that illegal immigrants who had stayed in the nation for five or more years and had children born in the country were to be registered and undertake criminal and state safety background tests (The White House, 2014). Those people who passed the tests were to commence paying their respective percentage of taxes and live in the United States for three years without any worry of deportation. The undocumented immigrants who arrived as children before January 2010 would receive legal permanent residency. The action provided undocumented immigrants with a legal means of earning American citizenship (The White House, 2014). However, even though these laws have tried to positively streamline immigration in the United States, illegal immigrants, and their families have experienced negative repercussions of the policies.
Immigration Issues in the United States
The US immigration laws have led to the breakup of immigrant families. According to data provided by the Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 5 million children in the country live in combined legal types of families with at least one parent being an illegal immigrant (American Immigration Council, 2012, p. 1). The U.S. immigration policies enforce the deportation of illegal immigrants. Once an illegal immigrant spouse faces deportation, the remaining spouse has the option of either remaining in the United States or following the partner out of the United States. Upon a spouse choosing to stay in the United States, a family ends up being broken. The situation gets worse if the couple has children as the children get separated from one parent. Moreover, if the deported parent was the breadwinner, a family’s economic security gets affected (AIC, 2012). A family experiences food shortages as the breadwinner’s income is no longer available.
Another issue facing immigration is that of Dreamers. The Dreamers is a public illegal immigrant youth lobby group in the United States. It composes of illegal immigrant youth in the United States who were fighting for the enactment of the DREAM bill that would award them U.S. citizenship (Nicholls, 2013). The Dreamers portrayed themselves as bright students who aimed to make significant future economic contributions to the United States. They also sought to rebut the stereotype that immigrant youths were delinquents. The movement also intended to assert that their illegal status was not their fault as they grew up in the United States. Their parents might have been undocumented immigrants but the youth felt that they were Americans (Nicholls, 2013). By the end of 2010, a majority of American citizens supported the Dreamer’s Initiative. They felt that the government should grant the youth a legal status in the United States. Unfortunately for the movement, the Senate did not pass the DREAM Act. However, at the very least, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program initiated by President Obama provided the youth with a two-year deportation relief (Nicholls, 2013, p. 123).
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The immigration laws also led to the rise of children who get caught in the Child Welfare System (Dreby, 2010). These are the children born to immigrant parents whose families have broken up because of parents’ deportation. The children, therefore, end up in the foster care system. Parents facing deportation are denied a chance to decide on whether to leave their children with relatives or to take them along out of the United States. There is a bias in a child welfare system against illegal immigrant parents and family members. The system uses the best interest of a child principle to prevent any form of interaction between children and their parents (Dreby, 2010). Children are also not allowed to stay with their relatives who are also immigrants albeit legal ones. They are instead taken under the children welfare system.
According to statistics revealed by the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Human Services, over 200,000 parents of US citizen children were deported from the United States between 1 July 2010 and 31 September 2012, leaving most children to be taken under the foster care system (AIC, 2012, p. 1). Furthermore, a 2011 analysis conducted by the University of California Berkeley Law School showed that out of 83% of persons arrested through the secure communities initiative and placed in immigration detention, 37% of them admitted to having a U.S. born child (AIC, 2012, p. 1). The deportation of spouses and the placement of their off springs under social welfare have unfavorable effects on kids. They are forced to adapt their new lives. They also experience social and emotional stress and demonstrate negative behavioral changes such as frequent crying, fear, anxiety, and changes in their eating patterns. Their education is also negatively affected (Dreby, 2010). While in class, these children rarely concentrate. Consequently, all these problems end up polluting the minds of these children about immigration. They end up equating immigration with something illegal and adverse and grow up with a low self-esteem as they are ashamed of their background.
Apart from the above-mentioned issues, immigration in the United States has always been affected by the lack of a clear solution that handles all aspects of immigration. The laws in place do not cover all immigration aspects. For example, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act did not provide amnesty for the unskilled and manual-skilled immigrant workers who form the largest population of the immigrants (Hanson, 2005, p. 347). The primary cause of the lack of a solution for immigration has been attributed to politics. As early as during President Clinton’s regime, the Congress always tried to politicize the immigration issue. Republican Congressmen were always anti-immigration hardliners who did not believe in immigrants acquiring the U.S. citizenship status. When President George H. Bush, a Republican, established the family fairness policy that aimed to extend amnesty to the families that had not been covered by the 1986 Act, the Congress tried to oppose him (Fargues et al., 2011, p. 15). However, the Republican Congress people forming a majority of the House of Representatives changed their mind and instead supported the president’s policy.
In the Obama administration, the Congress still continues to frustrate efforts aimed at the enactment of a comprehensive immigration law. In 2010, the House of Representatives passed the DREAM bill. However, it failed in the Senate. But perhaps the Republican politicians who are mostly anti-immigration hardliners are changing their stance after seeing the importance of the immigration population politically. According to an analysis conducted by the Center for American Progress, President Obama was re-elected in 2012 with the support of 73% Asian American voters and 71% Latin American voters (Abrego & Gleeson, 2013, p. 16). In 2013, the Congress passed Section 744, called The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act (Abrego & Gleeson, 2013, p. 5). With the 2016 elections fast approaching, more Republicans are expected to agree to the establishment of Immigration reforms. As for whether they will change their stance if a Democrat candidate wins the presidency, people will just have to wait and see.
Immigration in the United States has been a topic that has been ongoing for several decades. It is because of the lack of a present comprehensive legislation that caters for all aspects of immigration. Furthermore, the problem is compounded by the several issues that have arisen as a consequence of the U.S. immigration laws and policies. The laws have negatively impacted family dynamics forcing families to live across borders from each other due to deportations. The laws have also multiplied immigrants’ vulnerabilities, because when both spouses are undocumented, their children are forced to enter the child welfare system. The legislations have also led to the rise of the Dreamers youth movement composed of undocumented young people who are fighting for legal recognition as permanent U.S. residents. Politicians, on the other hand, especially anti-immigration hardliners are contributing to the lack of a solution for immigration in the U.S. by frustrating efforts aimed at establishing a comprehensive immigration law. Hopefully, with the November 2016 elections approaching and with the politicians’ desperation for immigrant votes, they will change their stance, and will participate in passing immigration laws.