Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

A Primer on U.S. Immigration Policy *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

A Primer on U.S. Immigration Policy *

Article excerpt


This chapter provides a broad overview of U.S. immigration policy. The first section addresses policies governing how foreign nationals enter the United States either to reside permanently or to stay temporarily. Related topics within this section include visa issuance and security, forms of quasilegal status, and naturalization. The second section discusses enforcement policies both for excluding foreign nationals from admission into the United States, as well as for detaining and removing those who enter the country unlawfully or who enter lawfully but subsequently commit crimes that make them deportable. The section also covers worksite enforcement and immigration fraud. The third section addresses policies for unauthorized aliens residing in the United States. While intended to be comprehensive, this primer may omit some immigration-related topics. It does not discuss policy issues or congressional concerns about specific immigration-related policies and programs.

Immigration Inflows and Related Topics

U.S. immigration policy is governed largely by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which was first codified in 1952 and has been amended significantly several times since.1 Implementation of INA policies is carried out by multiple executive branch agencies. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has primary responsibility for immigration functions through several agencies: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Department of State (DOS) issues visas to foreign nationals overseas, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) operates immigration courts through its Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR).

Foreign-born populations with different legal statuses are referred to throughout this chapter. The term aliens refers to people who are not U.S. citizens, including those legally and not legally present.2 The two basic types of legal aliens are (1) immigrants (not including refugees and asylees) and (2) nonimmigrants. Immigrants refers to foreign nationals lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.3 Nonimmigrants refers to foreign nationals temporarily and lawfully admitted to the United States for a specific purpose and period of time, including tourists, diplomats, students, temporary workers, and exchange visitors, among others.

Refugees and asylees refer to persons fleeing their countries because of persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion (see "Refugees and Asylees"). Refugees and asylees are not classified as immigrants under the INA, but once admitted, they may adjust their status to lawful permanent resident (LPR).

Naturalized citizens refers to LPRs who become U.S. citizens through a process known as naturalization (described below), generally after residing in the United States continuously for at least five years. Noncitizens are persons who have not naturalized and may include immigrants as well as nonimmigrants.

Unauthorized aliens refers to foreign nationals who reside unlawfully in the United States and who either entered the United States illegally ("without inspection") or entered lawfully and temporarily ("with inspection") but subsequently violated the terms of their admission, typically by "overstaying" their visa duration.4

Permanent Immigration5

Four general principles underlie the current system of permanent immigration: family reunification, U.S. labor market contribution, origincountry diversity, and humanitarian assistance. These principles are reflected in different components of permanent immigration. Family reunification occurs primarily through family-sponsored immigration. U.S. labor market contribution occurs through employment-based immigration. Origin-country diversity is addressed through the Diversity Immigrant Visa. …

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