A Primer on US Immigration Policy

Social Justice Policy Brief #143 | By: Inijah Quadri | December 22, 2022

Header photo taken from: Getty Images

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With banners reading “This is our home” and candles in hand, immigrants and their allies gathered on the Las Vegas Strip to urge the Democrat-led Congress to include a measure that would protect undocumented immigrants in the omnibus federal budget bill, which is expected to receive a vote before year’s end.

Photo taken from: Jeff Scheid / The Nevada Independent

Policy Summary

Immigration policy and border control in the United States have long been contentious and divisive issues in American politics and society. The United States has a long history of immigration, with millions of people from around the world coming to the country seeking a better life, freedom, and opportunity. At the same time, the issue of immigration and border control has also been a source of tension and debate, as the country grapples with questions of how to balance the needs and rights of immigrants with the need to protect national security and control its borders.

Types of Immigration

There are several different types of immigrants seeking admission to the United States, including:

a. Asylum seekers: These are individuals who  seek refuge  due to persecution, violence, or other threats to their safety in their home countries. According to U.S. law, asylum seekers have the right to apply for protection in the United States and  have their cases considered by immigration officials.

b. Immigrants fleeing poverty and climate change: Many people immigrate to the United States in search of economic opportunity and a better standard of living. In recent years, there has also been an increase in immigrants fleeing poverty and climate change in their home countries.

c. Skilled immigrants: The United States has traditionally welcomed skilled immigrants, such as doctors, engineers, and other professionals, as they can contribute to the country’s economy and competitiveness.

d. Dreamers: The term “Dreamers” refers to individuals who were brought to the United States as children without proper documentation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was established in 2012, provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization for certain Dreamers.

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Photo taken from: CitizenPath

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Foreign-born population had hit a record of 47 million in April 2022 and increased to two million since January 2021, driven largely by illegal immigration.

Chart taken from: Center for Immigration Studies

(click or tap to enlargen)

Statistics on Immigrants

Over the past few years, the number of immigrants in the United States has remained relatively stable, hovering around 44.9 million. According to data from the American Immigration Council, the top countries of origin for immigrants in the United States are Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines. The majority of immigrants in the United States are legal permanent residents, though there is also a significant number of unauthorized immigrants and temporary workers in the country.

The Roles Immigrants Play in American Life

Immigrants have played a vital role in American life and have significantly contributed to the country’s economy, culture, and diversity. Many immigrants work in industries such as agriculture, construction, and healthcare, filling important labor shortages and helping to drive economic growth. Immigrants are also more likely to start their own businesses than native-born Americans, and their entrepreneurial spirit has contributed to the country’s innovation and competitiveness.

Diverse Issues in Immigration Reform

There are many different issues that are involved in immigration reform, including:

a. Border security: The United States has long sought to control its borders to prevent illegal immigration and protect national security. This has included measures such as building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and increasing the number of Border Patrol agents.

b. Deportation: The United States has a system in place for deporting individuals who are in the country illegally or who have violated the terms of their visas. This has been a controversial issue, as many immigrants and advocacy groups argue that the system is unfair and can result in the separation of families.

c. Legal immigration: The United States has a complex system for legal immigration, which includes various visas and pathways for people to come to the country. Some people argue that the system is too slow and cumbersome, while others argue that it needs to be more selective in order to protect national security and ensure that immigrants are able to assimilate into American society.

d. Dreamers: As mentioned above, Dreamers are individuals who were brought to the United States as children without proper documentation. The DACA program provides temporary protection from deportation for certain Dreamers, but there has been debate over whether the program should be made permanent or whether Dreamers should be given a pathway to citizenship.

Existing Policy Under Consideration

There are several immigration policies that are currently under consideration in Congress and the administration. These include:

a. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021: This bill, which was introduced in the Senate in February 2021, would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other immigrants who are in the country illegally. It would also provide additional resources for border security and increase the number of visas available for skilled immigrants.

b. The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act: This bill, which was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2018, would provide funding for border security measures such as a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and increase the number of Border Patrol agents. It would also provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other immigrants who are in the country illegally, but only if they meet certain requirements, such as paying a fine and passing a criminal background check.

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Immigration solutions need long-term blueprints, most appropriately written by Congress, not quick fixes by a president. To name an example, economic development and building political institutions in Central America that diminish migration pressure take time and meaningful congressional appropriations.

Photo taken from: Getty Images

Chances of New Policies Being Enacted

It is difficult to predict the chances of  immigration policies being enacted in the new Congress. Immigration reform has long been a divisive issue in American politics, and it is likely that any new policies will face significant opposition from some members of Congress. However, the Biden administration has made it a priority to address immigration reform, and it is possible that some new policies could be enacted with the support of a Democratic-controlled Congress.


American immigration policy and border control are complex and multifaceted issues that have a significant impact on American society and the lives of millions of people. While the United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants and has benefited from their contributions, the issue of immigration reform remains controversial and divisive. It is important for the country to find a balance between protecting its borders and national security, and providing opportunities and protections for immigrants who come to the United States seeking a better life.

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 


American Immigration Council: (https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/immigrants-in-the-united-states)

Migration Policy Institute Logo

Migration Policy Institute: (https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#:~:text=How%20many%20U.S.%20residents%20are,of%20approximately%20950%2C000%20from%202020.)

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MIT News: (https://news.mit.edu/2022/study-immigrants-more-likely-start-firms-create-jobs-0509)

pew research center

Pew Research Center: (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/04/27/key-facts-about-title-42-the-pandemic-policy-that-has-reshaped-immigration-enforcement-at-u-s-mexico-border/)


The Guardian: (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2022/aug/18/century-climate-crisis-migration-why-we-need-plan-great-upheaval)


The White House: (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/07/27/fact-sheet-the-biden-administration-blueprint-for-a-fair-orderly-and-humane-immigration-system/)

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US Congress Legislation: (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/6136)

US Congress Legislation: (https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/1177)

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USCIS: (https://www.uscis.gov/i-821d#:~:text=ALERT%3A%20Deferred%20Action%20for%20Childhood,to%20preserve%20and%20fortify%20DACA.)

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Washington Post: (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2018/06/27/the-news-media-usually-show-immigrants-as-dangerous-criminals-thats-changed-for-now-at-least/)

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