The Path to U.S. Immigration Reform: Addressing the Challenges and Opportunities in a Globalized World

Social Justice Policy Brief #147 | By: Inijah Quadri | July 5, 2023
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Immigration, a cornerstone of the United States’ history and growth, also has consistently been a contentious topic in U.S. policy discourse. Immigration public policy has been influenced by socio-economic, political, and humanitarian considerations. According to data from the Pew Research Center, more than 44 million immigrants live in the U.S., making up 13.7% of the nation’s population. The complexities of immigration are escalating in an era of globalization, technological advancement, and increased international mobility.

The current U.S. immigration system is widely criticized as being outdated and ineffective, often failing to address economic needs, family reunification, refugee and asylum considerations, and the status of undocumented immigrants already in the country. Comprehensive immigration reform, therefore, is essential for a system that is just, humane, and suits America’s needs in the 21st century.


Approaches to immigration reform in the United States have been multifaceted, ranging from attempts to overhaul the entire immigration system to more targeted policies addressing specific issues. These include the DREAM Act, which provides a way to achieve legal status for individuals brought to the U.S. as children, and the RAISE Act, which aims to transition the U.S. to a merit-based immigration system. 

The DREAM Act, offering a potential pathway to legal status for individuals brought to the U.S. as children, has been introduced in Congress multiple times. However,  it has yet to become law. Similarly, the RAISE Act, which aims to transition the U.S. to a merit-based immigration system, prioritizing immigrants based on skills, education, and proficiency in English, has also not been passed as of now.

Proposed immigration reforms have sparked considerable debate. Critics (e.g. political conservatives, anti-immigration groups, and some segments of the general public concerned with national security and resource allocation) argue that lenient immigration policies may lead to a surge in illegal immigration, risk national security, and strain public resources. Proponents (e.g. human rights organizations, immigrant advocacy groups, and businesses seeking skilled labor), on the other hand, point to the potential economic growth stimulated by skilled immigrants, the moral imperative to aid refugees and asylum-seekers, and the need to resolve the status of millions of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.

Some significant cases that shed light on the complexity of immigration reform include:

a. DACA and DREAM Act: The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was established by President Obama in 2012 to protect from deportation certain immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. The Dream Act is legislation that seeks to make the DACA Program law. The Act directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to cancel removal and grant lawful permanent resident status on a conditional basis to certain non-U.S. nationals who initially entered the United States as minors (younger than 18 years of age). The DREAM Act, offering a more permanent solution, has been introduced in Congress multiple times but has never become law.

b. Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy: Under this policy, adults who entered the U.S. from the southern border were prosecuted for illegal entry. Children can’t be imprisoned with parents and other family members, so young kids were taken into federal custody — resulting in more than 3,000 children being separated from their families. This policy provoked a national and international outcry about the treatment of migrants, and was rescinded by the Biden administration in early 2021.

c. The Biden Administration’s immigration bill: The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 is a sweeping immigration bill proposed by President Biden. The proposal included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, expanded refugee admissions, and increased funding for border technology. However, its passage remains uncertain.

Addressing the issue of immigration reform requires careful balancing of various interests. It necessitates cross-party cooperation, comprehensive legislation, effective enforcement, and consideration for humanitarian concerns. A modern and efficient immigration system that is flexible to changing dynamics can contribute significantly to the country’s economic growth, diversity, and global standing.

Engagement Resources

  • American Immigration Council ( A nonprofit organization advocating for the value of immigrants and immigration to the nation.
  • National Immigration Forum ( An advocacy organization promoting the value of immigrants and immigration, with a focus on policy analysis and communication.
  • Immigrant Legal Resource Center ( The ILRC is a national nonprofit resource center providing legal training, educational materials, and advocacy to advance immigrant rights.
  • Migration Policy Institute ( MPI is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank dedicated to the analysis of the movement of people worldwide.
  • National Immigration Law Center ( NILC is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.
  • American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU works in the courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the U.S. guarantee everyone in this country, including immigrants.
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