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Overhauling Immigration Law: A Brief History and Basic Principles of Reform

By Mary Giovagnoli

For more than a decade, efforts to systematically overhaul the United States immigration system have been overshadowed by other events—from foreign wars and national security concerns to the financial crisis that threatened to bring down the world economy. In addition to this ever-changing list of national crises, years of partisan political fighting and the resurgence of a volatile restrictionist movement that thrives on angry rhetoric have made opportunities for advancing genuine reform few and far between. As a result, many in both parties opted for a political strategy that emphasized immigration enforcement over immigration reform, holding to the argument that efficiently deporting non-citizens would reduce illegal immigration and pave the way for more sensible outcomes in the future. Instead, the unprecedented spending on immigration enforcement, the extraordinary rise in deportations, the passage of state anti-immigrant laws, and the almost daily anecdotes of separated families and discrimination finally took their toll. Voters signaled in the 2012 federal elections that they were tired of enforcement-only immigration policies and the senseless pain they caused. Now more than ever, the opportunity to craft immigration laws that reflect American values and needs is a distinct possibility. The White House, Members of Congress, and countless organizations have issued new ideas and principles for making the system work. These proposals vary and will likely change even more as proposals translate into legislation, but there are a number of common themes that exist. This paper lays out an overview of the underlying legal system, the most basic principles of reform, the reasons behind them, and how they are likely to be reflected in coming legislation.Read more...

Published On: Thu, Feb 14, 2013 | Download File

The Dividends of Citizenship: Why Legalization Must Lead to Citizenship

The most concrete proposals for immigration reform thus far in 2013 include earned legalization with a path to U.S. citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. This is a process that essentially permits unauthorized immigrants to come forward and receive a provisional legal status that—after paying taxes, proving they understand English and civics, passing all criminal and other background checks, and showing they are committed to the United States—allows them to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs). From there, like other LPRs before them, they will have to decide whether or not to make the final commitment to their adopted country by becoming American citizens. Some critics of the new proposals argue that citizenship is too good for unauthorized immigrants, or that legal status is really all they need to thrive in this country. But that kind of short-sighted thinking ignores some very important facts: more than half a century ago the U.S. finally abandoned the idea that there should be a second-class status for any group by denying them citizenship and, in fact, today the vast majority of Americans support a path to citizenship.

The integration of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now living in the United States into full citizenship is not only good for those individuals, but the country as a whole. Citizenship, and the quest for citizenship, facilitates integration in myriad ways that legal status alone does not. From the learning of English and U.S. civics to the earning of higher incomes, serving jury duty, and voting in elections, citizens and would-be citizens benefit from a deeper form of incorporation into U.S. society than do legal immigrants who have no hope of ever applying for naturalization.Read more...

Published On: Thu, Feb 07, 2013 | Download File

The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform (1990-1997): “Jordan Commission”

As the Congress begins a serious discussion on immigration reform, it would be a mistake to ignore the lessons of the past.  In that vein, many members of Congress are invoking the The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, informally known as the Jordan Commission, for its chair, Barbara Jordan, a former Democratic Congresswoman from Texas.  Issued in 1990’s, the Commission’s recommendations reflect the thinking of the time, but do not necessarily provide guidance for resolving today’s immigration crisis.  This fact sheet provides a brief overview on the Commission and the necessity of tempering its recommendations with the knowledge we have gained in the past quarter of a century since its recommendations were released.Read more...

Published On: Tue, Feb 05, 2013 | Download File

Legalize Who?: A Portrait of the 11 Million Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States

As the immigration debate heats up in Congress, the central question will be what to do about the 11 million unauthorized immigrants now living and working in the United States. The media often portrays this population as barely literate young men who pour over the southern border and live solitary lives, rather than providing a nuanced understanding of who the 11 million really are: adults and children, mothers and fathers, homeowners and churchgoers who are invested in their communities. This fact sheet attempts to provide a basic understanding of who the unauthorized are as people: where they live, where they’re from, how long they have been here, and what family and community ties to the United States they have.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other sources provide this very necessary social context to the immigration debate. And what the data reveal are that most of the unauthorized have been here for over a decade. While they are concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, and New York, there are sizeable unauthorized populations in other states across the country. Three-fifths of unauthorized immigrants come from Mexico, but significant numbers also come from Central America and the Philippines. Nearly half of all adult unauthorized immigrants have children under the age of 18, and roughly 4.5 million native-born U.S.-citizen children have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent. More than half of unauthorized immigrant adults have a high-school diploma or more education. Nearly half of longtime unauthorized households are homeowners. And approximately two-fifths of unauthorized immigrant adults attend religious services every week. In other words, most unauthorized immigrants are already integrating into U.S. society not only through their jobs, but through their families and communities as well.Read more...

Published On: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 | Download File

Back to the Future: The Impact of Legalization Then and Now

While there are many facets to an intelligent immigration reform package, one thing is clear: legalization for undocumented immigrants helps all of us.  Most economists recognize that legalization has worked in the past.  After a significant percentage of the undocumented population legalized under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), information on IRCA applicants was used to assess the legislation’s impact.  My own research has shown that IRCA provided immediate direct benefits by successfully turning formerly clandestine workers into higher-paid employees. Other researchers have shown that IRCA provided unexpected indirect benefits to the communities where legalized immigrants resided.  After legalization, fewer of these immigrants sent money back to their home countries, and those who sent back money sent back less.  More of their earnings were spent in their communities in the United States.  Research also showed that the legalized population became participating community members—nearly two out of five people who legalized under IRCA were U.S. citizens by 2001.

What we learned from IRCA gives us a bird’s eye view into what we can expect to happen with a new legalization program. By examining three areas of concern: work, family, and community, we can see what economic and social benefits would be derived from a legalization program in 2013.

By Sherrie A. Kossoudji, Ph.D.

Published On: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 | Download File

Economic Progress via Legalization: Lessons from the Last Legalization Program

By Rob Paral

The data analyzed in IPC's latest Special Report, Economic Progress via Legalization, indicates that unauthorized immigrants who gained legal status in the 1980s through the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) experienced clear improvement in their socioeconomic situation.  Between 1990 and 2006, the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously.  Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance. The findings presented in this report support the notion that legalization of unauthorized immigrants can play a role in promoting economic growth and lessening socioeconomic disparities.  Reforming our immigration system is not an obstacle to getting our economy back on track—it is part of the solution.

Originally Published Nov. 5, 2009

Published On: Thu, Jan 31, 2013 | Download File

Strength in Diversity: The Economic and Political Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians

US ThumbThe Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the United States (Updated May 2014)

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Published On: Sat, Jan 19, 2013 | Download File

New Americans in Minnesota

Minnesota ThumbThe Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the North Star State (Updated May 2014)

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Published On: Fri, Jan 11, 2013 | Download File

New Americans in Massachusetts

Massachusetts ThumbThe Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Bay State (Updated May 2014)

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Published On: Fri, Jan 11, 2013 | Download File

New Americans in Oklahoma

Oklahoma ThumbThe Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Sooner State (Updated June 2014)

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Published On: Fri, Jan 11, 2013 | Download File