Building Rules: How Local Controls Shape Community Environments and Economies

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Chapter 7: Human Society

Chinese immigrants began to arrive in large numbers for the first time in the s after gold was discovered in California in Federal oversight of immigration began in , when Congress passed the Immigration Act. It established the collection of a fee from each noncitizen arriving at a U. Arriving immigrants were screened for the first time under this act, and entry by anyone deemed a "convict, lunatic, idiot, or person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge" was prohibited.

As the mining boom in the West began to subside, animosity toward the large populations of Chinese laborers and other foreigners surged, and so began a series of legislative measures to restrict immigration of certain racial groups, beginning with nationals of China. The Chinese Exclusion Act of was the first such law. It halted immigration of Chinese laborers for ten years, barred Chinese naturalization, and provided for the deportation of Chinese in the country illegally.

In a follow-on bill, Congress passed the Scott Act and banned the return of Chinese nationals with lawful status in the United States if they departed the country. In , the Geary Act extended the ten-year bar on Chinese labor immigration, and established restrictive policies toward Chinese immigrants with and without legal status. This peak immigration period—the last large-scale immigration wave prior to the current period—also led to new restrictions.


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In an expansion of racial exclusion, and by overriding a presidential veto, Congress passed the Immigration Act which prohibited immigration from a newly drawn "Asiatic barred zone" covering British India, most of Southeast Asia, and nearly all of the Middle East. It also expanded inadmissibility grounds to include anarchists, persons previously deported within the past year, and illiterate individuals over the age of Nativist and restrictionist sentiment continued through the s, prompting the United States to introduce numerical limitations on immigration for the first time.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of established the national-origins quota system, which set a ceiling on the number of immigrants that could be admitted to the United States from each country. It strongly favored northern and western European immigration. The Immigration and Nationality Act continued the national-origins quota system but for the first time allocated an immigration quota for Asian countries.

Although the discriminatory nature of the national-origins quota system had become increasingly discredited, it took until the Kennedy era and the ripple effects of the nation's civil-rights movement for a new philosophy guiding immigration to take hold.

The resulting Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of repealed the national-origins quota system and replaced it with a seven-category preference system based primarily on family unification. Overall, the legislation set in motion powerful forces that are still shaping the United States today. The act increased numerical limits on immigration from , to , A ceiling on immigration from the Americas , was imposed for the first time, and a per-country limit of 20, was set for Eastern Europe. The new caps did not include "immediate family members" of U.

In , the 20, per county limit was applied to the Western Hemisphere. The year before the Act, Congress terminated the Bracero program, which it had authorized during World War II to recruit agricultural workers from Mexico to fill farm-labor shortages in the United States. In the wake of these and other sweeping changes in the global economy, immigration flows that had been European-dominated for most of the nation's history gave way to predominantly Latin American and Asian immigration.

Today's large-scale immigration began in the s, and has been made up of both legal and illegal flows. Prior periods of large-scale immigration occurred before visas were subject to numerical ceilings, so the phenomenon of "illegal immigration" is a relatively recent element of immigration policy history and debates. The largest source country of legal admissions, Mexico, has also accounted for the largest share of illegal immigrants who cross the southwest land border with the United States to seek the comparatively higher wages available from U.

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By the mids, an estimated 3 to 5 million noncitizens were living unlawfully in the country. Ultimately, IRCA failed for several reasons. First, the legalization program excluded a significant slice of the unauthorized population that had arrived after the five-year cutoff date but stayed in the United States and became the core of a new unauthorized population. Second, improvements in border enforcement did not begin in earnest until the s. And the heart of the law—employer sanctions—had weak enforcement provisions that proved ineffective at checking hiring practices of sizable numbers of unauthorized immigrants.

Four years later, Congress passed the Immigration Act of to revamp the legal immigration system and admit a greater share of highly-skilled and educated immigrants. It raised legal immigration caps, modified the temporary nonimmigrant visa system, and revised the grounds of inadmissibility and deportation. The law also established Temporary Protected Status TPS , creating a statutory footing for permission to live and work in the United States to nationals of countries deemed unsafe for return because of armed conflict or natural disaster.

Overall, IRCA and its enforcement mechanisms were no match for the powerful forces that drive illegal migration. Both IRCA and the Act failed to adequately foresee and incorporate measures to provide and manage continued flows of temporary and permanent immigrants to meet the country's labor market needs, especially during the economic boom years of the s. As a result, illegal immigration grew dramatically and began to be experienced not only in the six traditional immigration destination states of New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Illinois, and California, but also in many other areas across the southeast, midwest, and mountain states that had not had experience with large-scale immigration for up to a century.

Although immigration served as a source of economic productivity and younger workers in areas where the population and workforces were aging, a large share of the immigration was comprised of illegal immigration flows.

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Thus, the challenge to deeply-held rule-of-law principles and the social change represented by this immigration generated progressively negative public sentiment about immigration that prompted Congress to pass a set of strict new laws in , as follows:.

Subsequently, Congress returned to shoring up legal immigration measures in by enacting the American Competitiveness in the Twenty-First Century Act to meet demand for skilled immigrants—especially in science, math, and engineering specialties—and enable employers to fill technology jobs that are a critical dimension of the post-industrial, information age economy. The act raised the annual number of H-1B visas given to high-skilled workers in specialty occupations to , in fiscal year FY , then to , for FY , , and At present, 65, H-1B visas per year are available, with an additional 20, H-1B visas due to a law passed in late for foreign-born individuals with advanced U.

The s saw the longest period of sustained economic and job growth the United States had experienced since at least World War II. Immigration—at both high and low ends of the labor market, both legal and illegal—was an important element in achieving the productivity and prosperity of the decade. Immigration also contributed to the economic transformation required for the United States to compete in a global economy. With more than 14 million newcomers legal and illegal , the s reached numerical levels that out-numbered the previous all-time high set during the first decade of the 20th century.

The trend has continued into the s with more than 16 million newcomers from No recent event has influenced the thinking and actions of the American public and its leaders as much as the terrorist attacks of September 11, The national security threat posed by international terrorism led to the largest reorganization of the federal government since World War II.

The overhaul brought about the merger of 22 federal agencies to create the Department of Homeland Security DHS in The Immigration and Naturalization Service INS , which had been part of the Department of Justice since , was dissolved and its functions were transferred to three newly created agencies within DHS, as follows:.

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It manages the IDENT biometric fingerprint information system used by all immigration agencies—including consulates abroad in visa screening—to confirm the identity of noncitizens entering the country. With regard to immigration, the act expanded the authority of law enforcement agencies to search, monitor, detain, and remove suspected terrorists, and allowed for the detention of foreign nationals for up to seven days before the government files criminal or immigration charges. It also strengthened border enforcement, especially along the northern border with Canada. Laws that followed include the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of EBSVERA , which tightened visa screening, border inspections, and tracking of foreign-born persons, including foreign students, particularly through broad use of biometric fingerprint records.

It also served as an impetus to create the US -VISIT program, as the bill mandated information-sharing systems that made national security data available to immigration officers responsible for issuing visas, making removal or admissions decisions, and for investigations and identification of noncitizens. In June , the U. Additionally, males over the age of 16 who were nationals of designated NSEERS countries and already living in the United States were required to register with the federal government and appear for "special registration" interviews with immigration officials.

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The program was discontinued in In , the REAL ID Act prohibited states from issuing driver's licenses to unauthorized individuals, and expanded terrorism-related grounds of inadmissibility, removal, and ineligibility for asylum. One year later, the Secure Fence Act of authorized the completion of miles of fencing along the southwest border with Mexico.

This objective is being bolstered by increased collaboration with foreign governments in law enforcement matters and through international agreements that allow bilateral sharing of information such as Passenger Name Records PNRs. One immediate result of tightened screening procedures was a dramatic drop in the number of visas the government issued to individuals wishing to visit, work, and live in the United States.

Between and , the number of nonimmigrant visas fell by 24 percent. The U. Although this is a numerical high historically, the foreign born make up a smaller percentage of the population today than in and when the immigrant share of the population peaked at 15 percent. The foreign-born share fell to a low of 5 percent 9. About 20 percent of all international migrants reside in the United States, which, as a country, accounts for less than 5 percent of the world's population.

The foreign-born population is comprised of approximately 42 percent naturalized citizens, 31 percent permanent residents green card holders , and 27 percent unauthorized immigrants. Roughly Chinese and Indian immigrants make up the second and third largest immigrant groups, with 1.

In , India replaced the Philippines as the third largest source country see Table 1. The top three regions of origin of the foreign-born population are Latin America, Asia, and Europe see Figure 1. The foreign-born population is geographically concentrated, with 65 percent residing in the six states that have long been the country's main immigrant destinations—about 25 percent in California alone in The other immigrant-heavy states are New York 11 percent of all foreign born , Texas 10 percent , Florida 9 percent , Illinois 4 percent , and New Jersey 5 percent.

The proximity of several of these states to Mexico and longstanding, continuous immigration to traditional metropolitan destinations in New York, New Jersey, and Illinois created strong networks that have grown over time. While these states continue to draw and represent the bulk of the foreign-born population, newcomers—particularly unauthorized immigrants from Mexico—began to settle in many additional destinations during the s. Employment opportunities—particularly in agriculture, food manufacturing and construction—mainly fueled the new settlement patterns.

They combined with lower costs of living and "hollowing out", i. As a result, states like Georgia, Nevada, and many others have become known as the "new growth" or "new destination" immigration states. Ten states, mostly in the south and west, have experienced over percent immigrant population growth since These changes and patterns help to explain why immigration has become an issue of national political concern and debate. The guiding principles, and different ways to immigrate to the United States were largely established by the Immigration and Nationality Act and take place through three primary immigration streams.

They are family re unification for U.


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  • The most common ways to immigrate are through the family-based or employment-based channels. Family-based immigration rests on the principle of family unity. Immediate family members of U. Family-based immigrants must be sponsored by a qualifying relative under any of six categories of relatives. Family-sponsored immigration has accounted for about two-thirds of all permanent immigration to the United States over the last decade. Employment-based visas for permanent immigration are dedicated to the nation's economic and labor market needs.

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    Employment-based immigration is limited to , visas per year, and has accounted for between 12 percent in and 22 percent in of legal immigration in the last decade. In FY, it was 13 percent. Employment-based green cards are available for five categories of workers, the majority of whom must be sponsored by their employer. Additionally, each year, approximately 50, individuals are granted permanent residency through the diversity visa lottery.

    Under the Immigration Act of , 55, applicants from countries that are underrepresented in U. Noncitizens must qualify for a family-based or employment-based visa, be a refugee or asylee, or be selected in the diversity visa lottery in order to become LPRs, i. LPRs can permanently live and work in the United States, are eligible to naturalize after a certain number of years, and are subject to removal if they commit a serious crime.

    With the exception of spouses, minor children, and parents of U. However, the demand to immigrate greatly exceeds the number of visas Congress authorizes the government to grant. Additionally, no more than 7 percent of immigrant visas can be issued to nationals of a single country.


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    • The result has been delays in granting applications for eligible green card petitioners that frequently span many years, especially for immediate family members from Mexico or the Philippines, for example, which are among the top five source countries for legal immigration but face severe delays in getting a green card. Over the past years, the levels of legal immigration have varied, from over 1 million people per year during the early 20th century to a trickle during the Great Depression and World War II see Figure 2. Immigrants legalized under IRCA caused the number of authorized immigrants to peak in the late s.

      The s and s, until the recession, have registered historic highs in overall immigration levels. The United States has long been the world's leading country of refuge, providing protection to victims of political, ethnic, religious and other forms of persecution through asylum and refugee resettlement.