Immigration And Immigration Reform

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This may be the year Congress decides what to do about the millions of immigrants living illegally in the U.S.

Since the Gang of Eight are releasing their proposal for immigration reform tomorrow, here are facts, figures and other information to help understand the current debate over immigration:

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WHY NOW?

Major problems with U.S. immigration have been around for decades. President George W. Bush tried to change the system and failed. President Barack Obama promised to overhaul it in his first term but never did. In his second term, he’s making immigration a priority, and Republicans also appear ready to deal.

Why the new commitment?

Obama won 71 percent of Hispanic voters in his 2012 re-election campaign, and he owes them. Last year’s election also sent a loud message to Republicans that they can’t ignore this pivotal voting bloc.

It’s been the kind of breathtaking turnaround you rarely see in politics. Plus, there’s growing pressure from business leaders, who want to make it easier for the U.S. to attract highly educated immigrants but also legally bring in more lower-skilled workers such as farm laborers.

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WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

Talk about “comprehensive immigration reform” generally centers on four main questions:

*What should the United Stares do about the 11 million-plus immigrants who live in the U.S. without legal permission?

*How can it tighten border security?

*How to keep businesses from employing people who are in the U.S. illegally.

*How to improve the legal immigration system, now so convoluted that the adjective “Byzantine” pops up all too frequently.

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WHAT’S THE GANG OF EIGHT?

A group of four Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate, taking the lead in trying to craft legislation that would address all four questions.

Obama is preparing his own plan as a backup in case congressional talks fail. There’s also a bipartisan House group working on draft legislation, but House Republican leaders may leave it to the Senate to make the first move.

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COMING TO AMERICA

A record 40.4 million immigrants live in the U.S., representing 13 percent of the population. More than 18 million are naturalized citizens, 11 million are legal permanent or temporary residents, and more than 11 million are in the country without legal permission, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a private research organization.

Those in the U.S. illegally made up about 3.7 percent of the U.S. population in 2010. While overall immigration has steadily grown, the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally peaked at 12 million in 2007.

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WE’RE NO. 1

The U.S. is the leading destination for immigrants. Russia’s second, with 12.3 million, according to Pew.

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HISTORY: DOING THE WAVE

The U.S. is in its fourth and largest immigration wave.

First came the Colonial era, then an 1820-1870 influx of newcomers mostly from Northern and Western Europe. Most were Germans and Irish, but the gold rush and jobs on the transcontinental railroad also attracted Chinese immigrants.

In the 1870s, immigration declined due to economic problems and restrictive legislation.

The third wave, between 1881 and 1920, brought more than 23 million people to the U.S., mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe, aided by cheaper trans-Atlantic travel and lured by employers seeking workers.

Then came the Great Depression and more restrictive immigration laws, and immigration went into decline for decades.

The fourth wave, still underway, began in 1965 with the end of immigration limits based on nationality. Foreign-born people made up 1 in 20 residents of the U.S. in 1960; today, the figure is about 1 in 8.

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WHERE FROM?

Twenty-nine percent of the foreign-born in the U.S., or about 11.7 million people, came from Mexico. About 25 percent came from South and East Asia, 9 percent from the Caribbean, 8 percent from Central America, 7 percent South America, 4 percent the Middle East and the rest from elsewhere.

The figures are more lopsided for immigrants living here illegally: An estimated 58 percent are from Mexico. The next closest figure is 6 percent from El Salvador, says the government.

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GETTING IN

Here’s one way to think about the ways immigrants arrive in the U.S: Some come in the front door, others the side door and still others the back door, as laid out in a report from the private Population Reference Bureau.

_Arriving through the front door: people legally sponsored by their families or employers. Also refugees and asylum-seekers, and immigrants who win visas in an annual “diversity” lottery.

_Side door: legal temporary arrivals, including those who get visas to visit, work or study. There are dozens of types of nonimmigrant visas, available to people ranging from business visitors to foreign athletes and entertainers. Visitors from dozens of countries don’t even need visas.

_Back door: Somewhat more than half of those in the U.S. illegally have come in the back door, evading border controls, Pew estimates. The rest legally entered, but didn’t leave when they were supposed to or otherwise violated terms of their visas.

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HOW DO WE KNOW?

It’s widely accepted that there are more than 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

But how do we know that?

Those who are living here without permission typically aren’t eager to volunteer that information. Number-crunchers dig into census data and other government surveys, make some educated assumptions, adjust for people who may be left out, mix in population information from other countries and tend to arrive at similar figures.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates there were 11.5 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally in January 2011. Pew puts the number at 11.1 million as of March 2011.

Demographers use what’s called the “residual” method to get their tally. They take estimates of the legal foreign-born population and subtract that number from the total foreign-born population. The remainder represents those who are living in the country without legal permission.

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A NEW ACRONYM

The president’s draft immigration proposal would create a “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” visa. It would allow those who are here illegally to become legal permanent residents within eight years if they met certain requirements such as a criminal background check. They could later be eligible to become U.S. citizens.

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GETTING A REPRIEVE

While the larger immigration debate goes on, the government already is offering as many as 1.76 million immigrants who are in the country illegally a way to avoid deportation, at least for now.

Obama announced a program in June that puts off deportation for many people brought here as children. Applicants for the reprieve must have arrived before they turned 16, be younger than 31 now, be high school graduates or in school, or have served in the military. They can’t have a serious criminal record or pose a threat to public safety or national security.

Applications for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are averaging 3,300 a day. By mid-March, nearly 454,000 people had applied and more than 245,000 had been approved, with most of the rest still under consideration.

In some ways, the program closely tracks the failed DREAM Act, which would have given many young illegal immigrants a path to legal status. Obama’s program doesn’t give them legal status but it at least protects them from deportation for two years.

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LATINOS RISING

Census figures show that between 1960 and 2010, immigration from Europe declined while the numbers coming from Latin America and Asia took off. As the immigrants’ points of origin changed, so did their destinations. Concentrations shifted from the Northeast and Midwest to the South and West.

A few Census Bureau snapshots:

_In 1960, there were fewer than 1 million people in the U.S. who were born in Latin America. By 2010, there were 21.2 million.

_In 1960, 75 percent of foreigners in the U.S. came from Europe. By 2010, 80 percent came from Latin America and Asia.

_In 1960: 47 percent of the foreign-born lived in the Northeast and 10 percent in the South. By 2010, 22 percent lived in the Northeast and 32 percent in the South.

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WHO’S LEAVING?

Mexicans, mostly. Since 1986, more than 4 million noncitizens have been deported. Deportations have expanded in the Obama administration, reaching 410,000 in 2012 from 30,000 in 1990. Most of those deported – 75 percent – are sent back to Mexico. Nearly half of those removed had prior criminal convictions. So far, the Obama administration has deported more than 1.6 million people.

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SKIPPING IT

Nearly two-thirds of the 5.4 million legal immigrants from Mexico who are eligible to become U.S. citizens haven’t done so, according to a Pew study released in February. Their rate of naturalization is half that of legal immigrants from all other countries combined. The barriers to naturalization cited by Mexican nonapplicants include the need to learn English, the difficulty of the citizenship exam and the $680 application fee.

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FAMILIES VS. JOBS

A big question in the immigration debate centers on how much priority to give to the family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Under current law, the U.S. awards a much larger proportion of green cards to family members than to foreigners with job prospects here. About two-thirds of permanent legal immigration to the U.S. is family-based, compared with about 15 percent that is employment-based, according to the Migration Policy Institute. The rest is largely humanitarian.

Some policymakers think employment-based immigration should be boosted to help the economy. Advocates for families want to make sure any such action doesn’t come at the expense of people seeking to join relatives in the U.S.

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Posted on April 7, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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