Nothing stirs up a hornet’s nest like talk of amnesty for immigrants who are in the country illegally, although there’s a lot of disagreement over how to define the term.
A 2007 effort to overhaul the immigration system, led by Bush, failed in part because Republicans were dismayed that it included a process to give otherwise law-abiding immigrants who were in the country illegally a chance to become citizens. Critics complained that would be offering amnesty.
All sides know it’s not practical to talk about sending 11 million-plus people back to their countries of origin. So one big challenge this time is finding an acceptable way to resolve the status of those who are in the country illegally.
Backers of the Senate bill stress that those who are in the country illegally would have a longer and more difficult path to citizenship under their plan than would immigrants who followed all the rules.
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 more than 3,000 a day. By mid-April, nearly 489,000 people had applied and more than 268,000 had been approved, with most of the rest still under consideration.
Applications have come from all 50 states, with the largest number coming from California and Texas. Nearly 75 percent of the applicants are originally from Mexico.
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.
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.
HISTORY: HERE A LAW, THERE A LAW
Until the late 1800s, immigration was largely a free for all. Then came country-by-country limits. Since then, big changes in U.S. immigration law have helped produce big shifts in migration patterns.
Among the more notable laws:
—1965 Immigration and Nationality Act: Abolished country-by-country limits, established a new system that determined immigration preference based on family relationships and needed skills, and expanded the categories of family members who could enter without numerical limits.
—1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act: Legalized about 2.7 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, 84 percent of them from Mexico and Central America.
—1990 Immigration Act: Increased worldwide immigration limit to a ‘‘flexible cap’’ of 675,000 a year. The number can go higher in some years if there are unused visas available from the previous year.
—1996 Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Expanded possible reasons for deporting people or ruling them ineligible to enter the U.S., expedited removal procedures, gave state and local police power to enforce immigration laws.
—Post-2001: In 2001, talk percolated about a new immigration plan to deal with unauthorized immigrants, guest workers and violence along the Mexican border. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks of 2001 put an end to that, amid growing unease over illegal immigration.
ABOUT LAST TIME. ...Continued...