Welcome to America: How Immigration Law Works in the U.S.

Welcome to America: How Immigration Law Works in the U.S.

Following the election of Donald Trump into office, the uproar surrounding immigration in the United States has only grown, especially concerning DACA (Consideration for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). However, many Americans don’t understand how immigration law works or the principles which govern it in America.

The United States Immigration system is a complex one, with many misconceptions. To clear some of the confusion, let’s discuss the basic principles of immigration law in America and take a brief look at recent policy changes.

A Fresh Start

There is a lot to consider when looking into how immigration works in the U.S., so let’s jump in. Immigration law is dictated by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which was created in 1952 to organize immigration law into one structure.

The INA allows for 675,000 worldwide permanent immigrants to move to the U.S. each year, with exceptions for family members in certain circumstances, as of the Immigration Act of 1990. These immigrants become Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) of the United States, and thus are able to apply for most jobs but are also able to remain in the country if unemployed—LPRs are known as green card holders.

Immigration Principles

There are a few principles for admitting immigrants into the U.S., primarily concerning their reason for immigrating. The basic principles of immigration law include family-based immigration, employment-based immigration, immigration for refugees and asylees, the Diversity Visa program, with allowances for other humanitarian efforts and with a per-country ceiling.

Other benefits include the ability to join the armed forces, receive financial assistance at public colleges or universities, and the possibility of applying to become a U.S. citizen (per eligibility requirements). Reuniting families is an important aspect of this policy, as many green card hopefuls are relatives of U.S. citizens or other LPRs.

For each category there are specific qualifications that a prospective LPR must meet to be allowed to immigrate to the U.S. as well as to later meet eligibility requirements to become a citizen.

The Current Discussion

America has long been known as the “melting pot,” a place for global citizens to foster their dreams—currently, about 14% of the U.S. population are immigrants. But for decades, there has been a debate over the principles and regulation of immigration in America. Many Americans wish to reduce the number of immigrants allowed in each year or make the principles more restrictive.

As mentioned previously, another major point of debate (and concern) as of late has been DACA. While in office, President Obama began DACA to provide a way for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children to remain in the country. Under DACA, two-year renewable deportation deferrals and work permits are available to these immigrants, given they don’t have criminal records.

Since the election of Donald Trump, many possible changes have been introduced to alter U.S. immigration policy. These proposals include a sharp reduction in the number of immigrants allowed to enter annually, changes to make it more difficult for individuals to seek asylum in the U.S., and most notably, a plan to revoke DACA permanently. However, DACA applications are once again being accepted, due to federal court orders for those seeking renewal. The most recent government shutdown is the result of congress struggling with the program—it’s future is currently unknown.

Immigration has always been a hot topic in American politics, but it is an intricate system, shrouded in misconception. It is hard to know what the future of immigration looks like in America, but it is vital to know the basics of such an important part of U.S. culture and domestic policy.