Understanding Immigration in the U.S.

NOAH HOLT Contributing Writer

This is the first of a series for a capstone project that is meant to help readers better understand immigration policy and immigrants themselves, in hopes that you may become more knowledgeable about immigration and be able to empathize with immigrants and their stories.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of April 2014, the United States immigrant population totaled more than 42.4 million people, which is 13.3 percent of the U.S. population. That same year, the American Community Survey data, U.S. immigration increased by over 1 million children and adults. The United States has long been a popular place for immigration to take place. People come here for a fresh start, for new and better opportunities and even in search for a place of refuge.

Currently, immigration has become a more prominent topic on people’s minds, specifically now with the recent election. Immigration has become something that immigrants who come to this country should understand and have at the forefront of their minds, but also something to be on the minds of all American citizens.

In the United States, immigration is a very difficult topic and can be confusing. Its policies are very complex and constantly changing. Currently, the U.S. runs immigration under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This law provides a yearly worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants, which means lawful permanent residences (LPRs), can come to the U.S. to work and live legally and permanently.

LPRs have the right to apply for most any job and can stay in the country even if they are unemployed. Every year, additional temporary admissions are also given to noncitizens. According to the American Immigration Council, immigration to the United States is based upon the following four main principles: reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.

Reunification of families allows U.S. citizens and LPRs to bring certain family members to the United States. These “family-based immigrants” are accepted as either immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or within the family preference system. To be considered an immediate family member, you must meet certain age and financial requirements. Immediate relatives include the spouse of the U.S. citizen, unmarried minor children of the U.S. citizen and parents of U.S. citizens. If family reunification is happening through the family preference system, they must be considered adult children (at least 21-years-old) and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens as well as spouses and unmarried children of LPRs. However, a limited number of visas are available every year under this system.

Employment-based immigration is when the United States will provide various ways for immigrants that have skills considered valuable to come to the country on either a permanent or temporary basis.

The option for those fleeing persecution or those unable to return to their homeland due to life-threatening or extraordinary conditions is through the protection of refugees and asylees. These people are in fear of returning home because they could be persecuted for their race, membership in particular social groups, their political opinion, their religious beliefs or their nation of origin.

The President and Congress decide yearly on the admission of refugees. The decision is based on the degree of risk they face, what social groups they are members of in case of concern to the United States and if they have family in the U.S. Asylees are persons already in the United States and in search of asylum here. There is no limit on the number of individuals who can be granted asylum and they are judged based on the same measures of refugees.

The Immigration Act of 1990 started the Diversity Visa program. The program calls for individuals that would like to migrate to the United States in which the U.S. has a low standing of immigrants coming from that specific country. They give those individuals the opportunity to come to the United States and help diversify the country.

According to the American Immigration Council, each year, 55,000 visas are given at random to citizens from other countries that have shown less than 50,000 immigrants in the United States in the past five years. To be eligible for this program an individual must have a high school education or have at least two years of work in a profession that requires at least two years of training or experience.

Due to the recent election, immigration has become a more prevalent topic of conversation. Some people are scared for what the future may hold for themselves, their families and their education.