The term "immigration reform" is used to collectively refer to all efforts that have been undertaken by a country to amend abuses and reduce faults in its immigration policy. These efforts could be geared at either promoting and encouraging immigration or reducing and even eliminating the same. A perfect example of the former is the UK's promotion of the absorption of foreign-educated health specialists in its National Health Service (Dodds, 2012). The U.S. has, however, almost consistently run an anti-immigration policy. As this text will demonstrate, numerous reform efforts have been undertaken since way back in the 18th century to reduce the number of aliens illegally or legally crossing into the U.S. through the country's border points. Most of these efforts were particularly speeded up after the 9/11 tragedy; however, the successful implementation of these has been hampered by a number of things, among them a volatile public mood, political wars, and an overall lack of public understanding on the constitutional, social, and economic elements surrounding the immigration issue. Studies have shown that in as much as Americans harbor strong views and beliefs about this issue, most of them do not clearly understand how the country's immigration policy operates. Most of these feelings, rather than be driven by genuine, well-informed concerns, are driven by the fear that the high immigration rates currently being witnessed could change the cultural and traditional aspects of the native community. Towards this end, it would be crucial to give Americans insight into the actual issues surrounding the country's immigration policy; only then can we move together as a nation towards the implementation of immigration reforms.
Evolution of Immigration Policy in the U.S.
Immigration has been an object of legislation in the U.S. since 1790, when Congress enacted statute permitting aliens to obtain U.S. citizenship. As the number of immigrants rose, Congress enacted a law prohibiting the immigration of prostitutes and criminals in 1875. Later on in 1891, it established the Immigration Service, which made the federal government responsible for processing immigrants seeking admission as U.S. citizens. This essentially made immigration policy in the U.S. An object of both legislation and policy. Immigrant numbers shot up immediately after World War I, and Congress, in response, enacted the Quota Law, which accepted or rejected visa applications based on the basis of quotas assigned to different nationalities. The quota framework gave preference to immigrants with rare, but useful job skills, and those with immediate families in the U.S. In 1980, refugees began to be recognized as a vulnerable group, and the Refugee Act was enacted, granting the president the power to determine the number of refugees that could be admitted into the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security was formed in 2002, and charged with the responsibility of protecting the country's points of entry from illegal aliens.
Overview of Immigration Policy
The Quota Law continues to be used today. It emphasizes four fundamental aspects i) reuniting families; ii) admission of persons with rare job skills that are relevant to the growth of the U.S. economy; iii) protection of refugees; iv) achieving country-of-origin diversity (Kandel, 2013). As figure 1 indicates, family-based admissions currently account for almost two-thirds of all legal admissions into the U.S. (Kandel, 2013). In 2012, for instance, 680, 799, which roughly translates to 66% of 1.03 million LPRs admitted that year were admitted on the basis of family ties; 70% of them as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (Kandel, 2013). Admissions on "immediate relative" grounds rose by a significant 12.3% between 2009 and 2012, with the Dominican Republic, India, China, the Philippines, and Mexico accounting for the highest numbers (Kandel, 2013). By the end of that year, 4.3 million persons still stood on the visa queue awaiting LPR admission on the basis of family-based preferences (Kandel, 2013). LPR admissions on the basis of the other three categories (employment-related preferences, refugees, asylum-seekers, and diversity grounds) have also reported a notable rise, increasing by almost 25% from just slightly above 0.8 million in 2000 to 1.03 million in 2012 (see figure 1; data obtained from Table 6 of the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics at http://www.dhs.gov/yearbook-immigration-statistics).
Illegal immigrant statistics are not any different; although policies such as increasing the number of border patrol officers and enhancing the level of technology used in the screening of persons and goods seeking to gain entry into the U.S. have been beefed up, the numbers of persons living in the country illegally are still relatively high. 2012 estimates by the DHS (see figure 2) place the number of unauthorized immigrants at 11.4 million, down from 11.4 million in 2011 (Baker & Rytina, 2012).
Rationale for Immigration Reform: the Costs of the Rising Immigrant Population
Experts have raised concern over the high numbers of foreign nationals gaining admission into the U.S. both legally and illegally. Unauthorized immigrants, for instance, cost the government almost $11 billion in public healthcare costs, public food assistance, and public education in 2012 alone (Warren & Warren, 2013). Even more disturbing is that these healthcare costs can be expected to rise in the coming years if the controversial healthcare bill is passed. Estimates show that a significant 34% of unauthorized immigrants have no health insurance, compared to only 13% of the general population (Warren & Warren, 2013). The greatest burden in medical expenses is emergency care for both regular illness and delivery of children. According to Jack Martin, FAIR Director of Special Projects, the costs stand at approximately $10, 000 per delivery, and a greater proportion of this is paid by Medicaid, a federal program instituted to help economically-disadvantaged Americans meet their medical costs (Warren & Warren, 2013). Martin believes that these costs can be minimized or even eliminated if effective measures are put in place to prevent unauthorized immigrants from entering the country (Warren & Warren, 20-13).
Far from healthcare and medical costs, there also is concern that immigrants take away privileges that would otherwise accrue to the native community. Experts have shown that immigrants will often be willing to accept lower wage rates than is recommended for a particular task. Towards this end, private businesspersons will often consider them a more attractive option for profit-maximization than qualified white candidates when hiring.
It is these concerns that have sparked researchers' interest in the issue of illegal immigration reform. There is consensus that as long as America continues to be a relatively prosperous economy, it will be a target destination for both legal and illegal immigrants. Whilst we have largely managed to control the admission of legal immigrants, we still need further reforms to address the issue of illegal immigrants.
The DHS acts as the nation's watchdog, charged with the responsibility of securing the nation's borders and points of entry from external threat. In its mission statement, the agency reiterates its commitment to keep America's borders secure by ensuring that unauthorized persons and items that could compromise America's peace and stability do not make their way into the country (DHS, 2015). However, experts have argued that the agency's organizational structure impedes on its ability to effectively carry out its core functions, one of which is immigration. A visual representation of the DHs' organizational structure is presented in figure 3. The agency is led by the homeland security secretary and his deputy, and is made up of various agencies; it is the organization of these very agencies that threatens the agency's effective functioning.
Following the creation of the DHS, the government initiated a reorganization plan to place all departments and agencies that were historically charged with securing the borders under the DHS. As a result, the Bureau of Border Security and the Customs Service were split up and reconfigured into the BTS Directorate as two new bureaus: CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). With this, the government essentially merged Customs and Immigration Enforcement into one agency at the border, and separated out Customs and Immigration Investigations into another.
As a result of this reorganization, CBP now comprises of the Office of Field Operations and the Office of Border Patrol, the former of which is composed mainly of former customs, Department of Agriculture, and INS inspectors, who now carry out the functions formerly handled by three different agencies. The ICE, on the other hand, consists of former customs and INS investigators, who are collectively charged with the enforcement of customs and immigration laws.
With all these reorganizations, there is concern that investigators and inspectors may not be receiving as much support from management as they were prior to the reorganization owing to the presence of bureaucratic walls that hamper efficient and effective information sharing among departments.
Moreover, concern surrounding budgetary allocations has also arisen, particularly because of the inexact division of allocations within INS, which was divided into three separate segments -- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, ICE, and CBP -- following the reorganization. Owing to this, budgetary shortfalls have…