US President Barack Obama says it’s time to fix our “broken immigration system”. He is poised to address the nation to offer what he calls “new commonsense steps”.
Here is an overview of the issues regarding immigration in the US
A brief history of US immigration
1820 to 1870
Called the Colonial era, the majority of newcomers came from northern and Western Europe, mostly German and Irish
Economic decline brings with it restrictive legislation
1881 to 1920
More than 23 million arrive from southern and Eastern Europe
The Great Depression brings more restrictive legislation and immigration goes into decline for years
Previous US legislation
1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act:
Nearly 3 million illegal immigrants were legalised, the majority coming from Canada and Mexico
1996 Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
Makes it easier for agencies to deport illegal immigrants and gives police and states more power to enforce immigration laws
Why the new deal?
Barack Obama was elected with more than two-thirds of the Hispanic vote in 2012. He’s in their debt and it is payback time.
Business leaders are keen to attract educated workers in addition to low-skilled workers, such as farm labourers
What comes with citizenship?
It signifies you are member of Club USA
Naturalised citizens have residency rights and cannot be deported if they get into trouble
Citizens are allowed to run for political office and have the right to vote.
It is easier to bring in family members
What’s the big deal?
What can be done with the millions who live in the US without permission?
What can be done about border security?
How to simplify a system that can best be described as complicated?
1. There were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2012, a total unchanged from 2009, and currently making up 3.5% of the nation’s population
2. Mexicans make up about half of all unauthorized immigrants (52%), though their numbers have been declining in recent years. There were 5.9 million Mexican unauthorised immigrants living in the US in 2012, down from 6.4 million in 2009, according to Pew Research Center estimates. Over the same period, the number of unauthorised immigrants from Asia, the Caribbean, Central America and a grouping of countries in the Middle East, Africa and some other areas grew slightly
3. Six states alone account for 60% of unauthorized immigrants—California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois
4. California has the largest concentration of the US immigrant population (27%)
It also has the largest share of illegal immigrants in the Union, with 25%; Texas is second with 16%
5. Unauthorised immigrants make up 5.1% of the US labour force
In the US labour force, there were 8.1 million unauthorised immigrants either working or looking for work in 2012
The US is said to be the top destination for immigration followed by Russia
Those who have not signed up
About 3.6 million legal immigrants from Mexico who are eligible to become US citizens have not signed up. They are obliged to take a citizenship exam, need to learn English and pay a US$700 fee
Road to Utopia
More than 40% of Americans believe those who live there illegally should be able to gain citizenship, while 25% feel this should be extended only to legal residency. Another quarter feels they should be allowed to stay legally at all
Data from Pew Hispanic Center