An Introduction to U.S. Immigration

An Introduction to U.S. Immigration

As an introduction to U.S. immigration, we all know that the US has been widely renown as the land of opportunities, a place where people of different ethnicities and backgrounds can start a life and be judged by the quality of their character and not their beliefs and ethnicity. Led by various motives, these people from all around the world have found in America greater egalitarian standards, economic prosperity and an overall incentive for innovation and entrepreneurship[1].

An Introduction to U.S. Immigration

The harsh stance of Donald Trump on immigration has reignited a debate that dates far back in time. Back in the 1920 US adopted an infamous strategy called “the national origins formula” which limited the naturalization, and relatably immigration opportunities to a relatively secluded target group of people, mainly originating from North and Western Europe, heavily restricting those coming from Asian and Africa. One of the many have propagated projects of the Kennedy brothers, John and Ted was the replacement of the ethnic-based quotas. Using the momentum provided by the Civil Rights movement, President Johnson issued the Immigration & Naturalization Act of 1965.

The new rules added new selection based criteria, increasing the odds of getting accepted through the immigration office. The new category of immigrants including Skilled Laborers & Professionals as well as Political Refugees[2] coming from war-torn countries of South Asia such as Vietnam and Korea.  The effects it had on demographics this policy change was profound. It opened America to a whole new host of immigrants coming from diverse parts of the world, in contracts to the previous rather settled immigration waves coming from North and Western Europe.  According to Statistics, the number of foreign-born entering legally into the United States varies from 9.7% to a solid 13.5%[3] at 2015. What is staggering in term of numbers is the fact that Legal Immigration has been constantly on the rise reaching almost 10 million people in the 1990s[4].

Another very important issue which has gained increasing attention in national debates over immigration is the issue of Undocumented Immigrants.  The US in its attempts to tackle this issue has proposed a comprehensive administrative measure called the DREAM Act (Development Relief Education Alien Minors Act)[5].  So far it has proven to be resourceful however further integrated policies are needed.

The debate regarding immigration is a crucial one because it goes at the core of US identity and what it means to be an American. The latest fiery speeches made by the US President Donald Trump to limit immigration and take extreme measures to curb down the influx of immigrants mainly coming from the impoverished areas of the Middle East and South&Central America has certainly reinvigorated it. The questions of identity are indivertible linked with the issue of immigration, questions which it cannot always answer. What is true however is the fact that the US is at a crossroads, and the choices it will make will determine its new identity in this constantly evolving global setting.


Legal aid in the field of illegal immigration has always been a delicate hotbed for policymakers at Washington. Immigrants not only are prone to the same range of liege problems as other citizens-fraud, eviction, domestic abuse and discrimination[6] but they also face disastrous penalties including deportation.  Deportation may seriously affect immigrants’ choices, making them sometimes powerless to appeal for protection against abuse and exploitation.  Exercising your right to an appeal often due to the complexity of the procedures may require attorney, and unfortunately the high pay incentive means that there are too few lawyers for poor immigrants[7].

Federal projects offering legal service offer at best a limited range of immigration work.  The portfolio mainly revolves around representation of victims of domestic violence. However because this line of work gets so little official acknowledgment, the NGO that administers federal funding for legal services, doesn’t even mention immigration as an area of law folding within the scope of their services[8]. Today despite the fact that LSC Office is one of the largest funders of civil legal aid, it is very rarely mentioned among advocacy cycles on ways of increasing legal assistance for immigrants.

As the waves of immigrants in the US became ever more increasing, so it became necessary a more sophisticated regulatory framework that deals with immigration at a more systematic level compared to just treatment of undocumented immigrants. Congress in the wave of change that captivated US in the 1960-70s reasserted the hierarchy of immigrant rights by enacting LSC restrictions which authorized legal representation for only those Immigrants expected to permanently remain in the US[9].  Americanization strategy consisted in the use of legal aid through the emphasis on justice tied to an emerging string of jurisprudential achievements that recognized the privileged status of lawful permanent resident relative to other immigrants.

So far it remains clear that the legal aid to immigrants despite the fact that legal aid has grown enormously since the time of Teddy Roosevelt, legal aid to immigrants, has shrunk substantially.  United States have been harshly criticized by the International Community on the issue of immigrants. It is time that the 110 year-old appeal of Theodore Roosevelt to call on the American idealism and fair-play must retake surface and become once again the leading compass of US policies. As professor Geoffrey Hereen has said:

“The LSC restrictions tug at the fabric of something essentially American: the notion that everybody ought to have a fair shake—that if there is a wrong, there should be a remedy. Sometimes, to make these truisms true, people need a lawyer.”


[1] ESSES, V., & ABELSON, D. (Eds.). (2017). Twenty-First-Century Immigration to North America: Newcomers in Turbulent Times. Montreal; Kingston; London; Chicago: McGill-Queen’s University Press. Retrieved

[2] Coutin, S. (1996). Differences within Accounts of US Immigration Law. Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 19(1), 11-19.

[3] “Place of Birth for the Foreign-born in the United States”. 2016. Archived from the original on February 9, 2017. Retrieved March 16, 2017

[4] Know the flow – economics of immigration- National Review

[5] Haynes, C., Merolla, J., & Ramakrishnan, S. (2016). The DREAM Act and DREAMers. In Framing Immigrants: News Coverage, Public Opinion, and Policy (pp. 86-110). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

[6] See, e.g., Laura K. Abel & Risa E. Kaufman, Preserving Aliens’ and Migrant Workers’ Access to Civil Legal Services: Constitutional and Policy Considerations, 5 U. PA. J. CONST. L.491, 493 (2003)

[7] Donald Kerwin, Charitable Legal Programs for Immigrants: What They Do, Why They Matter and How They Can Be Expanded, 04-06 IMMIGR. BRIEFINGS, June 2004, at 1.

[8] OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GEN., LEGAL SERVS. CORP., SEMIANNUAL REPORT TO THE CONGRESS: OCTOBER 1, 2008–MARCH 31, 2009 (2009), available at pdfs/sar_2009-05-27.pdf (no mention of immigration work);

[9] 7 See Restrictions on Legal Assistance to Aliens, 48 Fed. Reg. 19,750, 19,751 (proposed May 2, 1983) (“These categories reflect a general division Congress made between aliens who can be expected to remain in the United States permanently or indefinitely and those whose status is expected to be temporary.”).

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