Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.
In recent years questions around immigration have become increasingly significant. The status of undocumented immigrants, aspiring citizens, and refugees has been the topic of many debates, and a defining political issue. Millions of immigrants—documented and otherwise—reside in the United States, and this has significant implications on topics ranging from education to healthcare and beyond.
Nebraska is especially impacted by immigration. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Nebraska had one of the fastest growing immigrant populations in America from 1990–2010. Legislation in Nebraska—both at the local and state levels—has been a significant part of the national discussion on immigration.
Immigration has been a touchstone of the U.S. political debate for decades, as policymakers must weigh competing economic, security, and humanitarian concerns. Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform for years, effectively moving some major policy decisions into the executive and judicial branches of government and fueling debate in the halls of state and municipal governments.
Immigrants comprise about 14 percent of the U.S. population:more than forty-three million out of a total of about 323 million people, according to Census Bureau data. Together, immigrants and their U.S.-born children make up about 27 percent of U.S. inhabitants. The figure represents a steady rise from 1970, when there were fewer than ten million immigrants in the United States. But there are proportionally fewer immigrants today than in 1890, when foreign-born residents comprised 15 percent of the population.
The undocumented population is about eleven million and has leveled off since the 2008 economic crisis, which led some to return to their home countries and discouraged others from coming to the United States. In 2017, Customs and Border Protection reported a 26 percent drop in the number of people apprehended or stopped at the southern border from the year before, which some attribute to the Trump administration’s policies. At the same time, arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants jumped by 40 percent.
The United States granted nearly 1.2 million individuals legal permanent residency in 2016, more than two-thirds of whom were admitted based on family reunification. Other categories included: employment-based preferences (12 percent), refugees (10 percent), diversity (4 percent), and asylees (3 percent). In late 2017, there were more than four million applicants on the State Department’s waiting list for immigrant visas.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is an American immigration policy that allows some individuals with unlawful presence in the United States after being brought to the country as children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and become eligible for a work permit in the U.S. To be eligible for the program, recipients cannot have felonies or serious misdemeanors on their records. Unlike the proposed DREAM Act, DACA does not provide a path to citizenship for recipients, known as Dreamers. The policy, an executive branch memorandum, was announced by President Barack Obama on June 15, 2012. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services began accepting applications for the program on August 15, 2012.
Because many DACA recipients entered the country unlawfully, they cannot apply for U.S. citizenship.
In 2017, the Trump administration announced the end of DACA. In the days and months following, multiple lawsuits challenging the administration’s actions to terminate DACA were filed across the country. Two U.S. district courts have since enjoined, or halted, the government’s termination of DACA and required U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to continue accepting DACA applications from individuals who have previously had DACA. A third U.S. district court has ordered the government to follow its original 2012 policy of not sharing DACA recipients’ private information for enforcement purposes, and a fourth U.S. district court (in the District of Columbia) has twice issued orders striking down the termination of DACA and reinstating the original program. However, the court in DC partially “stayed” its order that vacated the Trump administration’s termination of the DACA program. This stay postpones the effective date of portions of the court’s order that would require USCIS to accept DACA applications regardless of whether the applicants previously had DACA.
On May 1, 2018, Texas and six other states filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas challenging the 2012 DACA program itself. On May 2, the plaintiffs asked the court to issue a preliminary injunction that would stop USCIS from adjudicating applications for deferred action under DACA while the lawsuit is pending. After an August 8, 2018, hearing in Houston, Tex., on whether to grant a preliminary injunction, the court denied the plaintiff states’ request, concluding that such an injunction would not be in the public’s interest. As a result, it continues to be the case that individuals who have or have previously had DACA can apply to renew it.
The American Dream and Promise Act of 2019 offers a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers as well as immigrants eligible for TPS and DED. An estimated 2.5 million immigrants could be permanently protected under the bill.
Title I of the Dream and Promise Act includes provisions that would extend Conditional Permanent Resident (CPR) status to Dreamers who meet the following criteria:
Up to 2.1 million dreamers are eligible to apply for CPR status under the bill. This number includes the 1.8 million Dreamers who are eligible now, as well as the 300,000 Dreamers who will become eligible as they enroll in or complete the education requirement.
More than 5 million individuals live in a household that includes a Dreamer. Indeed, as years pass and Dreamers grow up, they are beginning families of their own: 795,000 U.S.-born children have Dreamer parents who are eligible for protection under the Dream and Promise Act. Dreamers and their families live in communities across the United States; California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois are home to the largest numbers of eligible Dreamers, at more than 100,000 each, while an additional 26 states are home to from 10,000 to 100,000 Dreamers.