It is time to Retire the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act
“Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.”
America’s immigration system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living in the shadows. Neither is good for the economy or the country. http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/immigration
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, (“INA) otherwise known as the McCarran-Walter Act, was meant to exclude certain immigrants from immigrating to America, post World War II and in the early Cold War. The INA is a complex and often confusing collection of laws that does everything from setting forth qualifications for naturalization to regulating foreign students to managing temporary workers to authorizing humanitarian protections such as asylum and refugee admissions.
The INA is out of touch with reality; it is out of tune with the frequencies of the global economy. For more than a decade, efforts to systematically overhaul the United States immigration law have been overshadowed by other events—from foreign wars and national security concerns to the financial crisis that threatened to bring down the world economy.
For the past 62 years, we have had numerous piecemeal amendments to fix a law that has long been overdue for retirement. It has created havoc and confusion. Some parts have been applied retroactively, other parts are prospective. It fences some people in, keeping them here because the price of leaving is too high, the consequences too uncertain, even when they have a legal path to lawful status. It fences other people out … people with U.S. citizen children and parents and strong family ties, solely because they may have worked in the U.S. without permission or stayed too long.
While the House of Representatives in 2014 continues to do nothing, the price we are paying as a country is too high. The cost of doing nothing is the billions of tax payer dollars we’ve thrown at the border since 1986, and yet today we have 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. In 1990, there were 3.5 million.
Since 1986, we spent $186.8 billion in immigration enforcement; the Customs and Border patrol budget doubled from $5.9 billion to $11.9 billion since 1993; and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget grew 73% to $5.9 billion. The cost of doing nothing drains taxpayer dollars with little to show.
Between 1998 and 2012, 5,570 migrants died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border; the parents of 108,434 immigrants with U.S. citizen children were deported, mostly for civil immigration violations; and in 2011, approximately 5100 children whose parents were deported or detained were in the public child welfare system. The loss of life and separation of families is the cost of doing nothing. The cost of doing nothing is too high.
We know that the United States is a nation of immigrants. We have regulations that govern who can immigrate, who can visit, who can stay and under what conditions. Most of the requirements are largely unknown to most people. Most of the requirements no longer make sense.
It is time to allow this law to retire. It has outlived its usefulness. We live in a different world now.
In 1952, the year the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed by Congress, President Truman thought it was discriminatory. However, there were enough votes in Congress to pass it nonetheless. It is still the cornerstone of our current immigration policies. It is time to retire that law now.
What was the world like back in 1952? How different is it today?
- In 1952, the Civil Rights Act had not been passed. It was passed in 1964 and forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, creed, and age in hiring, promoting, and firing.
- In 1952, we did not have the Internet – The beginnings of the Internet began in 1957. In 1969, we had a “node-to-node” communication from one computer to another. In 1991 the Internet became what we know today when a computer programmer in Switzerland introduced the World Wide Web.
- In 1952, we did not have Cell Phones – Motorola spent three months building a prototype for a portable, mobile handset that Martin Cooper publicly demonstrated in April of 1973. The company’s first commercial cellular phone, went on sale 10 years later. http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/mobile/07/09/cooper.cell.phone.inventor/
- In 1952, we did not have Email, Twitters, Tweets, Facebook, Linked-In, Google or any of the other social media we have now.
- In 1952, a man or woman had never walked on the moon. This did not happen until July 20, 1969 when Neil Armstrong took the first step on the moon.
- In 1952, we did not have Color TV – On June 25, 1951, CBS broadcast the very first commercial color TV program. Unfortunately, no one could watch it on their black-and-white televisions. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the public began buying color TVs in earnest and in the 1970s the American public finally started purchasing more color TV sets than black-and-white ones. http://history1900s.about.com/od/1950s/qt/Color-TV.htm
- In 1952, one of the hot movies was ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, an American musical comedy film directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen,
- In 1952, Ernest Hemingway wrote “The Old Man and the Sea”
- In 1952, Jonas E. Salk (US) developed the first polio vaccine
- In 1952, the first plastic artificial heart valve was developed at Georgetown Medical Center.
- In 1952, the U.S. detonates world’s first hydrogen bomb; Britain developed its atomic bomb
- In 1952, the first jetliner service was inaugurated between London and Johannesburg, South Africa.
The world today is indeed a very different place in 2014 than what it was in 1952. It is time to let go of that which no longer serves us as a country.
The Time of Doing Nothing is Past. It is Time to Do the Right Thing.
America’s immigration system has reached a crisis point. Millions of workers, families, and community members are living in the shadows. Businesses cannot hire the workers they need. Thousands are stuck waiting for years to reunite with loved ones in the United States. Every year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) removes nearly 400,000 people, separating families, leaving U.S. citizen children in foster care, and causing more pain in the community, and our economy suffers.
In a January 2014 Fox News poll, 68% of the respondents, said they support “allow[ing] illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check.” This accounts for 7 out of 10 Americans.
Enforcement of Outdated Immigration Laws is Not Working: It is time to retire the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
The federal government has committed unprecedented resources to immigration enforcement—more than $186.8 billion over the past 26 years. Removal orders, detentions, criminal prosecutions for status offenses, and expedited deportation practices that lack due process, have all risen dramatically as a result of administration enforcement policies. The enforcement system has not been smart or efficient and it has not been faithful to American principles of due process and fairness.
There are 477,523 detained immigrants. The U.S. spends $5.6 million per day on immigration detention. Spending on detention has increased exponentially, from $864 million 7 years ago to around $1.9 billion today.
Despite some highly public claims to the contrary, there has been no waning of immigration enforcement in the United States. In fact, the U.S. deportation machine has grown larger in recent years, indiscriminately consuming criminals and non-criminals alike, be they unauthorized immigrants or long-time legal permanent residents (LPRs). Deportations under the Obama administration alone are now approaching the two-million mark. But the deportation frenzy began long before this milestone. The federal government has, for nearly two decades, been pursuing an enforcement-first approach to immigration control that favors mandatory detention and deportation over the traditional discretion of a judge to consider the unique circumstances of every case.
THE LEGAL IMMIGRATION SYSTEM
America’s legal immigration system must be reformed to provide a flexible and smoothly functioning system that meets the needs of our families, the economy, and our society. One of the fundamental shortcomings of our current legal immigration system, are the lack of sufficient numbers of green cards and nonimmigrant visas.
Why do we need Immigration Reform?
A: Immigration reform is part of the solution for creating a stronger, more successful, and unified nation. America is a nation of immigrants, and welcoming immigrants reflects the key values upon which this country is based: hard work, perseverance, taking on challenges, demonstrating individuality, and showing compassion.
In addition, immigration reform is a bipartisan issue where everyone can agree that a working immigration system contributes to a stronger country—economically, socially, and culturally. Reform of our immigration system can benefit everyone. We must ensure that we have a legal immigration system that works, which will make it far easier to enforce our laws, protect our borders, and provide the people and ideas we need to thrive in the 21st century.
What are the basics of reform?
- Creating a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants that is fair but feasible.
Today, the vast majority of Americans support some form of legalization for unauthorized immigrants. While the details of that process may vary, polls show that the public wants a system put in place that permits legal status and the option for applying for naturalization if they are otherwise qualified. When people become U.S. citizens, they have a greater investment in this country, a greater commitment. That commitment is usually demonstrated through some form of initial registration, a willingness to learn English, and full payment of any outstanding taxes.
- Ensuring that immigration policy supports families and American values.
While the economics of unauthorized immigration is frequently the focus of the immigration debate, the breakdown of the family immigration system is equally destabilizing and also spurs a significant amount of unauthorized immigration. Current backlogs in family-based immigration lead to delays of up to 20 years for the legal migration of family members. We have a world-wide system of visa allocation to lawful permanent residents that awards the same number of visas to the Vatican City at .2 square miles and a population of 770 as we do Mexico, which is the 15th largest country and our close neighbor to the South.
- Ensuring that immigration enforcement enhances national security and community safety without undermining due-process protections.
Most experts and analysts, including those in law enforcement, think legalization is one of the key elements to ensuring our country’s safety because it would allow the federal government to focus on genuine threats posed by those seeking to do the country harm, rather than individuals who lack status but have committed no other crimes. Most undocumented immigrants have been here for a long time, longer than 10 years. Recent reports have also emphasized that many of the markers and targets proposed for enforcement, especially border enforcement, have been met in recent years.
Other studies have suggested that a decade of increased spending for immigration enforcement has produced diminishing returns with respect to ending unauthorized immigration, and that the economy, rather than enforcement measures, is a better predictor of unauthorized immigration.
- Ensuring that the legal immigration system is sufficiently robust to meet the needs of the American economy, does not put native-born workers at a disadvantage, and does not encourage new waves of illegal immigration when job demand is high.
One of the major criticisms of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized nearly three million unauthorized immigrants in the late 1980s, was the failure to include provisions for dealing with future workforce needs. The authors of that amendment assumed employer sanctions would deter future unauthorized immigration, but they did not account for an increased need for immigrant workers and a lack of enforcement of the employer sanction laws, that require employers to verify the status of their workforce.
Because overall immigration numbers were not adjusted to meet demand (and have remained essentially stagnant since 1990), the growing economy, widely available jobs, and inefficient enforcement fueled continued unauthorized immigration. Consequently, regulating the flow of immigration so that it reflects constantly shifting employment needs is critical to a systematic overhaul of the immigration system. It may also be one of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle to negotiate.
Some issues, such as increasing the number of visas available in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, or encouraging foreign entrepreneurs to invest in the United States, have widespread support among Republicans and Democrats.
Smart Reforms Will Reduce Illegal Immigration
- E-VERIFY: a smart and balanced system will make it nearly impossible to work and therefore live in the United States without status. An effective worksite enforcement and employment verification system is the most effective way to curb illegal immigration.
- LEGALIZATION: an accessible legalization process will reduce the size of the undocumented population and strengthen civic engagement.
- LEGAL IMMIGRATION SYSTEM: once the immigration system provides enough green cards to address the nation’s needs, illegal immigration will decline
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Most undocumented immigrants just got here, didn’t they?
A: Most unauthorized immigrants are integrated members of U.S. families and communities.
Nationwide, unauthorized immigrants comprise 5.2% of the workforce, and in states like Arizona, the unauthorized share of the workforce is even higher. In certain sectors, like agriculture and construction, unauthorized workers comprise up to 25% of the workforce.
Nationwide, there are approximately 4.5 million U.S.-citizen children with at least one unauthorized parent, and policies that target their parents have grave effects on the children. Approximately three-fifths (61%) of unauthorized immigrants have been in the U.S. 10 years or more.
Q: What part of illegal don’t you understand?
- Some people can’t get past the fact that persons living unlawfully in the United States are here without authorization. They broke the law, and the assumption is that only by being deported will things be made fair again. At the same time, most people acknowledge that the country could not afford to deport 11 million people, given not only the costs of enforcement of a mass deportation scheme, but also the costs to the economy and our communities if millions of workers were deported and families were separated. Proposals for legalization attempt to balance past violations of law with the economic and social realities of the day. If we truly want to fix our broken immigration system, we have to impose reasonable penalties that don’t undermine the country as a whole.
Q: Aren’t you a criminal just by being here illegally?
A: Most immigration violations are civil in nature and don’t result in criminal prosecution. Even the criminal charges that are sometimes used, such as “improper entry by alien” (entering the United States without authorization), are generally misdemeanors. These charges have increased in recent years in border communities where the government has made a strategic decision to use the criminal courts rather than the civil immigration courts to reduce illegal immigration. Irrespective of the charge, the act of unlawful immigration itself does not pose a threat to public safety, unlike crimes such as murder, assault, and robbery, all of which immigrants are much less likely to commit than natives.
Q: Plenty of people immigrate legally—So why don’t unauthorized immigrants just get in line?
A: The current legal immigration system simply cannot handle the demands placed upon it. Roughly 1 million immigrants enter the country each year as lawful permanent residents, most of them based on family or employment relationships, but 4.6 million more have applications pending.
Because the number of new immigrants admitted each year is based on numbers set by Congress in 1990, those admissions fail to reflect the legitimate demands for family unification and changes in workforce needs that have occurred over the last twenty years. For some countries, the wait is almost twenty years.
For many other people, there simply were not enough visas—either permanent or temporary—which led them to come to the U.S. without authorization when the economy was booming and jobs were waiting. Without a well-regulated and fair system for determining levels of immigration, people who have no chance at standing in line may feel that coming without permission is their only option—and many are willing to take it, no matter the dangers.
The drop in apprehensions along the border and in unauthorized immigration overall are closely correlated with the economic crisis of the last few years. As the economy improves, demand will increase again and the likelihood of unauthorized immigration may increase as well if we do not create a reasonable way to address future flows now. Now is the time to create a more flexible and forgiving system that takes America’s 21st century needs into account.
Q: By granting Deferred Action to DREAM Act students, hasn’t the Obama Administration just started the country down a path of amnesty for everyone?
A: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is not amnesty. Young people whose request for Deferred Action is granted are temporarily protected from removal for two years and receive work authorization during that time. The decision to grant deferred action is made on a case-by-case basis and is purely a matter of prosecutorial discretion. The executive branch authority to defer deportations is well established, but neither the President nor the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can give someone permanent resident status or put them on a path to citizenship without authorization from Congress. DACA represents the balancing of priorities that all law-enforcement officials must make in determining when, where, and how to enforce a law, but that’s not the equivalent of citizenship.
Q: You can’t stop all unauthorized immigration, no matter how good your laws, so how do you make sure our borders are secure?
A: Border security is about more than catching unauthorized immigrants; it’s about targeting real security threats. Currently, border-enforcement resources are directed at what gets smuggled across the border—people, drugs, guns, money—rather than who is doing the smuggling; namely, the transnational criminal organizations based in Mexico which are commonly referred to as the “cartels.” If the U.S. government wants to get serious about enhancing border security, it will begin to systematically dismantle the cartels rather than just seizing the unauthorized immigrants and the contraband they smuggle and arresting a few low-level cartel operatives in the process.
With economic conditions having driven unauthorized immigration to historic lows, now is the time to focus on the real threats to the security of the United States.
Q: Why can’t we just rely on self-deportation?
A: Some people have supported a strategy of “attrition through enforcement” that involves reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., and deterring future unauthorized immigrants from coming, by stepping up enforcement of existing laws and increasing the incentives for immigrants to “deport themselves.”
At the national, state, and local levels, policies have been designed to make life so difficult for unauthorized immigrants that they will choose to return to their home countries. However, the evidence has shown that unauthorized immigrants are not choosing to “self-deport.” Many unauthorized immigrants have invested a great deal of time and money to remain in the U.S., have U.S. citizen children, own homes, have jobs, and are integrated into American communities. Three-fifths of unauthorized immigrants have been in the U.S. for 10 or more years. Hoping this population will choose to return to their home countries is not a constructive policy.
In 2008, a federal pilot program offered the option of “self-deportation” to unauthorized immigrants. “Operation Scheduled Departure” offered unauthorized immigrants with outstanding deportation orders and clean criminal records the option of being deported without detention rather than risk arrest, detention, and deportation. ICE spent more than $40,000 on advertising for the program, but in the three weeks that the pilot ran, only eight people out of the estimated 457,000 eligible unauthorized immigrants actually took the offer.
While doing nothing to solve our national immigration concerns, the laws and policies designed to make people self-deport devastate local economies, place unnecessary burdens on U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants, undermine basic human rights, and place legal, fiscal, and economic burdens on states and local communities.
The bottom line for me is that immigration is really about people … it is about human beings, all of whom were born into this world in the same way. At the moment of birth, we were all perfect, each in our own right; each baby born, a valuable, precious life, equally important, all beautiful, all with something to give the planet and earth. We all have hearts, minds, and bodies. And one day, all our hearts will stop beating; one day, we will all take our last breath. We are all here for a purpose. We are more similar than dissimilar. When one hurts, everyone hurts. It is time to really start seeing each other.
We can do better than what we are doing now. It is time for change. It is time to evolve and to grow. It is time to stop the name-calling, the demonizing of each other, the polarizing, the putting of politics ahead of our hearts. It is time to see the good in each other. It is time to change the dialogue and to imagine the good, the possibilities, to see harmony and unity, rather than division and divisiveness. We are an amazing people. It is time for change. It is time to work together for the highest and best good of humankind.
For more information on immigration reform, please go to http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/comprehensive-immigration-reform-2014
For more information on deportations, please go to http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/deportations-resource-page
For more information on the economics of immigration, please go to http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/economics-immigration-resource-pag
 The McCarran-Walter Act moved away from excluding immigrants based simply upon country of origin. Instead it focused upon denying immigrants who were unlawful, immoral, diseased in any way, politically radical etc. and accepting those who were willing and able to assimilate into the US economic, social, and political structures, which restructured how immigration law was handled.
Furthermore, the most notable exclusions were anyone even remotely associated with communism which in the early days of the Cold War was seen as a serious threat to US democracy. The main objective of this was to block any spread of communism from outside post WWII countries, as well as deny any enemies of the US during WWII such as Japan and favor “good Asian” countries such as China.
The McCarran-Walter Act was a strong reinforcement in immigration selection, which was labeled the best way to preserve national security and national interests. President Truman originally vetoed the law, deeming it discriminatory; however there was enough support in Congress for the law to pass.