Immigration is the movement of people into another nation with the intention of residing

November 30, 2012 6:50 pm

Immigration, the movement of people into another nation with the intention of residing there permanently. The contrasting term emigration refers to the movement of people permanently leaving a nation.
Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon. From the 17th century to the 19th century, millions of Europeans migrated to North and South America, eastern and southern Africa, Australia, and Asia. Many of these immigrants resettled in colonies established by their home countries (see Colonies and Colonialism). Most modern immigrants, like the colonists of the past, are motivated to relocate far from their original homes by the desire to improve their economic situation. Such people, known as economic immigrants, resettle in other countries in search of jobs, farmland, or business opportunities. Today, economic migrations generally bring people from less developed, poorer countries to more developed and more prosperous countries.
Although economic immigration accounts for most of the movements of people between countries, a substantial number of immigrants around the world are refugees. Some refugees relocate to avoid religious or political persecution, suffered on account of their beliefs. Wars, political turmoil, and natural disasters drive others away from their homeland. For example, at the end of World War I in 1918, ten million displaced people wandered throughout Europe. Most of these refugees came from the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, which had broken up into smaller nations at the end of the war. After World War II ended in 1945, another several million refugees immigrated to countries in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Today, experts calculate that there are more than 15 million refugees in search of new homes throughout the world. Faster international communication, improved transportation, and the willingness of some nations to grant political asylum to those in distress have allowed people from every continent to seek greater opportunities in more prosperous and more democratic areas.
The remainder of this article focuses on immigration to the United States. Four centuries of immigration have profoundly affected the culture and society of the United States. Except for Native Americans, all Americans are either recent immigrants or the descendants of immigrants who have settled in North America over the last five centuries.
Although the United States has been shaped by successive waves of immigrants, Americans have often viewed immigration as a problem. Established Americans often look down on new immigrants. The cultural habits of immigrants are frequently targets of criticism, especially when the new arrivals come from a different country than those in the established community. Despite such tensions, economic needs have always forced Americans to seek immigrants as laborers and settlers, and economic opportunities have beckoned foreigners. The vast majority of immigrants to the United States have come in search of jobs and the chance to create a better life for themselves and their families. In all of American history, less than 10 percent of immigrants have come for political or religious reasons.
Economic immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Latin America have come to the United States voluntarily. Others, most notably African Americans, were involuntarily transported to North America to do forced labor or to be sold as slaves. Regardless of the reasons they come to the United States, new immigrants typically work in menial, labor-intensive, low-paying, and dangerous jobs—occupations that most other Americans shun. They are often treated with disdain until they assimilate—that is, adopt the mainstream American culture established by earlier immigrants.
Although immigrants are expected to absorb the beliefs and standards of the dominant society, most immigrant groups try to maintain their own cultural heritage, language, and religious practices. Some groups, such as the Huguenots (French Protestants) who immigrated during the colonial period, assimilated within one or two generations. Others, such as the German and Irish immigrants of the 19th century, still maintain some aspects of their traditional cultures.
Traditionally the United States has been described as a melting pot, a place where the previous identities of each immigrant group are melted down to create an integrated, uniform society. Since the 1960s, many Americans have rejected the melting pot metaphor in favor of the image of the mosaic, a picture created by assembling many small stones or tiles. In a mosaic, each piece retains its own distinctive identity, while contributing to a larger design. Advocates of the mosaic metaphor assert that it better represents the diverse multicultural society of the United States. Today, many Americans value their immigrant heritage as an important part of their identity. More recent immigrant groups from Asia, such as Vietnamese Americans and Korean Americans, have established communities alongside those populated by the descendants of European immigrants, such as French Americans, German Americans, Irish Americans, and Italian Americans.
The English
The first immigrants to colonial America came almost exclusively from western Europe. During the first decades of the 17th century, settlers from England colonized Virginia and New England. They established the first permanent English settlement in North America at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The English settled in Virginia in the low-lying fertile areas around Chesapeake Bay and along the rivers of the coastal plain to the south. They soon developed an economy dependent on the cultivation of tobacco for export to Europe. Although highly profitable, tobacco cultivation required intensive labor. Many people convicted of petty crimes in England were often sent to the American colonies as indentured servants, laborers who were forced to work for a period of four to seven years before regaining their freedom.
The first Africans were brought to Virginia to work for tobacco planters in 1619. It is unclear whether these first Africans were brought as indentured servants or as slaves, as most later Africans brought to the colonies were. Although the number of African American slaves grew slowly at first, by the 1680s they were perceived as essential to the economy of Virginia. During the 17th and 18th centuries, African American slaves lived in all of England’s North American colonies. Before Britain prohibited its subjects from participating in the slave trade, between 600,000 and 650,000 Africans had been forcibly transported to North America.
Immigration to New England began in 1620 when English religious dissenters known as the Pilgrims established Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. A larger settlement of English Puritans was founded on the shores of Massachusetts Bay in 1629 (see Puritanism). Between 1629 and 1640, approximately 21,000 English colonists crossed the Atlantic Ocean to settle in New England. The values of these Puritan settlers strongly influenced the culture of the American colonies and later of the United States. Although some New Englanders owned slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries, slavery never played a major role in the New England economy. The Puritans spoke English, practiced a Protestant faith, and valued hard work and commercial success. The Puritans also believed in the importance of education. Over time, many people came to equate these characteristics with Americans in general.
The Dutch and Swedes
In the early 17th century settlers from other Western European countries also established themselves on the Atlantic Coast of North America. The Dutch established the colony of New Netherland in the region of present-day New York in 1614 and began settlement of the area in 1624. There they founded the city of New Amsterdam, now New York City, in 1626. Sweden established a colony known as New Sweden in the area of present-day Delaware in 1638. The Dutch absorbed New Sweden in 1655, only to lose all of their North American colonies to the British in 1664. These early colonies were often quite cosmopolitan, drawing settlers from many nations. When the English seized New Amsterdam, the city was home to perhaps 1500 residents, including Walloons, Huguenots, Swedes, Dutchmen, and African Americans.
The French and Spanish
The French and Spanish also established colonies in North America. The Spanish established the oldest permanent European settlement in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565. Spanish settlers from Mexico founded the colony of New Mexico in what is now the southwestern United States in 1598. France established Acadia in 1604 and Québec in 1608, both in present-day Canada. In 1718 the French founded New Orleans as the capital of their vast and sparsely settled Louisiana colony, which encompassed most of central North America.
The British placed no restrictions on immigrants wishing to enter their colonies. English men and women constituted the majority of settlers, but small groups from almost every nation in Western Europe settled in one or more of the English colonies. In 1688 there were 200,000 people in all of England’s North American colonies. Most of these colonists either came from Great Britain, were descended from individuals who did, or had been brought to North America by slave traders. In the following century, the colonial population doubled approximately every 25 years. African slaves, Scots-Irish, and Germans constituted the majority of the people arriving in the British colonies during this period. Between 1700 and 1770, 260,000 Africans, 50,000 white convicts, and 210,000 voluntary immigrants from Europe entered the British colonies. Scots-Irish immigrants, descended from Scots who settled in northern Ireland in the early 17th century, numbered about 80,000. Approximately 70,000 immigrants from the various German states of Europe migrated to the colonies during the same period.
Causes of Colonial Immigration
The reasons each of these groups immigrated to the British colonies in North America varied. Among the European groups were some individuals who immigrated simply for adventure or for unique personal reasons. But most immigrants came to escape harsh conditions in their homeland or, in the case of Africans, because they were captured and sold into slavery. Immigrants from continental Europe often fled wars, pestilence, and famine in their homelands. In the 1650s and 1660s, the English passed a series of laws, known as the Navigation Acts, to regulate the economy of the British Empire. These new laws had an adverse effect on Northern Ireland and triggered an exodus of Scots-Irish to the North American colonies in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
FROM 1775 TO 1840
By the time of the American Revolution (1775-1783), the colonial population had reached approximately 2.5 million people. Black slaves constituted roughly 22 percent of the total—more than 500,000 people. About 250,000 were Scots-Irish. Approximately 200,000 were Germans. Protestants formed the overwhelming majority of white people, although approximately 25,000 Roman Catholics and about 1000 Jews also lived in the colonies.
Just before and after the American Revolution, about 15,000 Lowland Scots crossed the Atlantic and settled in North America. In the 1790s, several thousand French men and women who had opposed the French Revolution (1789-1799) made their way to the United States. By the 1830s, another 150,000 immigrants, mostly from Northern Ireland and England, had found their way to the United States.
Alarmed by the presence of so many immigrants, Americans began to limit their numbers as early as the 1790s. In 1790 Congress passed an act requiring a two-year residence period before immigrants could qualify for U.S. citizenship. In 1795 the residence period was raised to five years. In 1798, during the administration of President John Adams, Congress passed four laws collectively called the Alien and Sedition Acts. One of these laws, the Naturalization Act, increased the period immigrants had to wait before becoming U.S. citizens to 14 years. Another, known as the Alien Act, authorized the president to expel any foreigners residing in the United States thought to be threatening to American interests. The Naturalization Act was repealed in 1802, and the Alien Act expired in 1800. However, the passage of these laws marked the first attempts to regulate immigration into the United States.
FROM 1840 TO 1900
The greatest influx of immigrants to the United States occurred between the 1840s and the 1920s. During this era, approximately 37 million immigrants arrived in the United States. Census figures indicate that about 6 million Germans, 4.5 million Irish, 4.75 million Italians, 4.2 million people from England, Scotland and Wales, approximately the same number from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 2.3 million Scandinavians, and 3.3 million people from Russia and the Baltic states entered the United States. Between the 1840s and the 1870s, Germans and Irish groups predominated. Between 1854 and 1892 more Germans arrived in any given year than any other ethnic group, except for three years when the Irish predominated. Beginning in 1896 people from southern and eastern Europe, such as Italians, Jews, and Slavic peoples from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were the most numerous groups.
Causes of 19th Century Immigration
Industrialization in Europe caused the relocation of most of these immigrants. The transformation from small, agriculture-based societies to manufacturing economies was so rapid and sweeping that it became known as the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late 18th century and gradually spread across Europe. During the mid-19th century, the Industrial Revolution swept across France, Belgium, and the German states. In each of these areas the economic and social changes accompanying rapid industrialization led to a huge exodus of people. Although Ireland did not industrialize until the end of the 19th century, a severe famine in the 1830s and 1840s and the replacement of small farms by larger estates produced similar mass migrations of displaced people. By the late 1870s, industrialization had pushed into Scandinavia, sending waves of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish immigrants to the United States. Similarly, industrialization in southern and Eastern Europe during the 1880s and 1890s encouraged the mass migrations of Italians, Slavs, and Jews.
Although economic changes were the predominant factors prompting these movements, others left their homelands because of political upheavals, religious persecution, or in search of adventure. For example, about 4000 Germans left their homes as a result of the political upheavals that swept through central Europe in 1848.
Settlement Patterns
About 70 percent of all European immigrants initially landed in New York City. From New York City, most immigrants fanned out to other areas. Substantial numbers of European immigrants also arrived in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans. During the 1850s almost all Chinese immigrants entered the United States via San Francisco. Wherever immigrants landed, there were railroads to take them to other parts of the country, especially after 1850. Many immigrants knew where they wanted to go, either because they had relatives or friends in a particular region or because they sought particular kinds of work. Those interested working in heavy industry often migrated to inland cities, such as Buffalo, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
German immigrants settled throughout the United States. Many Germans moved directly to Texas and the Midwest. Many also settled in New York and Pennsylvania. German Americans generally worked in skilled occupations and in agriculture. Scandinavian immigrants usually took up farming in the Upper Midwest. Immigrants from southern Italy engaged in unskilled labor in every part of the United States. Jewish Americans and Italian Americans typically worked in light manufacturing or retail businesses. Many Italian Americans could also be found in the construction industry. Most Jewish Americans preferred to settle in major cities, such as New York, Chicago, and Boston. Thousands of Jewish men, however, became peddlers and ventured into smaller communities across the United States. Members of Slavic groups, such as Polish Americans and Slovak Americans, often found jobs in heavy industries, such as metal processing and machine manufacturing.
Europeans constituted more than 80 percent of all immigrants throughout the 19th century. Most European immigrants settled in the northeastern and midwestern regions of the United States. Established immigrants, or their children, generally held supervisory posts in industry and white-collar positions in corporations. Women immigrants from many backgrounds worked in laundries, light manufacturing, and retail businesses. Irish American women, in particular, were commonly employed as domestic servants. Most 19th-century immigrants worked in low prestige occupations, earned wages that were insufficient to provide decent standards of living, and lived in shabbily built and overcrowded dwellings without sufficient heat, light, air, or plumbing. One-room cabins abounded in agricultural and mining areas. It often took two to three generations for the children and grandchildren of immigrants to move up the socioeconomic ladder and earn sufficient incomes to provide a comfortable standard of living.
In the West, immigrants were counted in the thousands rather than hundreds of thousands during the late 19th century. Nonetheless, members of almost every ethnic group could be found somewhere in the region. Generally, Chinese Americans worked building the railroads, in light manufacturing, or as domestic and retail workers in mining camps and other places. Mining camps in the Rocky Mountains provided work for European immigrants and Mexican Americans.
An overwhelming majority of immigrants, regardless of ethnicity, were subjected to discrimination. Many American Protestants opposed the immigration of members of the Roman Catholic Church. Riots between Irish-Catholic immigrants and American Protestants were common in the 1830s. Although Irish Americans were victims of discrimination, they later displayed animosity towards members of newer immigrant groups. On the West Coast, Asian Americans and Mexican Americans were the prime victims of prejudice. During the 1840s and 1850s, nativist movements—groups opposed to the presence of foreigners and immigrants in the United States—grew rapidly. Among the most powerful of these groups were the Know-Nothings, a nativist political party known for secrecy and anti-Catholic sentiments.
In the late 19th century American nativists grew increasingly hostile toward Asian immigrants. Asian workers, especially the Chinese, often came to the United States under contract to American employers, who financed their transportation. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, suspending further entry of most Chinese immigrants into the United States. The Alien Contract Labor Laws of 1885, 1887, 1888, and 1891 prohibited immigrants from entering the country to work under contracts made before their arrival. Professional actors, artists, singers, lecturers, educators, ministers, personal domestic servants, and some categories of skilled laborers were exempted from these restrictions.
Additional immigration laws were passed in 1875, 1882, and 1892. One law provided for the physical examination of arriving immigrants. Another mandated the exclusion of convicts, polygamists, prostitutes, persons suffering from “loathsome or contagious diseases,” and persons likely to become dependent on public financial assistance. In 1891 Congress created the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to administer federal laws relating to the admission, exclusion, and deportation of aliens and to the naturalization of aliens lawfully residing in the United States. In 1892 the INS opened an immigrant screening station at Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Approximately 12 million immigrants entered the United States through the Ellis Island station, which remained open until 1954.
FROM 1900 TO 1924
Almost 9 million immigrants entered the United States in the first decade of the 20th century, close to 6 million in the 1910s, and about 4 million in the 1920s. In the early 20th century, Japanese Americans constituted the largest group of Asian immigrants. They primarily engaged in agricultural pursuits in California, Oregon, and Washington. In 1907 the United States and Japan signed a so-called Gentlemen’s Agreement, in which the Japanese government promised to deny passports to Japanese laborers intending to enter the United States. In return, the U.S. government refrained from enacting laws officially excluding Japanese immigrants.
The Immigration Act of 1917 expanded the classes of foreigners excluded from the United States. It imposed a literacy test and designated an Asiatic Barred Zone, a geographic region encompassing much of eastern Asia and the Pacific islands from which immigrants would not be admitted to the United States. Aliens unable to meet minimum mental, moral, physical, and economic standards were excluded, as were anarchists and other so-called subversives (see Anarchism). Most of the basic provisions of the Immigration Act of 1917 were retained in subsequent revisions of the immigration law.
After World War I (1914-1918) a marked increase in racism and isolationism in the United States led to demands for further restrictions on immigration. In 1921 Congress established a quota system for immigrants. The number of immigrants of any nationality admitted to the United States each year could not exceed 3 percent of the number of foreign-born residents of that nationality living in the United States in 1910. The law applied to all immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and certain islands in the Atlantic and Pacific.
FROM 1924 TO 1964
The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the National Origins Act, further reduced quotas for immigrants deemed to be less desirable. Immigrants from northern and western Europe were considered highly adaptable and more likely to “fit in” with Americans than immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. As a result, immigrants from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland were assigned generous quotas. Quotas for countries such as Russia, the source of most Jewish immigrants, and Italy were cut back. Practically all Asians were barred from entering the United States. In 1941 Congress passed an act that refused visas to foreigners whose presence in the United States might endanger public safety. In a gesture of goodwill toward China, an ally of the United States during World War II, Congress passed a bill in 1943 allowing 105 Chinese immigrants to enter the United States annually.
These laws, coupled with the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, discouraged immigrants from coming to the United States. After World War II, however, Congress recognized two new categories of immigrants, war brides and refugees. A 1945 federal law, the War Brides Act, authorized the admission of the wives and children of citizens serving in the U.S. armed forces during World War II, without regard to quotas or other standards. Congress classified people escaping from their homelands for political reasons as refugees. Included in the initial group of refugees were people who had survived Nazi persecution in Europe during World War II and people fleeing Communism in Eastern Europe after the war. The Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950 and the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 authorized the admission of over 500,000 people.
Most of the existing U.S. laws related to immigration were incorporated into the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. Two extremely important changes were made. The Asiatic Barred Zone, which had banned most Asian immigrants since 1917, was abolished. Just as important, people from all nations of the world were given the opportunity to enter the United States. Each nation received a minimum quota of 100 persons annually.
Until the 1960s, most immigrants to the United States came from Europe. Legal restrictions blocked substantial emigration from many other regions. Mexicans, who were allotted a very small quota, came to the United States in growing numbers during the 1950s and early 1960s. Overall, 500,000 immigrants arrived in the United States in the 1930s, 1 million in the 1940s, and 2.5 million in the 1950s.
The New Immigration
A major change in U.S. immigration policy occurred with the passage of amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965. National-origin quotas were abolished, and annual limits of 170,000 Eastern Hemisphere immigrants and 120,000 Western Hemisphere immigrants were established. For Eastern Hemisphere immigrants, preferences were given to close relatives of American citizens, refugees, and individuals who possessed job skills in short supply in the United States. There was no preference system for Western Hemisphere immigrants, with visas available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The act exempted spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens from such numerical limits, as well as certain categories of special immigrants.
The 1965 act marked the beginning of a large and sustained wave of immigration even greater that of the early 20th century. Almost 4.5 million immigrants were admitted to the United States as legal permanent residents during the 1970s, a figure that grew to more than 7 million in the 1980s. Over 9 million legal immigrants were admitted in the 1990s, more than in any previous decade. These numbers include a large proportion of individuals who were already living in the United States as illegal aliens, legal refugees, or asylees (those granted political asylum). Although Congress had anticipated a new wave of European immigrants as a result of its reforms, about 80 percent of these immigrants came from Latin America, the Caribbean, or Asia. As in the past, economic opportunities in the United States provided the main attraction for immigrants from abroad.
Since the 1970s the leading countries of origin for legal immigrants have been Mexico (accounting for more than 20 percent of all immigrants), the Philippines (7 percent), China (4 percent), India (4 percent), South Korea (4 percent), Vietnam (4 percent), and the Dominican Republic (4 percent). Most immigrants have settled in California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, or Illinois. Smaller numbers live in regions throughout the United States. As in the past, most immigrants work in light industry, services, or agriculture. Many recent immigrants are well-educated professionals.
In 1978 an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished separate quotas for each hemisphere and instituted an annual quota of 290,000 immigrants worldwide, with a maximum of 20,000 for any one country. The Refugee Act of 1980 reduced the quota for all immigrants to 270,000 persons, excluding refugees. The Refugee Act estimated a “normal flow” of refugees and asylees entering the United States at about 50,000 people annually. However, the United States has admitted an average of 85,000 refugees and 7,000 asylees annually since 1980. Under the act, the maximum number of refugees allowed is set annually by the president of the United States, although it may be adjusted during the year in response to humanitarian crises.
In the 1980s concern about the surge of undocumented aliens—foreigners illegally entering the United States without proper documents—led Congress to pass legislation aimed at curtailing illegal immigration. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 mandated penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens. The act contained an amnesty provision that allowed most undocumented aliens who had lived in the United States continuously since January 1, 1982, to apply for legal status. It also granted amnesty to some illegal aliens working in agriculture.
Immigration Act of 1990
In 1990 Congress made comprehensive changes to U.S. immigration law by passing the Immigration Act of 1990. The act established an annual ceiling of 700,000 immigrants for each of the following three years, and a ceiling of 675,000 per year thereafter. Refugees were not covered by the act. Amnesty was extended to the undocumented family members of those who had taken advantage of the amnesty provision of the 1986 immigration act and had taken steps to become U.S. citizens. While family members of U.S. citizens remained the largest category of immigrants, the act established a separate annual quota of 140,000 for immigrants with job skills needed in the United States. Responding to pressure from various lobby groups, the 1990 act granted annual quotas of 40,000 to 55,000 to countries that had sent few immigrants in recent years. Individuals who invested over $1 million in business ventures in the United States, creating jobs for U.S. citizens, also received preferential treatment. In addition, special consideration was granted to political refugees escaping from countries with repressive governments.
The 1990 law addressed another category of immigrant: illegal aliens who would suffer hardship if deported because of ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or other extraordinary conditions in their homeland. The law gave the INS the power to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to illegal aliens from countries designated by the U.S. attorney general. Those granted the status could live and work in the United States until conditions improved in their homeland. Upon expiration of this status, immigrants were again subject to deportation. Countries designated under the TPS program have included Guatemala, El Salvador, Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.
Reforms of 1996 and 1997
In 1996 Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). The act made it easier to deport aliens attempting to enter the United States without proper documents. It also established an income test for those attempting to bring family members from abroad to the United States. Under the provisions of the act, a person sponsoring a family member is required to earn at least 125 percent of the poverty threshold, the annual income required to maintain an adequate standard of living according to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Poverty). Illegal immigrants who remain in the United States for more than six months are barred from re-entering the country for three years. Illegal immigrants who remain in the United States for a year or more are barred for ten years.
The IIRIRA also expanded the number of crimes for which legal immigrants can be deported, and severely restricted the right of immigrants to appeal decisions made by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to the federal courts. A related law passed in 1996, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), eliminated all INS discretion in deportation hearings for individuals who have criminal convictions. In 1999 the Supreme Court of the United States reviewed two separate challenges to the constitutionality of these provisions of the IIRIRA and AEDPA. In the case of Reno v. Goncalves,the Court ruled that these laws did not prohibit the federal courts from reviewing INS decisions in deportation proceedings that had begun prior to 1996. The INS had argued that the laws applied broadly to immigrants with criminal convictions, regardless of when deportation hearings began or when the criminal offense occurred.
In 1997 Congress passed legislation in response to criticism that U.S. immigration laws unfairly excluded Central American refugees, who faced civil wars from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. Although the U.S. government permitted the immigration of some Cuban and Haitian nationals as refugees, almost all Central Americans saw their refugee claims rejected. The 1997 law, called the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA), granted amnesty to Nicaraguans who had entered the United States illegally before December 1995. It also allowed certain Salvadorans and Guatemalans already in the country to suspend their deportation proceedings and apply for U.S. residency. However, hundreds of thousands of Central Americans already in the United States were not covered by the law and continued to seek U.S. residency by applying for asylum. The ad hoc nature of immigration policy left millions of other immigrants without proper papers or the hope of gaining asylum. The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 8.7 million undocumented aliens lived in the United States in 2000.
Recent Developments
In 2000 Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act, which granted the right to residency for an estimated 400,000 undocumented aliens. The measure restored amnesty eligibility to certain illegal immigrants who had failed to apply for amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. It also allowed illegal immigrants who were spouses or children of Americans to apply for residency while living in the United States instead of returning to their home country first.
United States immigration policy received immediate scrutiny in the aftermath of the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see September 11 Attacks). United States officials were especially concerned that the terrorists had been able to enter the country without raising suspicions and that some had been able to remain in the country after their visas expired. Six weeks after the attacks, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act of 2001. It provided funds for additional border agents and for implementing technologies and processes that would spot terrorists when they attempted to enter the country. It also authorized the indefinite detention of any noncitizen suspected of engaging in terrorist activities. The attorney general was given discretion to determine who was a suspected terrorist. Even before the law had passed, the U.S. Department of Justice rounded up and detained for questioning several thousand individuals from the Middle East. Federal immigration courts held hearings on their status in secret, much to the dismay of immigrants’ rights groups. Those found to be in the country illegally were ordered deported.
The federal government continued to focus on immigration as a national security issue in 2002 when Congress passed the Homeland Security Act, which abolished the INS and moved its functions from the Department of Justice to the newly created Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Within the DHS, the Bureau of Border Security was charged with border patrol and enforcement of immigration laws, and the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services was given responsibility for handling applications for visas, citizenship, asylum, and refugee status.
In early 2006 massive protests erupted throughout the United States in response to new immigration bills under consideration in Congress. A bill that passed the House of Representatives especially alarmed people in the immigrant community because it made illegal immigration a felony and criminalized humanitarian support for illegal immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in such major cities as Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, and smaller protests took place in dozens of other cities. A one-day work stoppage on May 1, International Workers’ Day, also dramatized opposition to the legislation and the important economic role played by the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The House bill conflicted with legislation in the Senate, where Senate Republicans were divided over new immigration legislation. The protests reportedly pressured Congress into delaying consideration of the differences in the two bills until after the November 2006 midterm elections. But before Congress adjourned for those elections it authorized $1.2 billion to build a fence stretching 1,120 km (700 mi) along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out illegal immigrants.

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