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Where We Were With U.S. Immigration

In the OSJ’s “What’s the Deal With Immigration?” series, we are taking a look at where we were, where we are, and where we’re headed with US immigration policy. This first article seeks to answer where we were, highlighting some of the ways in which our immigration system has become outdated.

Our immigration system is 55 years old. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA), which created the immigration system we have today, was monumental in its time. Backdropped by the civil rights movement, the INA replaced a system based on national quotas favoring Western Europeans with one based on the more practical categories of employment, family reunification, and humanitarian immigration. The INA’s new approach reflected economic and family unity priorities that newly defined American immigration policies.

While the INA was revolutionary in 1965, the American and global economic landscape has drastically transformed in the last 55 years, making our immigration system largely stuck in time. 

Our immigration system is largely stuck in time.

For example, the INA created employment-based immigration pathways that were limited to two categories: agricultural and specialized workers. These categories met the needs of our 1965 economic realities when most immigrants occupied agricultural work or positions where exceptional skills and knowledge were needed. However, now immigrants are needed in industries ranging from retail, construction, medicine, to administrative support and research positions. 

Over time, demand for migrant workers in agricultural and specialized occupations increased beyond the allotted quotas, which both put employers in a challenging situation to find employees and fueled an undocumeneted workforce. In addition to the quota, the complex bureaucratic processes and high costs of following the agricultural visa procedures have contributed to the increasing employment of undocumented workers. Left without worker protections, undocumented workers are often left vulnerable to poor working conditions and inadequate pay. 

As Christians, we are called to speak out against unjust systems

Another problem that shows the age of our immigration system is the green card backlog. Green cards, or lawful permanent residence status, are issued at an annual quota limit by category. For example, family-based green cards are capped at 226,000 per year while work-based green cards are capped at 140,000 per year, which has created lines that are decades long for many people. In addition, a cap is placed on each country of origin. As a result, immigrants from countries such as India face a backlog of 8 decades before they will receive a green card despite having been approved for one.

These are just a few of the age markers in our immigration system that not only cause unjust and inhumane treatment of immigrants but also inefficiencies in the system. 

As Christians, we are called to speak out against unjust systems that oppress the vulnerable. In this case, our immigrant neighbors have been unnecessarily made to be vulnerable by the broken immigration system. We have the duty to no longer sit idly by and continue to watch broken policies impact real human lives. 

In addition to the immigration system being severely outdated, immigration policies in recent decades have made it increasingly harmful and punitive. Tune in for our second article to learn more about recent developments in immigration policy that emphasize our need for comprehensive reform.

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