The Legal Landscape of U.S. Immigration: An Introduction

Katherine M. Donato & Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes
Date of Publication: 
November, 2020
Source Organization: 

In recent decades, U.S. immigration policy has ceased to be a legislative matter. Reflecting a slow but steady expansion of presidential power, broad executive actions rather than congressional initiatives determine the fate of hundreds of thousands of immigrant visa applicants each year. “The Legal Landscape of U.S. Immigration: An Introduction,” an article published in The Russell Sage Foundation’s Journal of the Social Sciences, provides an introduction to an entire issue of the Journal devoted to historical trends in U.S. immigration policy. The articles cover five periods. More open immigration and the establishment of a nationality-based quota system characterized the pre-1925 period. From 1925-1964, immigration was largely restricted, but seasonal migrant workers were permitted, refugees were admitted after World War II, and the ban on Asian immigration was loosened a little. The 1965-1990 period saw an end to nationality-based quotas, increased protections and opportunities for certain groups and the expanded use of executive actions. From 1991-2002, policy became overwhelmingly restrictive, emphasizing border enforcement and deportation. Post-2003, congressional activity fully stagnated; the Obama administration established Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and laid the groundwork for the establishment of sanctuary cities, while the Trump administration later countered these moves by barring many immigrants from entry, bolstering enforcement and systematically dismantling immigrant-focused programs and resources. The authors conclude by suggesting two avenues for further research: the implications of the increased volume of temporary low-skilled employment visas relative to a small, stable number of permanent visas; and the consequences of greater use of executive action in determining immigration policy. (Kyla Schmitt for The Immigrant Learning Center’s Public Education Institute)

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Donato, K. & Amuedo-Dorantes, C. (2020, November). The Legal Landscape of U.S. Immigration: An Introduction. The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.