In fact, when Congress decided to reform the immigration system in , the vote in favor of the reform was overwhelming. There was very little debate on the House and Senate floors. Immigration policy has grown more divisive in the past three decades because the economy, the welfare state, and the immigrant population have changed.
Now, immigration is discussed as an issue of redistribution and cost, whereas before it was an issue of humanitarianism. That law has resulted in the immigrant population's significant change in character, which has had an important impact on both immigration policy and the tone of the debate in Congress.
The turning point appears to be the refugee admissions of the late s and the early s, not Proposition 's passage in Before , immigration policy remained largely a consensus issue. Republicans and Democrats believed that an open door policy posed the host country no challenges that could not be overcome easily. Objections to immigrant admissions were occasionally voiced on the basis of Cold War politics — that certain immigrants could be Communists or lack commitment to democratic values — but these concerns did not mobilize a broad front against immigrant admissions.
Members of Congress passed most immigration bills on voice votes signaling the absence of contention and with bipartisan support. Even after electronic voting was introduced in , recorded votes on immigration policy were uncommon.
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In the face of increasing budgetary pressure and a massive influx of needy refugees from around the world in the s, members of Congress were torn between two poles. On one hand, they held a customary humanitarian concern for families separated because of immigration as well as for people displaced by wars, famine, and political oppression.
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On the other hand, members had domestic priorities of maintaining taxes and spending on public assistance programs at reasonable levels. The partisan division on immigration policy is traceable to policy choices made in the late s. Democrats in Congress responded to the arrival of immigrants and refugees in that period by creating costly resettlement assistance programs, including a new resettlement bureaucracy, the Office of Refugee Resettlement ORR , within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
This move introduced a strong element of federal redistribution into the immigration debate. Republicans, therefore, were put in the position of opposing mass immigration because it imposed burdensome costs in the form of welfare and public aid. Our review of the committee and floor debates between and shows that use of public assistance animated considerable opposition to an open-door policy at least 15 years before the initial rumblings of Proposition The Mariel boatlift in was perhaps the crowning blow to bipartisan consensus on open admissions.
Many members of Congress greeted Castro's ridding Cuba of its undesirables with something akin to panic because a small fraction of this population had felony records, many were physically or mentally disabled, and the marielitos were considerably poorer and less skilled than the Cuban exiles of 20 years earlier. The prospect that these refugees could take their place alongside those from the earlier exodus seemed slim indeed.
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As immigrants and refugees have come to depend increasingly on redistributive programs, the lack of progress of the new immigrants in our postindustrial economy has generated a pronounced political split between Republicans and Democrats on immigration issues that did not exist in earlier times. Today, the issue of what immigrants cost society sharply divides the political parties.
Public aid programs are naturally attractive to many immigrants who arrive on our shores in poverty and with few skills. While immigrants may always have arrived on America's shores penniless and unskilled, the society to which they are arriving has changed since the last century. The immigrants who arrived in the s were not much different from most native-born Americans in their skill and educational levels.
Those immigrants could make up economic ground with hard work and, within a generation or so, were as well off as the native-born. But immigrants arriving since the s have faced a far greater skills deficit, given the emphasis our national economy now places on education. Thus, the earnings gap between natives and immigrants has increased since , especially for those with little education. While a long-standing principle in U.
For example, immigrant Supplemental Security Income SSI participation rose from 3 percent of the caseload in to 12 percent by Elderly immigrants on SSI rose from 6 percent to 28 percent from to And a study by the National Academy of Sciences found that immigrant-headed households are poorer than native ones and receive more government-funded income transfers. The changing economy, the expansion of the welfare state, the changing immigrant population, and the vast increase in the number of immigrants have all contributed to the breakdown of congressional consensus on immigration policy.
Consequently, we observe that members of Congress are now more likely to demand recorded, or "roll call," votes on immigration issues, a sign that they have become divisive and controversial. In the mids, recorded votes on immigration matters were rare, but by , 75 percent of the immigration-related votes on the House floor were recorded votes.
While Trump campaigned heavily against "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants, he has avoided rescinding an Obama administration program offering protections and work permits to those who were brought to the US as children, and in a recent meeting with reporters a senior administration official indicated Trump could be open to a compromise that included a path to legalization, if not citizenship, if it came to his desk. Trump told Congress in his joint address last month that he supported the idea of an immigration reform compromise, but offered few details.
Illegal, Alien, or Immigrant
Trump highlights crimes by undocumented immigrants. The President has described his immigration policies as focused on removing criminals, though critics of his administration say enforcement agencies' definition of criminal is too expansive and sweeps up people who only broke immigration laws. He has also ordered the creation of offices and reports focused on publicizing victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.
Americans say, however, they are more concerned about the effects of deportations than they are about immigrant crimes. That number is largely driven by Democrats -- more than two-thirds of Republicans say they are concerned efforts won't go far enough.
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A wide majority, nearly eight in 10, support deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed other crimes, however, an area Trump says is his focus. Opinions vary by party on both of these questions, though majorities across party lines are on the same side of both arguments.