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The Evolution of US Immigration: Why Has it Come to This?

Written By The Shapiro Law Group on February 11, 2020

Throughout the history of Illinois and the U.S., immigration has shaped the state and the country. The various generations since the founding of the nation have witnessed numerous changes in the immigration policy of the U.S. Understanding how immigration has positively impacted the country over time can help people to gain a greater appreciation for the people who have chosen and who continue to choose to immigrate to the U.S. and to gain permanent resident status. 

Applying for Citizenship in the 1800s

In the 1800s, the U.S. had vast open lands and had a fairly open immigration policy. The government encouraged people from other countries to come to the U.S. and to gain permanent resident status. After the Civil War, some states passed immigration laws, leading the Supreme Court to rule that the regulation of immigration matters was a federal responsibility. Since then, various immigration policies have changed over time and have shaped the nation’s immigration laws.

Immigration Issues from 1900 to the 1980s

More than 24 million people immigrated to the U.S. between 1900 and 1920 in what was known as the Great Wave. The government placed quotas on the number of immigrants from each area to try to limit immigration. Immigration fell during the Great Depression and remained relatively low after World War II. In 1952, Congress passed the Immigration Nationality Act. During the 1960s, Congress passed a preference system geared towards reuniting immigrants with their families. More immigrants came to the U.S. from Asian nations and Latin American countries. 

Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980 and the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. These acts established mechanisms for handling refugees, provided amnesty to people who had been living in the U.S. as undocumented residents, and established enforcement mechanisms for people who entered illegally in the future.

Immigration Policies from the 1990s to Today

Multiple immigration laws were passed from the 1990s to the 2000s that placed further restrictions on immigration to the U.S. The attacks on 9/11 greatly changed how immigration was viewed by the public. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security were established. Efforts to pass immigration reform laws in Congress have been unsuccessful. Since the election of Donald Trump, the administration has tried to place more restrictions on legal immigration while engaging in controversial practices with people seeking asylum.