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Five Questions About U.S. Immigration: A Fact Sheet

Posted January 18, 2017 • Filed Under Immigration

The new year has come, bringing with it the end of one presidential era and the start of a new one. As stated in the last NewBridges blog post, one of the most important things that Americans concerned with the well-being of immigrants can do during this time of transition is to educate themselves about the nature of immigration policy in the United States, as well as the lived experience of immigrants and their families. The purpose of this post is to help readers do exactly that. An educated perspective is crucial in times like these that pose political uncertainty, especially for the most vulnerable people living in this country.

Keep reading for answers to some frequently asked immigration-related questions. Click on the links throughout the post for additional reading on similar topics.

Question: What Immigration Policies did the Obama Administration Prioritize?

Answer: One of the most significant pieces of legislation that President Obama passed during his administration was the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, colloquially known as DACA. Passed by executive order, DACA has helped hundreds of thousands of undocumented people who entered the U.S. as children gain access to work and live here legally and avoid deportation in renewable two-year increments. To be eligible for DACA, prospective recipients must meet very specific criteria. Some of the requirements include entering the United States before their 16th birthday, having no lawful status as of June 15, 2012, having no criminal record, being enrolled in school or having a high school diploma or GED, and/or being an honorably discharged veteran. Since its inception in 2012, the program has given more than 740,000 eligible people the documentation they need to live and work legally in the United States. While DACA welcomed people in a certain population, the Obama administration also enforced strict deportation parameters focused on convicted criminals, those deemed a threat to public safety, and those who had recently crossed the border. In 2014 414,481 unauthorized immigrants were deported, and the data suggest that that number dropped in 2015. Nonetheless, deportations remain at record high numbers.

Question: How do Most Immigrants Enter the U.S.?

Answer: Researchers estimate that up to half of the unauthorized immigrant population living in the U.S. entered the country legally, and subsequently violated the terms of their legal entry. According to Pew Research Center, over 400,000 people who entered the United States legally in 2015 overstayed their visas. Of the 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States, up to half may have come in with a legal visa or border crossing card. Many people also enter the country without inspection, bypassing checkpoints because they have no visa allowing them entry or residency. The rhetoric surrounding unauthorized immigration frequently includes caricatures of  people sneaking across the United States/Mexico border, thus the push for a wall to be built. However, in reality, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico has been steadily declining over the past ten years. Research by the Migration Policy Institute explains that the purpose of borders has changed in recent centuries from markers of territory to barriers intended  to keep migrants out. However, the evidence is ultimately unclear whether or not walls are effective at stemming the flow of unauthorized immigration. Increased security across borders is clearly preventative, but tends to make migrants find other ways to enter countries, either by different land routes, by sea, or by finding ways to manipulate the visa system.

Question: Do  Immigrants Pay Taxes and Receive Government Benefits?

Answer: Immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized, are eligible for benefits and contribute significantly to state and local taxes. Unauthorized immigrants pay sales tax on purchases, property tax on their homes, and close to half of that population pays income tax, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. In 2010, an estimated $10.6 billion in state and local taxes were accrued from unauthorized immigrants. Analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies explains that 49 percent of legal immigrant households in 2012 were covered by at least one federal benefits program. Households headed by unauthorized immigrants can gain access to government benefits through children who were born in the U.S., and the same study estimates that 62 percent of these households accessed at least one benefits program. However, low education levels are more likely to contribute to benefit usage than legal status. Finally, the work that the United States Citizenship and  Immigration Services (USCIS) does is not paid for by taxpayer dollars. All of the immigration-related proceedings done by this federal agency are paid for by the application and filing fees associated with immigration cases.

Question: Do Immigrants Take American Jobs?

Answer: A large body of evidence suggests that native born American workers are not jeopardized by immigrants; however, these results are nuanced. This has been a contentious topic, especially in the years following the recession. A variety of factors influence the relationship between native born and immigrant workers, including age and industry. Immigrants often fill low-skill, low-wage positions that bolster the corporations they work for, and thus stimulate the economy. Many immigrants also contribute highly specialized skills and entrepreneurial attitudes, even here in the Shenandoah Valley. Overall, the American public’s attitudes are changing on this topic and trending more favorably toward immigrants than in the past, according to Pew.

Question: How Many Immigrants Become U.S. Citizens?

Answer: Almost half of the foreign-born population living in the United States is comprised of naturalized citizens. That’s about 6 percent of the entire population of the country.  653,456 legal permanent residents were naturalized as citizens in 2014. When considering national trends, naturalization has increased significantly over the past several decades. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “Since 2010, the average annual number of naturalizations has increased to 701,000.” In order to be naturalized, individuals must have resided legally in the U.S. for five years as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) or three years if an LPR through marriage, demonstrate proficiency in English, pass a test on U.S. history and government, and pass a background check. In addition to gaining their rights as citizens, naturalized individuals can also sponsor family members who wish to come to the U.S., and are protected from deportation. Naturalized individuals tend to have higher education levels and socioeconomic statuses than non-citizens.  Becoming a U.S. citizen is an important part of the integration process.

We hope these facts will provide clear insight on common immigration questions. Please feel free to contact us with any questions.

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About the Author: Lindsay Wright is a 2016 graduate of James Madison University, where she double majored in Communication Studies and Spanish. She is currently completing a nine-month internship at NewBridges, where she is producing content for the blog and getting experience working with clients. In her free time, Lindsay enjoys reading, cooking, and spending time outside in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Contact Lindsay at [email protected].