Illegal Immigrants

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Illegal Immigrants

Illegal Immigrants


Immigrants are foreigners who have been granted permanent residency; that is, they can reside in the United States and work without restriction, and they are protected by law, but they cannot vote in elections. Asylees and refugees may apply to become immigrants or permanent residents through naturalization. Immigrants may become naturalized citizens of the United States by fulfilling the following six requirements: They must be at least 18 years of age, achieve basic literacy in English, demonstrate some knowledge of U.S. history, have resided in the United States for 5 years, reflect sound moral character, and take an oath of allegiance (Nicholas, 2007).

Illegal immigrants are those who have entered the country illegally, that is, without permission and a designated status (undocumented aliens), or who have stayed beyond the legally permissible time period.

Debates about immigration policy date back to the colonial era, when an influx of German and Scotch Irish immigrants arrived during the early 1700s. During this period, concerns about the integration of immigrants and economic shortfalls fueled anti-immigrant sentiment; however, these concerns dissipated during the American Revolution, when immigration promoted the success of the nation. For more than 200 years, U.S. immigration policy followed a cyclical pattern of pull, promoting immigration during periods of national political or economic need, then opposing immigration when the influx of newcomers had reached a critical mass. This trend was most visible with regard to immigrants from so-called undesirable racial or ethnic groups (Marger, 2006).

The U.S. race and ethnicity-based exclusionary quota system remained unchallenged even in 1952, when the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed, shifting the rationale for the quotas from racial superiority to cultural balance. During the Cold War period, this act denied entry to individuals who were members of or sympathetic to the Communist Party. As in the past, individuals with certain health conditions (e.g., mental deficiencies) were also denied entry. Immigration policy did not undergo a radical reformation until 1965, as part of the larger society-wide push for civil rights (Kawachi, 2008). By substituting the national-origin quota system with a preference system based on hemispheres, amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act, ratified in 1965, removed many of the barriers for immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa.


Today, immigrant status in the United States comprises five categories: (1) naturalized citizenship, (2) permanent migration (green card acquisition), (3) temporary migration (usually labor related), (4) tourism, and (5) undocumented migration (also called illegal migration).

Under current U.S. law, permanent migrants are eligible to become U.S. citizens after five years of legal permanent residence (three years if they are married to a U.S. citizen). Refugees and successful asylum seekers, permanent residents who have served in the armed forces, and beneficiaries of the 1986 amnesty law experience shorter wait times for citizenship eligibility. Refugees and asylum seekers may seek refuge from war, genocide, gender-related persecution and repression, political persecution, and torture (Isbister, 2006). To be granted asylum in the United States, asylum seekers (those already within the borders of the country) ...
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