[Excerpt] There is a broad-based consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. This consensus erodes, however, as soon as the options to reform the U.S. immigration system are debated. Substantial efforts to comprehensively reform immigration law failed in the 109th and 110th Congresses. Whether the 112th Congress will address immigration reform in the midst of historically high levels of unemployment and budgetary constrictions is difficult to project.
The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States is at the highest level in U.S. history and has reached a proportion of the U.S. population—12.5%—not seen since the early 20th century. Of the 38 million foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately 16.4 million are naturalized citizens. The remaining 21.6 million foreign-born residents are noncitizens. According to the latest estimates by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), about 10.8 million unauthorized aliens were living in the United States in January 2010, down from a peak of 11.8 million in January 2007. Some observers and policy experts maintain that the presence of millions of unauthorized residents is evidence of inadequacies in the legal immigration system as well as failures of immigration control policies and practices.
This report synthesizes immigration issues as a multi-tiered debate. It breaks down the U.S. immigration law and policy into key elements: border control and visa security; legal immigration; documentation and verification; interior immigration enforcement; integration, status, and benefits; and refugees and other humanitarian populations. It delineates the debate in the 112th Congress for a range of issues, including border security, criminal aliens, worksite enforcement, employment eligibility verification, permanent admissions, temporary workers, legalization, noncitizen eligibility for federal benefits, birthright citizenship, and the role of state and local law enforcement in enforcing immigration laws.
Current circumstances may sharpen the social and business cleavages as well as narrow the range of options. Nonetheless, selected immigration issues are likely to be a major concern for the 112th Congress, even if legislative action on such contentious issues appears daunting.