Legal Issues Concerning Immigration to the USA

The liberalized immigration policies observed in the USA between the years 1965-2006 have turned it into a nation with a greater share of permanently residing legal immigrants than all other countries in the world combined. Reduced rates of airline fare to United States and increased numbers of family reunifications are other factors to have contributed significantly to an increase in the annual influx of the legally immigrated population of states like Florida, Texas, California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

However, those crossing the United States-Mexico border illegally find it difficult, costly, and risky to obtain legal migration documents. Added to that is the fact that the current generation of policy makers are insisting on increasing enforcement of existing laws dealing with illegal immigrants. Some of these proposals incorporating a guest worker program have been turned into laws in April 2010 approving a partial border fence along the United States-Mexico border. This would hopefully bring down crime rates, decrease voting problems and the unemployment that troubles the socio-economic gamut of the country. However, the rise in the immigrant population continues due to laws of naturalization. Under these laws a person residing in the USA for a stipulated time, consenting to obey and uphold that country's laws and taking a pledge of allegiance to the country’s welfare is given the status of a nationalized citizen. Federal laws concerning immigration and naturalization include:  


This is one of the most important immigration and naturalization laws of the USA. Passed in 1990 and in effect ever since, this law states that immigrants holding legal visas may accompany their family members settled in the USA. However, the number of immigrants arriving in the USA for family reunification must be less than 27% of the worldwide level specified for that particular year.

The other criterion for immigration sanctioned by this law is factors related to employment. It mentions that those seeking employment in the USA must hold legal visas and that their number must not exceed the upper limit for immigrants set down for that year.

The third type of immigration acknowledged by this law includes cultural diversity related factors, providing special emphasis on immigrants from ‘underrepresented’ countries.

As of May 7, 2007, the IMMACT was given further relaxation and extended the annual number of immigrants to 700,000. This also meant an increase of 40% in visas available.


The Anti Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act passed by the Congress in April 24, 1996 and signed by President Clinton gave the detainees the precious right of Habeas Corpus, enabling them to seek justice against unlawful imprisonment. Although the effect of this law extended to both legal and illegal immigrants, it also made it difficult for them to have their deportation reviewed in cases of committing an aggravated felony.

This law also reduced the power of federal judges top grant relief except in specific cases. Exceptions like an unreasonable judgment meted out by a state court in view of all facts and evidence presented for the case can be called for granting of relief.

AEDPA is criticized on two points: firstly, for hindering a federal court’s power of remedying unjust convictions. And secondly, it denies a wrongly convicted person his chances of gathering proof for his innocence. Racism, poor legal representation, misconduct of legal officials, withholding important evidences from a trial and lack of effort in post-trial reviews are counted as the five causes for a person being wrongly convicted in the USA.


The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act duly passed on September 30, 1996 under President Clinton basically seeks to complete a legal process started back in 1994 just after the Republican Party attained majority in the House of Senate. It combines the two wings of immigration bills in each house of the Senate concerning illegal and legal immigration.

Under this effort, a number of provisions pertaining to the legal immigration bills were shifted to the illegal immigration bill. Some of the most controversial provisions of the latter bill, like allowing the children of illegal immigrants access to public schools, came under heated debate. Finally, a compromise was worked up and the initially failing bill managed to become a law after deleting the provisions affecting school children.

Just like the AEDPA, the IIRIRA also categorizes several types of criminal offenses that can serve to impose mandatory detention and deportment on illegal immigrants as well as legal ones holding green cards. Again, just like AEDPA, IIRIRA was also criticized for curtailing judicial review of final orders of deportment for legal settlers convicted of felonious activities.


 Legal experts have expressed over time that they would appreciate if the USA government treated the immigrants as in transition to becoming prospective citizens in preference to ‘immigrants by contract’ policy. The ‘immigrant by affiliation’ is another recent approach for granting citizenship to settlers with deep rooted working history and family ties with the USA.


History of U.S. Immigration Laws: A report from the Statistical Yearbooks of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

US citizenship and immigration service: List of all free downloadable Forms required for immigration.

Department of Justice: List of Disciplined Immigration Law Practitioners.

History of Immigration: A History of Immigration Law Regarding People of Color

NIH Guide: Research on U.S. Immigration

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Summary of Migrant Civil Rights Issues along the Southwest Border

US Department of Justice: Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Travel State: Immigrants Visa Applications and other Visa forms.

Immigrant population: A Description of the Immigrant Population – a detailed study.

Immigration Statistics: Data from the Office of Immigration.

Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT 90): Why IMMACT 90 act was necessary.

US Permanent Residency: An overview of new categories, guidelines and quotas for internationals seeking permanent residency in the United States.

The impact of the immigration act of 1990 on U.S. immigration: An academic paper that compares immigration after the 1990 Immigration Act to projections of what it would have been like without the 1990 changes.

International scholars: A study whether 1990 immigration law means good news, bad news for international scholars 

Foreign nationals: Guide to employment of foreign nationals.

Immigration and History Workshop – A Brief Timeline of Key Events (MS-Word document)

AEDPA: Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 - A Summary

Antiterrorism And Effective Death Penalty Act Of 1996 – A text file with the details of the Act.

AEDPA: Bill Summary & Status

IIRIRA Act: What is the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility (IIRIRA) Act

Terrorist Detainees: Should Terrorist Detainees Have More Rights Than Americans? – A commentary

Legal information Institute: Immigration law - an overview

History of Migration and Immigration Laws in the United States: History Of Laws Concerning Immigration And Naturalization In The United States

National Immigration Reform: A resource site for access to a wide range of information including news, studies, reports, policies, laws, pending legislation, and litigation regarding amnesty and legalization programs for undocumented immigrants.

CIS: Center for Immigration Studies

Immigration NEWS: Changes in immigration that impact your life.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Website of ICE - the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

List of United States Immigration Acts – Definition

Immigration & Naturalization: A categorized & cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet.

A list of migration links: A list of various resources and academic sites.

 List of United States Immigration Acts – Definition

Immigration & Naturalization: A categorized & cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the Internet.

A list of migration links: A list of various resources and academic sites.