Current Immigration Laws in the U.S.

Current Immigration Laws in the U.S.

The modern immigration debate in the United States focuses primarily on illegal immigration. Recently, a committee within the House of Representatives formulated a new immigration bill, H.R. 4437 (Sensenbrenner/King Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005). The bill proposed to construct nearly 700 miles of fencing along the southwest border of the United States and to classify illegal immigrants as "aggravated felons," thus allowing for additional legal penalties against migrants and those who aid or harbor them.

A U.S. Senate committee formulated a competing legislative proposal, S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA). The Senate version provided for additional funding for border security and would have established a method for tracking illegal immigrants. CIRA would also have allowed thousands of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States to seek permanent residency.

Members of Congress were scheduled to debate the alternative proposals in June, 2006, but debate was postponed to allow additional time for independent research sessions and to hear testimony from experts regarding specific portions of both bills. The proposal of the House legislation, which was more stringent, was partially responsible for the mass immigrant rights protests that occurred throughout the country during the first half of 2006. In the end, S. 2611 passed by a 62-36 vote, and H.R. 4437 passed by a vote of 239-182. Neither bill was enacted into law, however, as both failed to pass conference committee. With the end of the 2007 legislative session both bills died.

The 2007 legislative session saw another attempt at CIRA in the form of S. 1348, which, among other provisions, would have provided a path to legal citizenship for many illegal immigrants in the United States and would have provided funding for border patrol agents and the construction of 300 miles of vehicle barriers. The bill was troubled from the beginning, undergoing a series of amendments. On June 28, 2007, the majority of the Senate voted to block the bill, officially quashing it before it even received an up-or-down vote.

Supporters of immigration reform cite labor, economy, national security and terrorism as chief issues pertaining to immigration. Importantly, however, a clear link between immigration levels and crime rates or terrorism has not been established. In addition, recent research suggests that higher rates of immigration are not linked to increased unemployment among native workers.

Public opinion polls conducted by the Gallup Organization, the Pew Hispanic Center, the Center for Immigration Studies and other polling organizations indicate that the majority of Americans favor immigration reform. There appears to be little consensus however, on the manner in which the government should formulate and implement reforms.

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