In the United States, immigration laws bear political overtones because they touch on the sensitive issues of national sovereignty and homeland defense. These laws dictate who may enter the country, as well as the length and duration of their visit. These laws also allow selected non-citizens to naturalize and become citizens of this country.
U.S. Immigration Laws
U.S. immigration laws treat persons as either U.S. citizens or aliens. The Fourteenth Amendment states that U.S. citizens include "persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to [its] jurisdiction." Therefore, all persons who are not U.S. citizens are aliens. 28 U.S. Code Section 1101.
In terms of aliens, U.S. immigration law further classifies them according to their immigration status, with each group afforded different rights and obligations, such as the right to reside in the United States, the right to sponsor relatives, and the right to work in the United States. Aliens may be lawful permanent residents (i.e., green card holders), immigrant visa holders, temporary lawful visitors or undocumented illegal aliens.
Immigrant and Nonimmigrant Visas
Alien seeking to enter the United States must first secure a visa from a U.S. consulate or embassy. Visa holders may enter the United States for a set duration and purpose, depending on the visa type. Immigrant visas, which may be employment-based or family-based, enable their holders to remain in the United States permanently and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Aliens holding immigrant visas may legally work in the country.
The U.S. government issues nonimmigrant visas to temporary visitors. Some, such as tourists, may not work in the United States. Others, including temporary workers holding H-1B visas or certain student visa holders, are authorized to work in the United States.
History of Immigration Laws
Immigration to the United States was mostly free and open until after the Civil War, when some states passed immigration laws. In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the exclusive right to regulate immigration. Congress began enacting immigration laws in the1880s, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and Alien Contract Labor laws of 1885 and 1887, which barred certain workers from immigrating to the country. The Immigration Act of 1882 charged a tax on every immigrant and prevented the entry of convicts, idiots, lunatics, and persons likely to become a public charge. The list of persons who were excluded expanded quickly and immigration law became increasingly complex.
A federal agency tasked with administering immigration laws was first established in 1891, and evolved into the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1933. The INS, first part of the U.S. Department of Labor, moved to the Justice Department. The INS has now become absorbed and replaced by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Immigration law and policy changed dramatically over the first half of the 20th century as migration patterns, economic and political circumstances, technology, and World War I and II caused different patterns and volume of immigration. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) continues to be the basic immigration law of the U.S., though it has changed considerably since its enactment. The Immigration Act of 1990 significantly reformed immigration laws by allocating visas among foreign countries more evenly and fostering increased legal immigrantion to the United States. It also opened a lottery program that assigns approximately 50,000 visas each year http://www.justia.com/immigration/ to people born in countries with low immigration rates to the United States.
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