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Illegal Aliens

Chapter 5
Illegal Aliens


According to Stuart Anderson and David Miller, in Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever (May 2006, http://www.competeamerica.org/resource/h1b_glance/NFAP_Study.pdf), "those who 'play by the rules' are likely to wait many years" to enter the United States legally. The word is out around the world that there are jobs in the United States. Even low-paying jobs by U.S. standards far exceed what workers can earn in many parts of the world, if jobs were available in their impoverished countries. Many aliens who enter the United States accept high risk and sometimes great expense for a chance at jobs sooner rather than later. Their families often follow.

Long Waiting Time for Legal Entry Documents

The annual limit on the number of U.S. employment-based legal admissions is well below the number requested by potential immigrants seeking jobs. This has created backlogs in some categories. Anderson and Miller indicate that wait times in 2006 for new employer-sponsored skilled workers and professionals to receive green cards exceeded five years. The demand for "Other Worker" green cards exceeded the established annual limits to such an extent that the State Department set cutoff dates and only processed applications received before that date. This resulted in visas for Other Worker applicants as being "unavailable" for part of the year. (See Table 5.1.) Highly educated workers with specialty skills from China and India had been so heavily recruited that wait times ranged from one to three years. Anderson and Miller note that a worker being sponsored by a U.S. employer goes into a state of "limbo" while waiting for a green card. With no knowledge of when the card will arrive, the worker cannot make firm plans, secure housing, or travel freely; in most cases the worker cannot even change jobs in his or her home country.

There are no quotas for U.S. citizens sponsoring a spouse, minor children, or parents for legal entry, but annual limits do apply to siblings and adult children. According to Anderson and Miller, the waiting time for adult children of a U.S. citizen ranges from six to fifteen years. (See Table 5.2.) Siblings of a U.S. citizen can wait as long as twenty-two years. Waiting times are similarly long for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents.

Obtaining a nonimmigrant visa is no simple task either. In May 2006 foreign nationals seeking a business or tourist visa waited as long as 169 days in Mumbai, India, for the required in-person interview at a U.S. consular office. (See Table 5.3.) Wait times varied dramatically by country. In May 2006 Vietnamese nationals could get an interview in 1 day at the U.S. consulate in Hanoi, whereas Mexico City visa seekers waited 122 daysan improvement from over 160 days in January 2006.

Cost of a U.S. Visa

Foreign visitors or immigrants who want to travel to the United States pay a variety of fees to obtain visas. Fees for visa services are collected by the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs. Fees for services related to immigration status are collected by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).


Visas are classified by type of nonimmigrant visitor. A foreign government official has an A visa, and a student has an F visa. (See Table 5.4.) The State Department charges visa issuance fees based on reciprocity (what another country charges a U.S. citizen for a similar type of visa). For example, most countries welcome tourists and the money they spend, so they charge them no visa fees. Most U.S. B visastemporary visitors for business or pleasurehave no fee. Yemen is one of the few countries that charges a visa fee to U.S. business or pleasure visitors, including travelers and airline crew members passing through on the way to another country. Thus, the State Department charges reciprocal visa fees of $30 for these classifications of people from Yemen to enter the United States. The State Department's Visa Reciprocity Tables (March 12, 2007, http://travel.state.gov/visa/reciprocity/index.htm) identify reciprocal visa fees and special requirements by country.

Wait time for employment-based immigrants, June 2006
China India Mexico Philippines All other countries
Note: The relatively small number of those in the schedule A workers, certain special immigrants, and employment creation immigrants categories do not experience backlogs and are not included on the chart. Once a number/visa is available processing can take from 2 months at an overseas post to longer periods with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Of the 10,000 slots in the other workers category, 5,000 are available to be used for certain qualified Central Americans under legislation passed by Congress in 1997.
Source: Stuart Anderson and David Miller, "Table 1. Wait Times for Employment-Based Immigrants," in Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever, National Foundation for American Policy, May 2006, http://www.nfap.com/researchactivities/studies/NFAPStudyLegalImmigrantsWaitingForever052206.pdf (accessed January 6, 2007)
Priority workers (1st preference) 1 year wait (processing applications before July 2005) 1 year wait (processing applications before January 2006) Numbers immediately available to qualified applicants Numbers immediately available to qualified applicants Numbers immediately available to qualified applicants
Advanced degree holders and persons of exceptional ability (2nd preference) 2 year wait (processing applications before July 2004) 3 year wait (processing applications before January 2003) Numbers immediately available to qualified applicants Numbers immediately available to qualified applicants Numbers immediately available to qualified applicants
Skilled workers and professionals (3rd preference) 5 year wait (processing applications before July 2001) 5 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 5 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 5 year wait (processing applications before July 2001) 5 year wait (processing applications before July 2001)
Other workers (3rd preference) Unavailable Unavailable Unavailable Unavailable Unavailable
Wait time for family-sponsored immigrants
[In years]
China India Mexico Philippines All other countries
*The spouses and minor and adult children of permanent residents category is 114,200 annually "plus the number (if any) by which the worldwide family preference level exceeds 226,000". 75% of spouses and minor children of lawful permanent residents are exempt from the per-country limit.
Source: Stuart Anderson and David Miller, "Table 4. Wait Time in Years for Family-Sponsored Immigrants," in Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever, National Foundation for American Policy, May 2006, http://www.nfap.com/researchactivities/studies/NFAPStudyLegalImmigrantsWaitingForever052206.pdf (accessed January 6, 2007)
Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens (1st preference) 23,400 a year 6 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 6 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 13 year wait (processing applications received before January 1992) 14 year wait (processing applications received before September 1991) 6 year wait (processing applications before April 2001)
Spouses and minor children of permanent residents (2nd Preference-A) 87,934 a year* 5 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 5 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 7 year wait (processing applications received before July 1999) 5 year wait (processing applications before April 2001) 5 year wait (processing applications before April 2001)
Unmarried adult children of permanent residents (2nd preference-B) 26,266 a year 9 year wait (processing applications before August 1996) 9 year wait (processing applications before August 1996) 14 year wait (processing applications before October 1991) 9 year wait (processing applications before July 1996) 9 year wait (processing applications before August 1996)
Married adult children of U.S. citizens (3rd preference) 23,400 a year 7 year wait (processing applications before August 1998) 7 year wait (processing applications before August 1988) 11 year wait (processing applications before March 1993) 15 year wait (processing applications before July 1988) 7 year wait (processing applications before August 1998)
Siblings of U.S. citizens (4th preference) 65,000 a year 11 year wait (processing applications before March 1995) 12 year wait (processing applications before August 1994) 12 year wait (processing applications before August 1993) 22 year wait (processing applications before November 1983) 11 year wait (processing applications before March 1995)

In "Fees for Visa Services" (March 2005, http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1263.html),the State Department discusses the charges and other fees for processing visas and related documents. Examples of common fees are:

Wait times for visa interviews at key consular posts
[In days]
City as of: Visit or visa Student/exchange visitor Other non-immigrant visas
5/6/2006 1/10/2006 5/6/2006 1/10/2006 5/6/2006 1/10/2006
Source: Stuart Anderson and David Miller, "Table 6. Wait Times in Days for Visa Interview Times at Key Consular Posts," in Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever, National Foundation for American Policy, May 2006, http://www.nfap.com/researchactivities/studies/NFAPStudyLegalImmigrantsWaitingForever052206.pdf (accessed January 6, 2007)
Beijing 14 34 2 6 2 27
Bogota 6 10 1 1 1 1
Brasilia 35 48 5 13 35 48
Calcutta 114 91 9 14 14 91
Caracas 37 32 7 7 7 7
Chennai 58 114 2 73 163 114
Hanoi 1 1 1 1 1 1
Managua 2 21 1 7 2 21
Manila 38 27 4 1 45 27
Mexico City 122 160 9 18 9 18
Moscow 21 7 10 7 10 7
Mumbai (Bombay) 169 98 10 20 18 98
New Dehli 98 40 14 4 14 50
Nogales 23 1 Same day Same day 23 1
San Salvador 2 10 1 1 2 1
Seoul 3 3 3 3 3 3
Shanghai 31 31 1 3 2 1
Taipei 8 10 1 1 8 10
Tel Aviv 70 24 2 5 2 24
Warsaw 2 2 1 2 1 2
U.S. nonimmigrant visa classifications
Category Description
Source: Adapted from "Immigration Classification and Visa Categories," U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis (accessed January 22, 2007)
A Foreign government officials
B Temporary visitors for business or pleasure
C Aliens in transit (airplane passenger passing through to another country)
D Crew members (airplanes, ships)
E Treaty traders and treaty investors
F Academic students
G Foreign government officials to international organizations
H Temporary workers
I Foreign media representatives
J Exchange visitors
K Fiance of a U.S. citizen
L Intracompany transferee
M Vocational and language students
N Parent or child of certain "special immigrants"
NAFTA North American Free Trade Agreement representatives
NATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization representatives
O Workers with extraordinary ability
P Athletes and entertainers
Q International cultural exchange visitors
R Religious workers
S Witness or informant of criminal organization or terrorism
T Victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons
U Victims of certain crimes
V Nonimmigrant spouse of child of a U.S. permanent resident
TPS Temporary protected status
  • Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee, Form DS-156 (nonrefundable): $100
  • Border crossing card-10 year (age 15 and over) nonrefundable: $100
  • Border crossing card (under age 15) for Mexican citizen if parent or guardian has or is applying for a border-crossing card (nonrefundable): $13


The USCIS, in "Immigration Forms" (2007, http://www.uscis.gov/), provides a complete list of immigration-related forms and fees. A few examples of fees are:

  • Form I-130, petition to classify status of alien relative for issuance of immigrant visa: $190
  • Form I-600, petition to classify an orphan as an immediate relative: $545
  • Form I-485, application to register permanent residence or alien status (green card): $325
  • Form N-400, application for naturalization: $330


Fees charged for immigrant services are intended to fund much of the expense of USCIS services. In fiscal year (FY) 2005 the USCIS collected over $1.5 billion in fees. (See Figure 5.1.) The forms generating the greatest shares of annual revenue ($184 million each) were the N-400 Naturalization (Citizenship) Application and the I-485 Green Card Application. These two applications accounted for nearly one-fourth (24%) of documents processed by the USCIS in 2005.

In the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman Annual Report 2006 (June 2006, http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/CISOmbudsman_AnnualReport_2006.pdf), the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suggests that some of the delays in the USCIS document processing generated additional revenue to the organization. For example, delays in green card processing caused the USCIS to issue interim Employment Authorization Documents (EADs) to waiting applicants. EAD fees represented 12% of the USCIS fee revenue in FY2005. (See Figure 5.1.) An EAD allows a green card applicant to obtain a Social Security number, a driver's license, and credit. Generally, the EAD gives the impression that the person has legal status in the United States when the status has not yet been determined. The DHS estimates that thousands of applicants who were ultimately found to be ineligible for a green card were issued EADs.


The Migration Information Source notes in its December 2006 Policy Beat that the USCIS planned to raise fees in 2007 for immigration benefits, including green cards, work permits, and naturalization. Even though immigrant advocates argue that raising fees will present a further barrier to citizenship for working-class immigrants, the USCIS defends increased fees as necessary to decrease backlogs in the system.


The term illegal alien is used in legislation and by the U.S. Border Patrol to describe a person who is not legally authorized to live in the United States. Illegal aliens are also known as immigrants, migrants, or workers who are unauthorized, undocumented, or paperless. People often assume that the term illegal alien refers specifically to Mexicans who have crossed the U.S.-Mexican border. Although Mexicans account for a large share of the unauthorized entrants to the United States, illegal aliens can come from anywhere in the world.

An illegal alien is defined as a person who is not a U.S. citizen and who is in the United States in violation of U.S. immigration laws. An illegal alien could be one of the following:

  • An undocumented alien who entered the United States without a visa, often between land ports of entry
  • A person who entered the United States using fraudulent documentation
  • A person who entered the United States legally with a temporary visa and then stayed beyond the time allowed (this person is often called a nonimmigrant overstay or a visa overstay)
  • A legal permanent resident who committed a crime after entry, became subject to an order of deportation, but failed to depart


Because illegal aliens do not readily identify themselves for fear of deportation, it is almost impossible to determine how many illegal aliens are in the United States. Various sources estimate between two million and twelve million, but these estimates are little more than educated guesses and are often politically influenced. The wide variance among the estimates is an indication of their unreliability. Furthermore, the number of illegal aliens varies somewhat between the winter and summer months based on availability of agricultural work.

Estimates of the Illegal Alien Population Vary

According to the Congressional Budget Office, in The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market (November 2005, http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/68xx/doc6853/11-10-Immigration.pdf), government estimates, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of the Census and various federal agencies, counted 10 million U.S. illegal aliens in 2004, with 6.3 million of these in the workforce. In The Underground Labor Force Is Rising to the Surface (January 3, 2005, http://www.firecoalition.com/docs/bear%20stearns%20study.pdf), Robert Justich and Betty Ng of Bear Stearns Asset Management dispute estimates of the illegal alien population that were based on Census Bureau counts. They suggest that the Census Bureau accounted for only half of the illegal alien population. They project that the 2004 illegal alien population was as great as twenty million. Justich and Ng arrive at this figure using increases in school enrollments, foreign remittances (money sent by foreign workers to their families back home), border crossings, and housing permits.

In Immigrants at Mid-decade: A Snapshot of America's Foreign-Born Population in 2005 (December 2005, http://www.cis.org/articles/2005/back1405.pdf), Steven A. Camerota of the Center for Immigration Studies pegs the total illegal population in 2005 at 9.6 to 9.8 million. Researchers debate the accuracy of Census Bureau counts in the Current Population Survey, noting that other research indicates roughly 10% of the illegal population was not counted. This would raise the illegal population to nearly eleven million in March 2005.

Jeffrey S. Passel of the Pew Hispanic Center in Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S. (March 7, 2006, http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/61.pdf) estimates the unauthorized population at 11.5 to 12 million in 2006. Passel indicates that in 2005 Mexican nationals comprised 56% of the illegal immigrant population and that immigrants from Latin American countries represented another 22%. (See Figure 5.2.) In the fact sheet "Modes of Entry for the Unauthorized Migrant Population" (May 22, 2005, http://pewhispanic.org/files/factsheets/19.pdf), the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that half of all illegal aliens living in the United States originally entered the country legally through a port of entry such as an airport or border crossing point. They came on visas or border crossing cards (good for frequent short visits and commuting back and forth to work) and simply did not leave. This group totaled an estimated 4.5 to 6 million people. (See Table 5.5.)


Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), it became apparent that some or all of the perpetrators had entered the United States legally and that many had overstayed their allotted time with no notice taken by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now the USCIS) or any other enforcement agency. On March 1, 2003, the INS and the U.S. Customs Service were folded into the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Within the DHS the new U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency oversaw the movement of goods and people into the United States, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was responsible for enforcing immigration laws within the United States. On March 17, 2004, Asa Hutchinson (http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/library/congress/2004_h/040317-hutchinson.doc), the undersecretary for border and transportation security, addressed the challenges of border control before the Subcommittee on Infrastructure and Border Security of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. Five hundred million nonimmigrant visitors enter the United States annually. Ports of entry into the United States stretch across 7,500 miles of land border with Mexico and Canada and 95,000 miles of shoreline and navigable rivers. Among more than three hundred air, land, and sea ports of entry, conditions and venues vary considerably, from air and sea ports in metropolitan New York City with dozens of employees to a two-person land entry point in North Dakota.

Modes of entry for the unauthorized migrant population, 2006
Note: Estimates based on the March 2005 Current Population Survey (CPS) and Department of Homeland Security reports.
Source: "Modes of Entry for the Unauthorized Migrant Population," in Fact Sheet, Pew Hispanic Center, May 22, 2006, http://pewhispanic.org/files/factsheets/19.pdf (accessed January 15, 2007). © 2006 Pew Hispanic Center, a Pew Research Center project, www.pewhispanic.org.
Entered with inspection Non-immigrant visa overstayers 4 to 5.5 million
Border crossing card violators 250,000 to 500,000
Sub-total legal entries 4.5 to 6 million
Entered illegally without inspection Evaded the immigration inspectors and border patrol 6 to 7 million
Estimated total unauthorized population in 2006 11.5 to 12 million

Nonimmigrant Overstays

Despite congressional initiatives to track foreign visitors after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and again after 9/11, by 2006 the United States was not able to determine whether temporary foreign visitors had actually left the country. Section 110 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) mandated that the INS develop an automated system to track the entry and exit of all noncitizens entering or leaving all ports of entry, including land borders and sea ports. The INS, the Canadian government, and the airline industry, among others, opposed Section 110. According to the INS, it lacked the resources to put in place such an integrated system. The Canadian government claimed that filling out the entry form (Form I-94) and having it checked by INS inspectors would cause large backups at the border. The airlines considered Section 110 an additional reporting burden.


The I-94 form had long been the primary tracking document for nonimmigrant visitors entering the United States with a visa. (See Figure 5.3.) This form, which was still in use in 2007, has two specific perforated sections to it. The top section provides arrival information. The bottom section is a departure coupon that should be returned to U.S. officials when exiting the United States. Many visitors lose the form or simply fail to return it on departure. Some visitors leave by different ports from where they enter, creating either a challenge for matching paper stubs or a data entry workload. Thus, immigration officials lose track of who actually remains in the country as visa overstays.


On June 15, 2000, Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act to amend Section 110 of the IIRIRA. It required implementation of an electronic systemU.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT)using available data to identify lawfully admitted nonimmigrants who might have overstayed their visits. The proposed system would scan visitors' fingerprints and check them against databases of known terrorists and criminals. It would also scan passports and record entries and departures. The system was to be operational at all ports of entry by December 31, 2005. In FY2004 a total of 335.3 million people entered the United States through land ports of entry. (See Figure 5.4.) Even though US-VISIT processed 42.2% of the 75.1 million international travelers arriving at airports that year, it processed just 1.4% of people arriving at land ports of entry. These numbers included U.S. citizens who were not subject to US-VISIT processing. According to the DHS, in "US-VISIT: Current Ports of Entry" (November 27, 2006, http://www.dhs.gov/xtrvlsec/programs/editorial_0685.shtm), US-VISIT biometric entry procedures were in place at 116 airports, 15 seaports, and in the secondary inspection areas of 154 of 170 land ports of entry as of November 2006. However, pilot programs for exit procedures were in operation at just twelve airports and two seaports.


In Border Security: US-VISIT Program Faces Strategic, Operational, and Technological Challenges at Land Ports of Entry (December 2006, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07248.pdf), the Government Accountability Office reports that "for various reasons, a biometric US-VISIT exit capability cannot now be implemented without incurring a major impact on land POE [port of entry] facilities. An interim nonbiometric exit technology being tested does not meet the statutory requirement for a biometric exit capability and cannot ensure that visitors who enter the country are those who leave. US-VISIT officials stated that they believe a bio-metrically based solution that does not require those exiting the country to stop for processing, that minimizes the need for major facility changes, and that can [be] used to definitively match a visitor's entry and exit will be available in 5 to 10 years. In the interim, it remains unclear how officials plan to proceed." Appropriations for this border security program over five fiscal years totaled $1.7 billion through 2007. (See Table 5.6.)

US-VISIT appropriations, fiscal years 200307
[In millions of dollars]
Budget activity 2003 appropriated 2004 appropriated 2005 appropriated 2006 appropriated 2007 appropriated
Note: Starting in fiscal year 2004, funding for the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology) program has been appropriated on a "no-year" basis, meaning that there is no time limit on the spending of appropriated funds; funds that remain unexpended at the end of a fiscal year are carried over into the next fiscal year.
Source: "Table 2. US-VISIT Appropriations Enacted, Fiscal Years 2003 through 2007 (in Millions of Dollars)," in Border Security: US-VISIT Program Faces Strategic, Operational, and Technological Challenges at Land Ports of Entry, U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-07-248, December 2006, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07248.pdf (accessed January 22, 2007)
US-VISIT $362 $328 $340 $337 $362

Visa Waiver Program

According to the press release "Vast Majority of Visa Waiver Countries Meet Security Upgrade to e-Passports" (October 26, 2006, http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/pr_1161876358429.shtm), the DHS reports that each year approximately fifteen million people travel to the United States without a visa to stay ninety days or less for business or pleasure. Citizens of any of the twenty-seven countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) can enter the United States on a passport issued by their country of citizenship. Representatives of the foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media cannot use the visa waiver when traveling for professional pursuits.


In the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, as amended, Congress mandated machine-readable, biometric passports would be required for all VWP travelers by October 26, 2006. Children would no longer be able to travel on their parents' passports. This change required VWP countries to certify that they had programs in place to issue their citizens machine-readable passports that incorporated biometric identifiers and complied with standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The new passports are identified by an international e-Passport logo on the cover and contain a secure contact-less chip with the passport holder's biographic information and a biometric identifier. Biometric data are measurable physical characteristics or personal behavioral traits used to recognize the identity or verify the claimed identity of an enrollee. Among the features that can be measured are face, fingerprints, hand geometry, handwriting, iris, retina, vein, and voice. The size of the passport and photograph, and the arrangement of data fields, especially the two lines of data, have to be exact to be read by an Optical Character Reader. The DHS states in the October 26, 2006, press release that twenty-four of the twenty-seven VWP countries have met the requirements for issuing e-Passports.


The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System was launched in 2003 to track nonimmigrant visitors coming from designated countries and others who meet a combination of intelligence-based criteria that identify them as potential security risks. State Department offices in foreign countries identify such people when issuing visas. These individuals are required to register on arrival at a port of entry, participate in an interview with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration before being allowed into the country, and report any change of address, employment, or educational institution while in the country. They are also required to register on departure and are restricted to using certain designated ports of entry/departure. This system focuses only on the preidentified security risk visitors.


The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for preventing unauthorized people from entering the United States by water. The Coast Guard reports in "USCG Migrant Interdictions" (April 19, 2007, http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-o/g-opl/amio/FlowStats/currentstats.html) that in FY2006 it intercepted 7,886 illegal entry attempts, which it refers to as "alien migrant interdictions." Most aliens attempting to enter the country by water came from Central America and the Caribbean. The largest share of 2006 interdictions, 2,810 or 36%, came from Cuba. The United States has long maintained a unique "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy toward Cuban migrants. A Cuban who reaches U.S. land is allowed to apply for asylum, but those captured in the water are returned to Cuba.

In 2005 the Coast Guard caught and returned 2,712 Cuban migrants. However, according to Alan Gomez, in "More Cubans Take Trip to USA, Using Alternate Routes" (USA Today, November 15, 2006), the Department of Homeland Security reports that twice as many (6,356) Cubans reached land that year. When rumors of Fidel Castro's declining health surfaced, the Coast Guard began seeing an upsurge in Cubans attempting to enter the United States. The Coast Guard reports that during FY2002 it intercepted 666 Cubans who were trying to enter the United States illegally by sea; by FY2006 the number had increased 322% to 2,810, as noted above.


The U.S. Border Patrol, the mobile, uniformed law enforcement arm of the Customs and Border Protection agency, is responsible for the detection and apprehension of illegal aliens and smugglers of aliens at or near U.S. land borders.

Southwest Border

The biggest illegal entry problems occur along the nearly two-thousand-mile U.S.-Mexican border. The CBP (2007, http://apps.cbp.gov/bwt/index.asp) reports that the four states bordering MexicoTexas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Californiahave thirty-six ports of entry. According to the U.S. Mexico Border Health Commission (January 2004, http://www.paho.org/English/DD/PIN/sv_border.ppt#290,5,Region), 6.4 million Mexican nationals reside in the Mexican municipalities along the southwestern border.


The United States began using barrier fencing in the 1990s to deter illegal entry and drug smuggling, particularly to prevent vehicle entry. Blas Nuñez-Nito and Stephen Viña of the Congressional Research Service report in Border Security: Barriers along the U.S. International Border (December 12, 2006, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RL33659.pdf) that the fourteen-mile fence at San Diego, the nation's busiest border port of entry, was the first constructed. It was strengthened by increased Border Patrol staffing. Nuñez-Nito and Viña indicate that increased enforcement in San Diego had "little impact on overall apprehensions" of illegal entrants. The border barrier simply shifted illegal traffic to more remote areas. The Border Patrol reports the same number of apprehensions in 2004 (1.2 million) as it had in 1992. The difference is that the bulk of the apprehensions shifted from San Diego in 1992 to Tucson and Yuma, Arizona, in 2004.

According to Nuñez-Nito and Viña, an unintended consequence of this shift in migration paths was an increase in migrant deaths. The 1990s annual average of 200 deaths during attempted border crossings rose to 472 in 2005. Nuñez-Nito and Viña also report increased crime in the more remote border areas.

A 150-mile stretch of fence was added in conjunction with the National Park Service near Yuma, and the Secure Fence Act of 2006 directed the Department of Homeland Security to build an additional 850 miles of border fence. Nuñez-Nito and Viña note the proliferation of tunnels that have been dug under border fences. One tunnel discovered under the fourteen-mile-long San Diego fence was built of reinforced concrete, suggesting a sophisticated smuggling operation. The Border Patrol reports that fencing is most effective in urban areas, where populated neighborhoods are only a short distance away for border crossers; in areas of open land, agents prefer to see as far as possible without obstructions.


Some illegal aliens drown while trying to swim across the Rio Grande, which forms the border between Texas and Mexico. Others fall prey to border bandits, who steal from them and injure or kill them. Others die from exposure in the desert or as a result of negligence on the part of smugglers paid to take them into the United States. Some have perished because the smugglers' trucks were poorly ventilated. In 2004 Tucson's Arizona Daily Star newspaper established a searchable database (http://regulus.azstarnet.com/borderdeaths/search.php) of deaths occurring on the U.S.-Mexican border as recorded by the medical examiners in four Arizona counties: Pima, Santa Cruz, Cochise, and Yuma. The total death count for FY2006 was 206. Using information supplied by the Mexican secretary of foreign relations, Arizona medical examiners, and local law enforcement, the paper creates the online database, which can be used by relatives searching for missing family members who left to cross the border and were never heard from again.


The U.S.-Mexican border offers an illegal crossing point for people from all over the world. According to Joel Millman and Gina Chon, in "Lost in Translation: Iraq's Injured 'Terps'" (Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2007), an Iraqi national explained that he hoped to hire a smuggler to take him from the Middle East to Tijuana, Mexico, and across the border into San Diego. The man knew others who had made the journey and joined a growing Iraqi community in southern California. The man was one of many Iraqi interpreters injured while working for the U.S. military.

Millman and Chon indicate that interpreter jobs are attractive because they pay $1,050 per month (three times the pay of an Iraqi police officer) plus extra pay for duty in particularly hazardous areas. Injured interpreters are treated in a hospital in Jordan, but Jordan does not want to keep them as refugees. They cannot go home; considered enemy collaborators, their presence would endanger their families. Medical care for their injuries is covered by the employer (a government contractor). According to Millman and Chon, injury-compensation packages (to cover future income loss because of the severity of injury) range from $20,000 to $200,000enough to pay travel expenses and a smuggler for a new but illegal life in the United States.

In 2005 Congress approved a special immigration program to admit fifty interpreters per year from Iraq and Afghanistan (combined) who completed at least one year's service with U.S. troops. The application for immigration requires high-level recommendations, which is difficult to obtain for interpreters who rarely meet anyone above the rank of lieutenant or captain. A DHS spokesperson told Millman and Chon that an interpreter who fears persecution if he or she returns to Iraq can apply for refugee admission. There were 5,500 slots in 2007 for refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, and other countries in the Near East and South Asia, plus 20,000 undesignated reserve slots not tied to a particular area. Millman and Chon contacted Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey, who said just 466 Iraqis had been admitted to the United States as refugees since the 2003 U.S.-British invasion.

Northern Border

According to the International Boundary Commission, the U.S./Canadian border stretches 5,525 miles over land and waterways, including the portion between Alaska and Canada. Border security assessments following the September 11 terrorist attacks highlighted the vulnerability of the northern border and prompted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to increase staff. According to the fact sheet "Securing the Northern Border" (August 14, 2006, http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/securing_northern_borders.htm), in 2001, 340 agents guarded the U.S.-Canadian border and not all crossing points were guarded full time. By 2006 the number of agents had nearly tripled to 980. Furthermore, the number of CBP inspectors increased from 1,615 to 3,391 between 2001 and 2006.


The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 required the DHS and the State Department to implement a plan requiring all travelers, U.S. citizens, and foreign nationals to present a passport or other identity and citizenship documents when entering the United States. Previously U.S. citizens could enter and return from certain nearby countries such as Canada and Mexico without a passport. The proposed plan was called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Beginning on January 23, 2007, all people, including U.S. citizens, traveling by air between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda were required to present a valid passport, Air NEXUS card, U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Document, or an Alien Registration Card. As early as January 1, 2008, the requirements will be expanded to include arrivals by land or sea (including ferries).

According to the article "Passport Rules Worry Canada, Border States" (Associated Press, January 18, 2007), only seventy-three million U.S. citizens (less than one-third of all citizens) currently hold valid passports. The cost of a new passport$97 for an adult and $82 for a childmight be prohibitive for some citizens. As a result, U.S. and Canadian officials began discussing border crossing cards, which are already in use on the U.S.-Mexican border, as an alternative. Canadian officials are concerned about delays and clogged traffic at U.S.-Canadian border crossings. Affected counties that have enjoyed easy access for international tourists worry about revenue losses.


In "Survey of U.S. Border State Voters and Canadians about New Border Regulations" (February 2006, http://www.citywindsor.ca/DisplayAttach.asp?AttachID=5082), Zogby International surveyed a sample of Americans and Canadians living in states or territories near the U.S.-Canadian border about the impending changes in border crossing procedures. Even though a greater number of Americans cross into Canada per year, Canadians report crossing the border more frequently (48% of Canadians enter the United States "a few times per year," compared with 17% of Americans entering Canada as often).

Vacationing is the most frequent reason for 56% of Americans and 44% of Canadians to cross the border. Shopping/entertainment and visiting relatives are the next most frequent reasons for border crossing. Canadians are more likely to stay a week in the United States, whereas Americans are more likely to stay two or three days in Canada. The people surveyed support border security concerns, but 68% of Americans and 70% of Canadians think there is no need for a border crossing ID; they believe a driver's license should be sufficient. A majority on both sides68% of Americans and 54% of Canadianssay they are unlikely to purchase an ID card.

According to a Zogby poll released on January 19, 2007 (http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1239), most Americans welcome the new passport rules. A 76% majority believe a valid passport should be required for all travelers entering the United States from Canada or Mexico. The new passport requirements will make no difference in travel plans for 85% of Americans traveling to Canada and 86% traveling to Mexico.


In no other place in the world does a nation as wealthy as the United States share a border with a nation as poor as Mexico. Huge disparities exist between the rich and poor people of Mexico, so it is understandable that Mexico's poor are attracted to the United States.

An Open Border

Before the twentieth century Mexicans moved easily back and forth across completely open borders to work in the mines, on the ranches, and on the railroad. Even though just 734 Mexicans immigrated between 1890 and 1899, 31,188 came between 1900 and 1909. (See Table 1.1 in Chapter 1.) The flow of immigrants to the United States from Mexico soared to 185,334 between 1910 and 1919 and reached 498,945 between 1920 and 1929.

A large amount of illegal immigration also occurred. Some historians estimate that during the 1920s there might have been more illegal Mexican aliens than legal immigrants. The need for Mexican labor was so great in the United States that in 1918 the commissioner-general of immigration exempted Mexicans from meeting most immigration conditions, such as head taxes (small amounts paid to come into the country) and literacy requirements.

First Illegal Alien "Problem"

The increase in the number of illegal aliens from Mexico led to the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924. The United States had maintained a small force of mounted guards to deter alien smuggling, but this force was inadequate to stop large numbers of illegal aliens. The efforts of the Border Patrol contributed to a sharp increase in the number of aliens deported during the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1929 administrative control along the U.S.-Mexican border was significantly tightened as the Great Depression led many Americans to blame the nation's unemployment on the illegal aliens. Consequently, thousands of Mexicansboth legal immigrants and illegal alienswere repatriated (sent back to Mexico). According to David Spener, in Mexican Migration to the United States, 18821992: A Long Twentieth Century of Coyotaje the Mexican-born population in the United States declined from 639,000 in 1930 to 377,000 in 1940 (Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, October 2005, http://www.ccis-ucsd.org/publications/wrkg124.pdf).

Bracero Program

World War II brought the country out of the Great Depression. Industry expanded and drew rural laborers into the cities. Other workers were drafted and went off to war. Once more, the United States needed laborers, especially farm workers, and the nation again turned to Mexico. In "Bracero Program" (June 6, 2001, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/BB/omb1.html), Fred L. Koestler notes that the Bracero Program was a negotiated treaty between the United States and Mexico, permitting the entry of Mexican farm workers on a temporary basis under contract to U.S. employers. The entire program lasted from 1942 to 1964 and involved approximately 4.5 million Mexican workers.

North American Free Trade Agreement

In December 1993 the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed to eliminate trade and investment barriers among the United States, Canada, and Mexico over a fifteen-year period. NAFTA was intended to promote economic growth in each country so that, in the long run, the number of illegal immigrants seeking to enter the United States for work would diminish. One of NAFTA's provisions facilitated temporary entry on a reciprocal basis among the three countries. It established procedures for Canadian and Mexican citizens who were professional businesspeople to temporarily enter the United States to render services for pay. President Bill Clinton claimed that more jobs on both sides of the southwestern border meant more income for Mexican nationals, which would help reduce the number of undocumented aliens entering the United States.


Front LineTwenty-four U.S. Counties on the Border

The US/Mexico Border Counties Coalition (USMBCC) commissioned a study of the economic condition of the twenty-four U.S. counties that are contiguous with Mexico. The resulting report, At the Cross Roads: US/Mexico Border Counties in Transition (March 2006, http://www.bordercounties.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={62E35327-57C7-4978-A39A-36A8E00387B6}), was based on research conducted by the Institute for Policy and Economic Development. The report addressed the question: "If these 24 counties were the 51st state, how would they compare with the rest of the nation?"

The USMBCC notes that prosperous San Diego County in California is an anomaly among the border counties. Even though it shares many of the border problems, its per capita income is greater than the combined incomes of the other twenty-four border counties. For this reason, San Diego County data are omitted, unless otherwise noted, in the data reported in this chapter.


Figure 5.5 maps the twenty-four U.S. border counties located in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, and the adjoining states of Mexico. According to the USMBCC, these border counties collectively experienced a 29.3% growth rate from 1990 to reach a population of 6.7 million residents in 2006. The border counties were home to 5% of the nation's foreign-born residents, and nearly 72% of the foreign-born living in the border counties were from Mexico.


The USMBCC notes that from 1993 to 2003 total full-time and part-time jobs increased by nearly 800,000 in the border counties. However, half the job gains were in San Diego County and another quarter of new jobs were in Pima and El Paso counties. San Diego County claimed 52.3% of total jobs along the border and 60.7% of all wages and salaries. By contrast, the unemployment rate in twenty-two of the twenty-four border counties was double the national average. Nine border counties had unemployment rates more than 10%. Except for San Diego County, the border counties lacked private industry jobs in the high-paying professional, scientific, and technical sectors. Many border counties had high employment in health services because of state and federal assistance programs and growing retiree services in areas such as Pima and Doña Ana counties. Retail businesses were important to the border economy with many Mexican residents crossing the border to shop.

Between 1993 and 2003 the USMBCC indicates that the total personal income in the border counties increased 41.4%, compared with 29.3% in the other counties within the four states. However, more than 21% of personal income in the border counties (not including San Diego) came from transfer receipts, such as government assistance. When compared with the fifty states, the border counties (including San Diego) would have ranked thirty-first in per capita income in 1970. (See Table 5.7.) By 2003 these counties (including San Diego) would have dropped to thirty-ninth among the states. Without San Diego the border counties would have been dead last by 1990.

The USMBCC notes that from 1990 to 2006 crime rates in border counties dropped 30%. Property crimes dropped 40% and violent crime rates were among the lowest in the nation. The region also boasted low housing costs. These factors offer potential for attracting industries seeking affordable housing for staff relocation as well as industries serving retirees seeking warm climates with affordable housing.


Table 5.8 offers some of the key findings by the USMBCC. Ten of the twenty-six findings relate to health issues.

Health issues are of significant concern in the border counties, where much of the population lacks health insurance and access to health care facilities. The USMBCC states that, according to the American Hospital Association, the $800 million in uncompensated care provided by hospitals in the twenty-four border counties was approximately 3% of annual uncompensated care in all U.S. hospitals. The USMBCC also cites the National Association of Counties, which stated that undocumented immigrants account for nearly 25% of uncompensated costs incurred by border county hospitals. According to the USMBCC, a large migrating population between the United States and Mexico relies heavily on public and charity health programs. As this significant "segment of the population moves back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border, they become transfer agents of contagions and potential illnesses."

The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) rate per 100,000 population in the combined border counties was 16.1, which was higher than the national rate of 15.2. (See Table 5.9.) However, in Pima County the rate was 34.7 per 100,000 population and in San Diego County it was 20.2. Twelve of the twenty-four border counties reported rates above the nationwide rate of 2.6 per 100,000 population for hepatitis A. The hepatitis A rate in Maverick County, Texas, was 11.2 and in Santa Cruz County, Arizona, 7.4. The tuberculosis rate of 10.4 for the combined border counties was more than double the national rate of 5.1 cases per 100,000 population. In Starr County, Texas, the 34.8 tuberculosis rate was nearly seven times higher than the nationwide rate.

Besides communicable diseases, border counties experience higher than average rates of adult diabetes, a condition that affects Hispanics more than all other ethnic groups. In Imperial County, California, the diabetes rate of 11.2 per 100 population was almost double the national rate of 6.7 per 100. (See Table 5.10.) According to the USMBCC, the border counties as a fifty-first state would rank fifth for diabetes-related deaths. Border counties also reported higher than average rates of asthma. The national rate was 7.7 cases per 10,000 population. In large border towns such as Brownsville and El Paso, Texas, asthma rates were greater than 22 per 10,000.

Per capita income rankings by state, 2003, 1990, and 1970
[In dollars]
2003 1990 1970
Source: Dennis L. Soden, "Table 4.1. 2003, 1990, and 1970 U.S. State Per Capita Income Rankings (Adjusted for Inflation, in 2003 Real Dollars)," in At the Cross Roads: US/Mexico Border Counties in Transition, US/Mexico Border Counties Coalition, March 2006, http://www.bordercounties.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={62E35327-57C7-4978-A39A-36A8E00387B6} (accessed January 8, 2007). Data from Regional Economic Information System (REIS).
1 Connecticut 42,972 1 Connecticut 37,312 1 Alaska 24,959
2 New Jersey 39,577 2 New Jersey 34,593 2 Hawaii 24,157
3 Massachusetts 39,504 3 New York 33,116 3 Connecticut 24,081
4 Maryland 37,446 4 Massachusetts 32,440 4 Nevada 23,408
5 New York 36,112 5 Maryland 32,171 5 New York 23,114
6 New Hampshire 35,140 6 Alaska 32,104 6 New Jersey 22,862
7 Colorado 34,561 7 Hawaii 31,234 7 California 22,810
8 Delaware 34,199 8 California 30,462 8 Delaware 21,800
9 Minnesota 34,031 9 Delaware 30,158 9 Illinois 21,672
10 Virginia 33,730 10 Illinois 29,316 10 Maryland 21,615
11 California 33,415 11 New Hampshire 28,877 11 Massachusetts 21,260
12 Washington 33,254 12 Virginia 28,788 12 Michigan 19,908
13 Alaska 33,213 13 Nevada 28,643 13 Washington 19,875
14 Illinois 32,965 14 Rhode Island 28,165 14 Rhode Island 19,462
15 Wyoming 32,433 15 Minnesota 28,003 15 Ohio 19,377
16 Rhode Island 32,038 16 Washington 27,966 16 Pennsylvania 19,306
17 Pennsylvania 31,911 17 Pennsylvania 27,715 17 Colorado 19,197
18 Nevada 31,910 18 Colorado 27,558 18 Minnesota 19,154
19 Michigan 31,178 19 Florida 27,542 19 Florida 18,988
20 Vermont 30,888 20 Michigan 26,638 20 Wisconsin 18,869
21 Wisconsin 30,685 21 Ohio 26,386 21 Oregon 18,609
22 Hawaii 30,441 22 Kansas 25,460 22 Wyoming 18,514
23 Nebraska 30,179 23 Wisconsin 25,442 23 New Hampshire 18,428
24 Ohio 30,129 24 Oregon 25,355 24 Iowa 18,329
25 Florida 30,098 25 Wyoming 25,343 25 Missouri 18,258
26 Missouri 29,464 26 Nebraska 25,317 26 Arizona 18,187
27 Kansas 29,438 27 Vermont 25,166 27 Kansas 18,106
28 Maine 29,164 28 Missouri 24,815 28 Nebraska 17,983
29 Texas 29,074 29 Georgia 24,782 29 Virginia 17,968
30 Georgia 29,000 30 Indiana 24,624 30 Indiana 17,935
31 North Dakota 28,922 31 Texas 24,525 31 Border counties 17,791
32 South Dakota 28,856 32 Iowa 24,480 32 Texas 17,229
33 Indiana 28,838 33 Maine 24,462 33 Vermont 17,153
34 Oregon 28,734 34 North Carolina 24,279 34 Montana 17,124
35 Tennessee 28,641 35 Arizona 23,940 35 Idaho 16,693
36 Iowa 28,340 36 Tennessee 23,499 36 Oklahoma 16,479
37 North Carolina 28,071 37 Border counties 23,220 37 Maine 16,176
38 Arizona 27,232 38 Oklahoma 22,788 38 Utah 16,072
39 Border counties 27,012 39 South Dakota 22,767 39 Georgia 16,019
40 Oklahoma 26,719 40 North Dakota 22,445 40 North Carolina 15,493
41 Kentucky 26,575 41 South Carolina 22,376 41 South Dakota 15,484
42 Alabama 26,505 42 Idaho 22,136 42 North Dakota 15,318
43 Louisiana 26,312 43 Alabama 22,135 43 New Mexico 15,118
44 South Carolina 26,144 44 Montana 21,748 44 Tennessee 15,033
45 Idaho 25,902 45 Kentucky 21,732 45 Kentucky 15,014
46 Utah 25,407 46 Louisiana 21,361 46 West Virginia 14,739
47 Montana 25,406 47 New Mexico 21,010 47 Louisiana 14,654
48 New Mexico 24,995 48 Utah 20,995 48 South Carolina 14,469
49 West Virginia 24,542 49 West Virginia 20,403 Border counties w/out San Diego 14,138
50 Arkansas 24,384 50 Arkansas 20,357 49 Alabama 14,023
51 Mississippi 23,466 51 Mississippi 18,427 50 Arkansas 13,411
Border counties w/out San Diego 20,039 Border counties w/out San Diego 17,530 51 Mississippi 12,411


Undocumented Families of 9/11 Victims

According to Lisa J. Adams, in "Kin Struggle for Proof of Foreign 9/11 Victims" (Denver Post, September 24, 2004), an estimated 500 people from 91 foreign countries were among the approximately 3,000 people who died in 9/11. In New York City, some of the victims were undocumented workers employed in the World Trade Center. From the more than 7,000 claims filed with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, survivors of some 250 foreigners qualified for compensation. Fund administrators estimated about 50 of the 250 were undocumented. Although fund administrators took great pains to ensure that undocumented immigrants who came forward would not be reported to immigration authorities, many families of illegal aliens decided it was not worth the risk. In the Final Report of the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 (September 6, 2005, http://www.usdoj.gov/final_report.pdf), Kenneth R. Feinberg indicates that the stakes were high. The average settlement was about $1.3 million per claim.


If the 24 U.S. counties bordering Mexico were the 51st state, how would they compare to the rest of the nation?

 1st in federal crimes, primarily due to drug and immigration arrests by federal agencies

 2nd in incidence of tuberculosis

 2nd in percentage of population under age 18

 2nd in unemployment (5th with San Diego County included)

 3rd in deaths due to hepatitis

 3rd in concentration of Hispanics

 4th in military employment

 5th in diabetes-related deaths

 7th in incidence of adult diabetes

10th in employment of federal civilians

12th in government and government enterprise employment

12th in incidence of AIDS

13th in population

16th in violent crime

22nd in allocation of federal highway planning and construction expenditures

22nd in home ownership

29th in receipt of total federal government expenditures

37th in low birth weight babies

39th in infant mortality

42nd in percent of teen pregnancy

45th in home affordability (37th with San Diego County included)

46th in percentage of adults with four-year college degree (27th with San Diego County included)

50th in insurance coverage for adults and children

51st in percent of population that has completed high school (50th with San Diego)

51st in per capita income (40th with San Diego County included)

51st in number of health care professionals

Note: San Diego County is a major metropolitan area and an anomaly to the other 23 border counties in many respects.

source: Adapted from Dennis L. Soden, "One Page Report Highlights," in At the Cross Roads: US/Mexico Border Counties in Transition, US/Mexico Border Counties Coalition, March 2006, http://www.bordercounties.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={62E35327-57C7-4978-A39A-36A8E 00387B6} (accessed January 8, 2007)

For families of illegal aliens who did make a claim, seeking compensation or just a death certificate ranged from difficult to impossible. Illegal aliens often used fake names and shared housing, so they had no rent receipts or utility bills in their names. Many were paid in cash for their work. Without a paycheck stub, Social Security number, tax records, money transfer receipts, or an employer who would verify the deceased as an employee, grieving families were unable to prove that their relatives worked at the World Trade Center. Adams reports that of approximately sixteen undocumented Mexican victims, only five families were able to prove the person died in 9/11 and qualify for compensation. In the end, a total of eleven survivors of illegal aliens received awards.

Reported rates of AIDS, hepatitis A, and tuberculosis cases by border county, 19992003
AIDS rate per 100,000 Hepatitis A rate per 100,000 Tuberculosis rate 100,000
*A complete data base to calculate this value is not available.
Source: Dennis L. Soden, "Table 9.7. 19992003 Reported Rates of AIDS, HEPA, and TB Cases by County," in At the Cross Roads: US/Mexico Border Counties in Transition, US/Mexico Border Counties Coalition, March 2006, http://www.bordercounties.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={62E353 27-57C7-4978-A39A-36A8E00387B6} (accessed January 8, 2007)
United States (2003) 15.2 2.6 5.1
Border counties 16.1 * 10.4
Arizona (2003) 28.0 4.7 5.3
Cochise 13.9 3.4 0.0
Pima 34.7 2.5 2.7
Santa Cruz 14.9 7.4 5.0
Yuma 17.5 3.6 14.6
California (19992001) 16.3 2.0 9.8
Imperial 2.9 3.0 19.2
San Diego 20.2 2.2 10.5
New Mexico (20002002) 4.9 3.9 3.0
Dona Ana 5.9 2.6 6.1
Hidalgo 0.0 1.5 0.0
Luna 2.7 2.2 0.0
Texas (2001) 14.0 1.6 7.7
Brewster 11.2 1.0 11.2
Cameron 11.3 3.7 16.0
Culberson 0.0 2.7 0.0
El Paso 17.6 3.8 9.7
Hidalgo 8.8 3.2 12.5
Hudspeth 0.0 .9 0.0
Jeff Davis 0.0 .9 0.0
Kinney 0.0 1.3 0.0
Maverick 12.4 11.2 22.7
Presidio 0.0 1.7 0.0
Starr 3.7 4.4 34.8
Terrell 0.0 0.0 0.0
Val Verde 2.2 4.2 19.8
Webb 5.0 5.3 15.4
Zapata 0.0 2.2 15.9


Nearly five years later, Cara Buckley interviewed three recipients of money from the 9/11 fundundocumented spouses of undocumented workers who were 9/11 victimsand published the interviews in "With Millions in 9/11 Payments, Bereaved Can't Buy Green Cards" (New York Times, September 3, 2006). The millions these survivors received did not change their immigration status, and they continue to live in fear of deportation. Furthermore, they are reluctant to buy a house or a new car because they fear calling attention to themselves. An unidentified widow from Ecuador told Buckley, "I can't dream very high, because I have no papers."

Undocumented Workers in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast region on August 29, 2005. A storm surge broke three levees and flooded much of New Orleans, Louisiana. As the nation realized the magnitude of the disaster, contractors from all over the country began setting up operations in Louisiana to obtain federal reconstruction grants that would aid the cleanup effort. However, a majority of the residents had evacuated the city and were living in temporary shelters, many in other states, so workers were scarce.

TABLE 5.10
Diabetes rates by border county, 200103
Adult diabetes Rate per 100 persons over 18
Source: Dennis L. Soden, "Table 9.5. 20012003 Diabetes Rates by County," in At the Cross Roads: US/Mexico Border Counties in Transition, US/Mexico Border Counties Coalition, March 2006, http://www.border counties.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC={62E35327-57C7-4978-A39A-36A8E00387B6} (accessed January 8, 2007)
United States (2002) 14,055,189 6.7
All border counties 322,685 7.0
Arizona (2001) 257,942 6.6
Arizona border counties 60,858 7.0
    Cochise 6,355 7.3
    Pima 44,235 7.0
    Santa Cruz 1,746 6.7
    Yuma 8,522 7.3
California (2003) 1,702,615 6.6
California border counties 144,302 6.3
    Imperial 11,466 11.2
    San Diego 132,837 6.1
New Mexico (2002) 120,555 8.9
New Mexico border counties 14,392 9.6
    Dona Ana 12,409 9.7
    Hidalgo 344 9.1
    Luna 1,639 9.1
Texas (2001) 1,055,002 6.9
Texas border counties 103,133 7.7
    Brewster 479 6.9
    Cameron 17,531 7.7
    Culberson 154 7.4
    El Paso 36,151 7.7
    Hidalgo 29,618 7.8
    Hudspeth 169 7.5
    Jeff Davis 114 6.7
    Kinney 177 7.0
    Maverick 2,422 7.9
    Presidio 386 7.7
    Starr 2,763 8.0
    Terrell 56 6.9
    Val Verde 2,334 7.5
    Webb 10,141 8.0
    Zapata 638 7.7

Because so many New Orleans residents lost all identity documents, the Department of Homeland Security suspended for forty-five days the requirement that government contractors verify the identity and work eligibility of employees hired for the massive demolition and cleanup that was necessary before rebuilding began. To further support local employment, the U.S. Department of Labor offered a two-month reprieve from the prevailing wage standards of the Davis Bacon Act required for federally funded construction projects. Thousands of eager job seekers poured into the area anticipating high pay and plentiful overtime. Many were foreign born, and many were undocumented.

In March 2006 Laurel E. Fletcher and a team of colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley, and Tulane University conducted interviews to study construction workers in post-Katrina New Orleans, focusing particularly on the differences between documented and undocumented workers. The resulting report, Rebuilding after Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans (June 2006, http://www.hrcberkeley.org/download/report_katrina.pdf), provides a unique portrait of the types of challenges and abuses undocumented workers can suffer.

The 2000 census counted a total of 484,674 people in Orleans Parish. In September 2006, one year after the hurricane, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals surveyed the population and published its findings in Louisiana Health and Population Survey: Expanded Preliminary Results: Orleans Parish (October 6, 2006, http://popest.org/files/PopEst_ExpanPrelim_Report_Orleans_100606.pdf). The survey found roughly 187,500 residents, a total population decrease of 61%.


Fletcher and her colleagues report in Rebuilding after Katrina that 25% of the workforce in New Orleans were undocumented (illegal aliens). The main countries of origin for undocumented workers were Mexico (43%), Honduras (32%), Nicaragua (9%), and El Salvador (8%). The undocumented workers were generally younger and had far less education than documented workers. In the comparison of educational levels, Figure 5.6 shows that 45% of undocumented workers had a sixth-grade education or less, compared with 4% of documented workers.

The researchers found that most undocumented workers did not live in the New Orleans area before the hurricane; 77% had been in the area less than six months, when the survey was conducted in March 2006. (See Figure 5.7.) By contrast, more than half (56%) of documented workers had been in the area more than five years. Just 36% of documented workers had arrived in the past six months seeking jobs. As reported in Rebuilding after Katrina, the majority (87%) of the undocumented workers had been living elsewhere in the United States before coming to New Orleans; 41% came from Texas and another 10% came from Florida.


According to Fletcher and her colleagues, both documented and undocumented workers shared houses or apartments, typically with five other people. Two percent of undocumented workers lived in cars or at the construction site. Ten percent of undocumented workers reported that they lived without access to a bathroom with a shower, running water, electricity, and a kitchen. Just 7% of documented workers had no kitchen facilities and 3% lived without electricity.


Before coming to New Orleans 79% of documented workers and 58% of undocumented workers had jobs, according to Rebuilding after Katrina. In New Orleans undocumented workers performed jobs with higher associated risks. Of workers performing roofing repairs, 43% were undocumented, compared with 12% documented. (See Figure 5.8.) Of workers installing sheet rock, 24% were undocumented, compared with 9% documented.

Fletcher and her collaborators note that all workers reported averaging nine and a half hours of work, six days per week. Documented workers reported earning an average of $16.50 per hour, compared with an average of $10 per hour for undocumented workers. The researchers found the same relative wage difference between documented and undocumented workers performing the same jobs. Thirty-four percent of undocumented workers reported receiving less total pay than expected on payday, compared with 16% of documented workers. Roughly two-thirds of documented (69%) and undocumented (64%) workers reported they did not receive extra compensation for working more than forty hours per week. When extra compensation was provided, undocumented workers more often received their regular hourly rate for additional hours worked, whereas documented workers received one and one-half times their normal pay rate. Of those who reported receiving overtime pay, 74% of documented workers and 20% of undocumented workers received one and one-half times their normal pay rate. (See Figure 5.9.)


Rebuilding after Katrina also indicated a general lack of adequate protective equipment issued to workers. Just 22% of all construction workers and 13% of undocumented workers reported having hard hats. Less than half of all construction workers surveyed had face masks to protect them from breathing contaminated materials and goggles to protect their eyes from debris46% of documented and 42% of undocumented workers had face masks; and 51% of documented and 32% of undocumented workers had goggles. Not even half of either group had gloves.

Post-disaster cleanup and construction often exposed workers to polluted water, spilled chemicals, downed electrical lines, mold-infested buildings, and asbestos. New Orleans workers interviewed by Fletcher et al. reported working with harmful substances and in dangerous conditions. Fewer undocumented workers (21%) reported working with harmful substances. However, the researchers note that the undocumented workers may not have known what substances they were being exposed to. Among undocumented workers, just 38% reported being informed about risks related to mold, 36% to asbestos, and 19% to unsafe buildings. (See Figure 5.10.) By contrast, 67% of documented workers said they had been informed about mold.


Fletcher and her associates asked workers if they had experienced any of fifteen health problems. The top five symptoms reported were colds/flu, coughs, cuts/bruises, recurring headaches, and eye infections. Undocumented workers reported more colds and flu (49%), compared with documented workers (36%). (See Table 5.11.) Differences may relate to general health, living conditions, and access to medications. According to Rebuilding after Katrina, 83% of documented workers said they had access to medicine when needed, compared with 38% of undocumented workers. Thirty-seven percent of documented workers said they had some type of health insurance; 20% said they relied on free clinics. All undocumented workers said the only health care they received was through mobile clinics and health services provided by charitable organizations.

TABLE 5.11
Reported health problems among documented and undocumented workers in New Orleans, 200506
Documented workers (n = 155) Undocumented workers (n = 53) All workers (n = 208)
*Indicates health symptoms for which there is a statistically significant difference among documented and undocumented workers. n = sample size.
Source: Laurel E. Fletcher, Phuong Pham, Eric Stover, and Patrick Vinck, "Table 3. Reported Health Problems among Workers in New Orleans," in Rebuilding after Katrina: A Population-Based Study of Labor and Human Rights in New Orleans, International Human Rights Law Clinic, Human Rights Center, Payson Center for International Development and Technology Transfer, June 2006, http://www.payson.tulane.edu/katrina/katrina_report_final.pdf (accessed January 15, 2007)
Cold/flu 36% 49% 39%
Cough 34% 32% 34%
Cuts/bruises* 38% 17% 33%
Recurring headache* 17% 42% 24%
Eye infections (red/watery) 20% 25% 21%
Difficulty breathing 17% 9% 15%
Hypertension 13% 4% 11%
Depression 9% 17% 11%
Skin rashes, swelling 10% 8% 9%
Difficulty remembering 9% 8% 9%
Broken/sprained limbs 8% 6% 7%
Nose bleeds* 4% 15% 7%
Diarrhea 7% 0% 5%
Head injuries 5% 2% 4%
Diabetes 5% 0% 3%
Asthma attack 4% 2% 3%
Burns 2% 0% 1%


In "Information on Certain Illegal Aliens Arrested in the United States" (2005, Government Accountability Office, http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05646r.pdf), researchers studied "55,322 aliens [who] had entered the country illegally and were still illegally in the country at the time of their incarceration in federal and state prison or local jail during fiscal year 2003." Among the findings presented were number of arrests, types of crimes committed, and location of the crimes. The researchers learned that "[the imprisoned illegal aliens] were arrested at least a total of 459,614 times, averaging about 8 offenses per illegal alien. Ninety-seven percent had more than 1 arrest. About 38 percent had between 2 and 5 arrests, 32 percent had between 6 and 10 arrests, and 26 percent had over 11 arrests. Eighty-one percent of all arrests occurred after 1990." The GAO also noted that not all arrests were prosecuted; of those that were prosecuted, not all led to a conviction.

The GAO further reports that the total number of alleged criminal offenses covered in the arrests numbered 691,890. Drugs (24%) topped the list of offenses, followed by immigration violations (21%), traffic violations (8%), assault (7%), obstruction of justice (7%), burglary (6%), larceny/theft (5%), and fraud/forgery/counterfeiting (4%). Weapons violations and motor vehicle theft registered 3% apiece, while sex offenses, robbery, and stolen property numbered 2% each. Murder was cited in only 1% of the offenses. The state with the most arrests of illegal aliens was California (58%), followed by Texas (14%) and Arizona (8%).


An Example from the Post-Katrina Cleanup

During hearings before the House Committee on the Judiciary's Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, Phyllis Schlafly (July 18, 2006, http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_house_hearings&docid=f:28781.pdf) presented an example of U.S. workers being replaced by foreign workers:

An employment service in Mobile, Alabama, received an "urgent request" this year to fill 270 job openings from contractors who were hired to rebuild and clear areas of Alabama devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The agency immediately sent 70 laborers and construction workers to three job sites. After two weeks on the job, the men were fired by employers who told them "the Mexicans had arrived" and were willing to work for lower wages. The Americans had been promised $10 an hour, but the employers preferred Mexicans who would work for less. Employment agency manager Linda Swope told the Washington Times, "When they told the guys they would not be needed, they actually cried and we cried with them. This is a shame."

Ms. Swope said that employment agencies throughout Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi all face similar problems because an estimated 30,000 men from Mexico and Central and South America, many in crowded buses and trucks, came into those three states after Hurricane Katrina, willing to work for less than whatever was paid to American citizens.

Immigrant Labor in Georgia

According to Evan Pérez and Corey Dade in "Reversal of Fortune: An Immigration Raid Aids BlacksFor a Time" (Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2007), raids by federal immigration agents on Labor Day 2006 left Crider Inc., a chicken processing plant in Stillmore, Georgia, short 75% of its 900-person workforce. Agents removed about 120 workers. Panic sent many more workers into hiding to avoid the same fate. Immigration officials had approached Crider management in May 2006 alleging that 700 workers were suspected of using false documents to secure employment. The company cooperated, resulting in two employees being arrested as part of a document mill operation that sold fake green cards and other documents. A number of employees who could not prove legal work status were released.

To replace the missing workers after the Labor Day raid, Crider announced increased wages starting at $7 to $9 per hourmore than a dollar above what many immigrant workers had received. The company also offered free transportation from nearby towns and free rooms in a company-owned dormitory. Local officials reported that Crider recruited workers through the state-funded employment office, a particularly important job placement source for low-skilled native workers.

According to Pérez and Dade, "the sudden reversal of economic fortunes in Stillmore underscores some of the most complex aspects of the pitched debate over immigration: Do illegal immigrants take jobs from low-skilled American workers? The answer in Stillmore initially appeared to be yes."


Pérez and Dade assert that NAFTA had a negative impact on many Mexican farmers, prompting a surge of illegal immigration. U.S. immigration crackdowns made crossing the border more treacherous, so migrant workers began to settle in the United States. The South was soon home to over one-third of the nation's Hispanics. Pérez and Dade note that, according to U.S. census estimates, the Hispanic immigrant population in Georgia tripled during the 1990s to over 435,000. In 2005 the 625,000 Hispanics in Georgia comprised 7% of the state's population. As native-born workers left the Crider plant for better pay or better working conditions than plucking, gutting, and packing chickens, most were replaced by Hispanic immigrants, many illegal. Wages hovered just above the U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 per hour.

In the months after the raid, Crider hired hundreds of native-born workers from surrounding communities. Most were African-American, and many had been unable or unwilling to follow jobs when other companies left small rural towns for urban areas. The Crider plant struggled with high turnover, lower productivity, and pay disputes with the new employees. The native-born workers were more likely than the immigrant workers to assert their rights as workersto complain about unsafe working conditions and demand breaks and overtime compensation.


The question of gaining productivity in unappealing jobs with low-cost foreign workers or increasing production costs with employee native workers is the subject of "Collateral Damage in the Immigration War" (Denver Post, January 19, 2007) by Linda Chavez, the president of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C. Chavez suggests that Crider's use of more expensive and less productive native workers would force the company to either increase costs to consumers or go out of business. "Magnify this problem by the thousands and you can see the impact on the U.S. economy [of eliminating foreign workers]," Chavez states. She indicates that anti-immigration proponents boast they would rather pay more for food than have illegal aliens take jobs from U.S. workers. Chavez asks, "But are they willing to pay companies' actual costs, which in the Georgia case more than quadrupled? [Or] would they rather these jobs simply disappear altogether, striking devastating blows to many local economies?"

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Immigration Restriction


IMMIGRATION RESTRICTION. Although slaves are not usually considered immigrants, the first formal inhibition of immigration by the United States was the prohibition of the foreign slave trade in 1808, which still allowed slave "visitors" brought by foreign masters. Similarly, an 1862 law prohibited American participation in the coolie trade. But free immigration was unimpeded until 1875. U.S. policy was to welcome immigrants, who were needed to help fill up what Americans saw as a largely empty and expanding country. No one put this better than President John Tyler in his annual message of 1841: "We hold out to the people of other countries an invitation to come and settle among us as members of our rapidly growing family."

But even as Tyler spoke, anti-immigration forces had begun to mobilize. Legislation taxing or otherwise impeding immigration enacted by some seaboard states was disallowed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Passenger Cases of 1849 that immigration was "foreign commerce" and could only be regulated by Congress. In the mid-1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, a mass Protestant anti-immigrant movement, elected eight governors, more than a hundred congressmen, mayors in Boston and Philadelphia, and a host of other officials but failed to get its program of severe immigration restriction and harsher laws against foreign-born Americans through Congress.

The first restriction of free immigrants was the Page Act of 1875, generated by concern about Chinese immigrants in the West. The law, which had little effect but considerable symbolic importance, excluded criminals and prostitutes, placed further restrictions against the "cooly trade," and prohibited the entry of any "oriental persons" without their consent, but entrusted the enforcement to the collectors at the various ports. The congressional debates show that many wanted Chinese immigration either limited or stopped completely. Four years later, Congress passed a bill barring any vessel that carried more than fifteen Chinese passengers, but President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed it. His message showed that he, too, favored limiting Chinese immigration but was inhibited by a clause in the 1869 Burlingame Treaty with China that granted mutual rights of immigration. Hayes promised to renegotiate the treaty. A new treaty, effective in 1881, gave the United States the right to "regulate, limit, or suspend" the immigration of Chinese "laborers." Congress then passed a bill suspending the immigration of "Chinese laborers" for twenty years, which President Chester A. Arthur vetoed. He stated that he would approve a "shorter experiment." Congress responded with a bill suspending the immigration of Chinese laborers, "skilled and unskilled," for ten years, which Arthur signed in May 1882.

This misnamed Chinese Exclusion Act—it did not exclude Chinese merchants and their families—would, with fourteen subsequent statutes, bar most Chinese from immigrating to the United States until all fifteen laws were repealed in 1943. It represented a kind of legislative Rubicon and began an era of immigration restriction that continues to the present. That era can be divided into two parts. The first, stretching from 1882 until 1943, was one of increasing restriction, based largely on race and ethnicity, but also encompassing ideology, economics, and morality. Since 1943 immigration restriction has been lessened. It is important to note that statutes involving only Chinese were, in both 1882 and 1943, the hinges on which the golden door of American immigration both narrowed and widened.

General Immigration Restrictions

In August 1882, the first general immigration law set up a system whereby the federal government paid states to supervise incoming immigrants, levied a head tax—initially fifty cents—on each incoming alien passenger to finance the cost of supervision, and added an economic restriction by barring persons "likely to become a public charge." This LPC clause, originally interpreted as bar-ring persons who, because of age or infirmity, could not support themselves, was later interpreted to bar the poor. A spate of subsequent laws over the next twenty-five years barred successively contract laborers (1885 and 1887); "idiots," "insane persons," those with a "loathsome or contagious disease," persons convicted of a variety of nonpolitical crimes, and "polygamists" (1891); and "anarchists or persons who believe in or advocate the over-throw by force and violence the Government of the United States" (1903). Then, on the eve of American entry into World War I, Congress enacted the Immigration Act of 5 February 1917 over President Woodrow Wilson's veto. It codified all previous exclusion provisions, imposed a much-debated literacy test that required the ability to read a passage in any recognized language, including Hebrew and Yiddish, expanded the grounds for mental health exclusion, and created a "barred zone" that was intended to keep out all Asians originating in nations east of Iran except for Japanese. However, the courts soon made an exception for Filipinos, who, it was ruled, were not "aliens" but "nationals" and thus could not be excluded from entry even though they, along with other Asians, were ineligible for citizenship. Japanese laborers, but not other Japanese, had been previously excluded by the Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907–1908 and thus were not included in the barred zone, which mentioned no nations but was expressed in degrees of latitude and longitude.

During these years organized opposition to immigration grew, but, except for the short-lived American Protective Association, an anti-Catholic group that flourished in the 1890s, it consisted of pressure groups devoted to propaganda and lobbying rather than mass political organizations. The most significant of these was the Immigration Restriction League founded by Harvard graduates in 1894, which was the chief proponent of the literacy test. These forces were greatly strengthened by the general xenophobia of the World War I and postwar eras.

The lame duck session of Congress in 1921 overwhelmingly passed the first bill to impose numerical limits on immigration, but Wilson killed it with a pocket veto. This Quota Law was reenacted as a temporary measure in the first weeks of Warren G. Harding's administration. It kept all of the existing restrictions, placed an annual cap or quota on immigration of about 350,000—3 percent of the number of foreign-born in the 1910 census—meted out largely to the nations of northern and western Europe, based on the presumed number of American residents born there. However, this and all subsequent bills limiting total immigration contained categories of persons designated as "not subject to numerical limitation." In the 1921 act, the chief of these were persons from the Western Hemisphere, to which were added, in its more permanent 1924 successor, alien wives—but not husbands—of U.S. citizens and their children under eighteen.

The Immigration Act of 1924 based its quota allocation not on 3 percent of the newly available 1920 census numbers, which showed a significant increase in the foreign-born from southern and eastern Europe—mostly Italians, Poles, and eastern European Jews—but on 2 percent of the 1890 census, when the incidence of such persons had been much smaller. This resulted in an initial annual quota of 164,667. Other provisions of the 1924 law included a bar on the immigration of "aliens ineligible to citizenship," which unilaterally abrogated the Gentle-men's Agreement by ending Japanese immigration, and the establishment of a "consular control system" that required visas of European immigrants. It also established a national-origins quota system, which went into effect on 1 July 1929. That system required a group of specialists, mostly academics, to determine the national origins of the American people and find out what percent of the entire American population in 1920 came from each eligible country. The experts, under the auspices of the American Council of Learned Societies, were instructed to exclude from their calculations immigrants and their descendants from the New World and Asia, as well as the descendents of "slave immigrants" and "American aborigines." The result ensured that quota immigration was not only "white" but largely British: the United Kingdom's allocation went from 34,007 to 65,721, almost 44 percent of the new quota, and most other national quotas were substantially reduced. This system, with increasingly significant modifications over time, remained the general basis for the allocation of quota visas until 1965, but by that time, quota spaces were a minority of annual admissions.

Relaxing Restrictions

The repeal of Chinese exclusion in 1943 was followed by similar exceptions for Filipinos and "natives of India" in 1946. The otherwise reactionary McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 ended all ethnic and racial bars to immigration and naturalization and stopped overt gender discrimination as well. That act continued the national-origins system, but, beginning with the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950, which admitted more than 400,000 European refugees outside of the quota system, a series of special legislative and executive actions for refugee admissions weakened its restrictive effect.

The passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, although technically a group of amendments to the 1952 act, greatly revamped and liberalized immigration law. It did away with national quotas by substituting numerical hemispheric caps (ending the Western Hemisphere's advantage) and expanded the annual number of visas and increased the percentage of visas reserved for family members of American residents. Spouses and minor children continued to be eligible without numerical limitation. Under its regime, total legal immigration increased steadily throughout the rest of the twentieth century. By 2000, for the first time in decades, the percentage of foreign-born in the population had reached 10 percent but still trailed the 13 to 14 percent levels that had prevailed between 1860 and 1920.


Anbinder, Tyler Gregory. Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. The best account of mid-nineteenth-century nativism.

Anderson, David L. Imperialism and Idealism: American Diplomats in China, 1861–1898. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Good for the diplomatic side of Chinese exclusion.

Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. 2d ed. New York: Harper Collins, 2002. Contains summaries of policy and policy debates.

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860–1925. 2d ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1992. The classic account of nativism in its major phase.

Reimers, David M. Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn against Immigration. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Best account of late-twentieth-century nativism.

Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. 2d ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.

Solomon, Barbara Miller. Ancestors and Immigrants. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956. Definitive for the Immigration Restriction League.


See alsoImmigration ; Nativism ; andvol. 9:Gentlemen's Agreement ; Proclamation on Immigration Quotas .

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Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Immigration Reform and Control act of 1986

Jennifer S. Byram

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) (P.L. 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359) amended the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to better control unauthorized immigration. Many members of Congress felt immigration was "out of control" because legal and illegal immigration had come to account for approximately thirty to fifty percent of U.S. population growth.

Congress determined the best way to control immigration was to take away the incentive to enter the United States by preventing illegal immigrants from working or receiving government benefits. The Immigration Reform and Control Act provides sanctions for knowingly hiring an employee who is not legally authorized to work. It requires employers and states to check work authorization documents for every new employee or benefit applicant, including U.S. citizens, and to complete a related form.

Many people were concerned that employer sanctions would lead to discrimination against legal immigrants or U.S. citizens who appeared foreign. To prevent such discrimination, the IRCA imposed penalties on employers who discriminated in this manner. The new employer sanctions, however, could cause great hardships for illegal immigrants who had been living and working in the United States for many years. The IRCA provided a program for certain illegal immigrants who had lived in the United States since at least January 1, 1982, to apply to become legal residents with the right to work. A different program allowed seasonal agricultural workers to apply for legal residency. Newly legal residents could eventually become citizens.

Nonagricultural workers had to prove they had a continuous physical presence in the United States, except for brief, casual, and innocent travel abroad. The Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) required advance permission for any travel abroad, or the immigrant would be ineligible for the legalization program. Several lawsuits contested this advance-permission regulation. The courts invalidated the regulation twelve days before the deadline to file applications for legal resident status. Many immigrants, however, had not been allowed to file applications for legalization, or had not tried to file because they had been told their travel disqualified them from the program.

Immigrants who had been prevented from filing, or had not tried to file because of the invalidated regulation sued to force the INS to accept their late applications. During this litigation Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which removed the courts's jurisdiction to decide complaints from immigrants who had not "in fact" filed a legalization application before the deadline. The constitutionality of the provision is still being litigated in 2003.

Some economic sectors, particularly agriculture, have long relied heavily on labor supplied by illegal immigrants. The IRCA provided for an increase in temporary worker visas when employers could show there were not enough legal workers able, willing, and qualified to perform the work. These provisions have been used predominantly to allow additional seasonal agricultural workers to enter the United States, but they have also been used by employers in technology and other industries.

The IRCA affects every employee in America by requiring citizens and immigrants alike to provide proof of authorization to work before starting a new job. It gave many formerly illegal immigrants the right to live and work in the United States and to eventually become U.S. citizens.

See also: Immigration and Nationality Act


Briggs, Vernon M., Jr., and Stephen Moore. Still an Open Door?: U.S. Immigration Policy and the American Economy. Washington, DC: The American University Press, 1994.

Lanham, Nicholas. Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Immigration Reform. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000.

Montwieler, Nancy Humel. The Immigration Reform Law of 1986: Analysis, Text, Legislative History. Washington, DC: BNA Books, 1987.

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Proposition 187


PROPOSITION 187, a California initiative statute, was a November 1994 ballot measure in the spirit of Proposition 13, designed to save the state $5 billion per year by reducing public services for illegal immigrants. The measure denied public social, health, and education services to illegal immigrants. It required state and local agencies to report suspected illegal aliens to state and federal authorities, and it declared that the manufacture, sale, or use of false citizenship or residency documents was a felony.

Popularly known as the "Save our State" initiative, Proposition 187 raised serious constitutional issues regarding illegal-alien access to public education as well as questions about the federal regulation of immigration. Regardless of these issues, Governor Pete Wilson and other Republican leaders, including Harold Ezell, President Ronald Reagan's western regional director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, joined in support. Democratic and liberal leaders, Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, and the League of Women Voters opposed the measure. Opponents outspent supporters three to one. Republican, moderate white, and African American voters passed the measure with 59 percent of the vote. Democratic, liberal, and Hispanic voters overwhelmingly voted against the measure.

Proposition 187 was quickly in the courts. In 1997, federal district judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer ruled that the denial of services to illegal immigrants was unconstitutional. In 1998 she made her injunction permanent, grounding her decision on the federal government's exclusive authority to legislate on immigration.

Proposition 187 created deep ill will in the Hispanic community, and many immigrants responded to the measure's threats by becoming citizens.


Allswang, John M. The Initiative and Referendum in California, 1898–1998. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Gordon MorrisBakken

See alsoAliens, Rights of ; California ; Immigration Restriction ; Proposition 13 .

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