US Immigration System Basics
Immigration is a political buzzword that can be divisive in certain conversations. The debate regarding immigration policy, and the underlying statutory framework upon which the policy is executed, are innately contentious. Many people have deep, emotionally held views regarding the subject, and its mere mention can elicit a visceral response. Our beliefs regarding immigration are held in a close, even intimate, manner, as questions about immigration are questions about self-identity.
While the solution to our immigration problems—both real and imagined—may be elusive, and well beyond the scope of this blog, understanding the system in place is necessary to have a competent discussion about change. Just like any other large governmentally administered program, our migration policy arises out of laws written by the United States Congress. Prior to 1965, our immigration system was based upon quotas and was designed to favor northern and western European immigrants. That system was replaced with the passage of the Hart-Cellar Act, which created a number of categories that favor migration from individuals with existing familial or economic ties to America.
Although there are a multitude of classifications under which an immigrant can seek entrance to the United States, as a practical matter, our immigration system is based upon a handful of channels by which an immigrant can obtain a “green card”, which is an informal term referring to the card an immigrant receives when granted lawful permanent resident status. For the vast majority of cases, an immigrant will obtain lawful permanent resident status through family, as a result of employment, for humanitarian considerations, or through the diversity lottery. These categories make up more than 95% of the total number of successful immigrants.