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Doris Meissner
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Doris Meissner

Senior Fellow and Director, U.S. Immigration Policy Program

Contact via email

Doris Meissner, former Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), is a Senior Fellow at MPI, where she directs the Institute’s U.S. immigration policy work.

Her responsibilities focus in particular on the role of immigration in America’s future and on administering the nation’s immigration laws, systems, and government agencies. Her work and expertise also include immigration and politics, immigration enforcement, border control, cooperation with other countries, and immigration and national security. She has authored and coauthored numerous reports, articles, and op-eds and is frequently quoted in the media. She served as Director of MPI's Independent Task Force on Immigration and America's Future, a bipartisan group of distinguished leaders. The group's report and recommendations address how to harness the advantages of immigration for a 21st century economy and society.

Media Requests
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General Inquiries
+1 202-266-1941

From 1993-2000, she served in the Clinton administration as Commissioner of the INS, then a bureau in the U.S. Department of Justice. Her accomplishments included reforming the nation's asylum system; creating new strategies for managing U.S. borders; improving naturalization and other services for immigrants; shaping new responses to migration and humanitarian emergencies; strengthening cooperation and joint initiatives with Mexico, Canada, and other countries; and managing growth that doubled the agency’s personnel and tripled its budget.

She first joined the Justice Department in 1973 as a White House Fellow and Special Assistant to the Attorney General. She served in various senior policy posts until 1981, when she became Acting Commissioner of the INS and then Executive Associate Commissioner, the third-ranking post in the agency. In 1986, she joined the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a Senior Associate. Ms. Meissner created the Endowment's Immigration Policy Project, which evolved into the Migration Policy Institute in 2001.

Ms. Meissner is Vice Chair of the board of trustees of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Inter-American Dialogue, the Pacific Council on International Diplomacy, the National Academy of Public Administration, the Administrative Conference of the United States, and the Constitution Society.

Bio Page Tabs

Cover image for Rethinking the U.S. Legal Immigration System: A Policy Road Map
Policy Briefs
May 2021
By  Muzaffar Chishti, Julia Gelatt and Doris Meissner
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Reports
February 2021
By  Jessica Bolter, Muzaffar Chishti and Doris Meissner
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Policy Briefs
November 2020
By  Doris Meissner and Michelle Mittelstadt
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Reports
August 2019
By  Randy Capps, Doris Meissner, Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, Jessica Bolter and Sarah Pierce
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Policy Briefs
August 2019
By  Doris Meissner

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Immigration has contributed to many of the economic, social, and political processes that are foundational to the United States as a nation since the first newcomers arrived over 400 years ago. After brushes with immigration reform that began in 2001 and continued in 2006 and 2007, the United States seems to be on the threshold of overhauling the legal immigration system in the most substantive way since 1965. This article provides a comprehensive overview of major legislation and events affecting U.S. immigration throughout history, legal and illegal immigration flows, postrecession immigration trends, and more.

MPI's Muzaffar Chishti and Claire Bergeron report on the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and the impact that law has had on past and present immigration policies.

Immigration to the United States continued steadily from the 1970s until the recent recession, which also diminished a sense of urgency to enact immigration reform legislation. MPI's Kristen McCabe and Doris Meissner provide a comprehensive look at major legislation and events affecting U.S. immigration, the size and attributes of the immigrant population, and policy changes under the Obama administration.

MPI Senior Fellow and former INS Commissioner Doris Meissner examines the challenges and opportunities, past and present, posed by temporary migrant labor programs.

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Commentaries
February 2021
By  Doris Meissner and Sarah Pierce
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Commentaries
June 2020
By  Sarah Pierce and Doris Meissner
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Commentaries
January 2019
By  Doris Meissner and Sarah Pierce
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Commentaries
November 2018
By  Doris Meissner
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Commentaries
June 2018
By  Jessica Bolter and Doris Meissner
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Commentaries
August 2017
By  Doris Meissner
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Commentaries
April 2014
By  Marc R. Rosenblum and Doris Meissner
Video, Audio
January 19, 2022

This MPI discussion with leading experts, advocates, and a top official from the administration examines the Biden track record on immigration and what lays ahead

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Expert Q&A, Audio
October 20, 2021

People on all sides of the policy debate largely agree that the current U.S. immigration system is broken. What should a 21st century immigration system that works in the national interest look like? And is this vision achievable amid current political realities?

Video, Audio
September 27, 2021

The 2021 annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference featured a keynote conversation with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas and analysis by top experts on the early months of the Biden administration and how immigration law and policy can respond to our changing world in a manner that is humane and in the national interest.

Video, Audio
September 2, 2021

The sprawling U.S. immigration detention system has long been controversial for its conditions of care, number of immigrants and asylum seekers detained, and costs. This discussion of a report provides a vision for a reimagined immigration custody system. 

FLICKR BREAD FOR THE WORLD Bread for the World Groups gathered from all across the U.S. to demonstrate support for DACA and DAPA
Video
February 4, 2021

Following President Biden's call on Congress to enact a sweeping immigration proposal that offers most unauthorized immigrants a pathway to citizenship, this discussion examines the prospects for any legislative efforts at immigration reform, what bipartisan support might develop, and the various legalization policy options.

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Testimony
April 2015
Testimony of Doris Meissner, Director of MPI's U.S. Immigration Policy Program, before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest regarding the Central American Minors Refugee/Parole Program that began in December 2014.
Testimony
March 2013

Testimony of Doris Meissner, Senior Fellow and Director, U.S. Immigration Policy Program, before the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, U.S. Senate.

Testimony
March 2011

Testimony of Doris Meissner, Director of MPI's U.S. Immigration Policy Program, before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Testimony
April 2010

Testimony of Doris Meissner, Director of MPI's U.S. Immigration Policy Program, before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship, at its hearing: "Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2009, Can We Do It and How?" 

Testimony
March 2005

Testimony of MPI's Director of U.S. Immigration Policy Doris Meissner before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship and US Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security.

Testimony
January 2004

Testimony of MPI Director of U.S. Immigration Policy Doris Meissner, before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission).

Recent Activity

Commentaries
March 2022

Dating to the 1950s, Congress on multiple occasions has provided a direct path to permanent residence for Hungarians, Vietnamese, Cubans, and others fleeing upheaval in their countries. Given this precedent, this commentary suggests Congress should act to provide a more secure future for the more than 72,000 Afghans who were airlifted to the United States under an uncertain immigration status known as parole.

Video, Audio, Webinars
January 19, 2022

This MPI discussion with leading experts, advocates, and a top official from the administration examines the Biden track record on immigration and what lays ahead

Expert Q&A, Audio
October 20, 2021

People on all sides of the policy debate largely agree that the current U.S. immigration system is broken. What should a 21st century immigration system that works in the national interest look like? And is this vision achievable amid current political realities? In this conversation, MPI Senior Fellow Doris Meissner speaks with Policy Analyst Ariel Ruiz Soto about how to build an immigration system that reflects today’s realities and builds in the flexibility to adapt to future developments.

Reports
October 2021

Nearly two decades since the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was founded in 2003, U.S. immigration governance is buckling from breakdowns in performance across key immigration components and partner agencies. This report advances ideas for DHS to fix its governance to manage immigration as a system, focusing on challenges in mission and structure, intra-DHS and interdepartmental collaboration, funding, and institutional culture.

Video, Audio
September 27, 2021

The 2021 annual Immigration Law and Policy Conference featured a keynote conversation with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas and analysis by top experts on the early months of the Biden administration and how immigration law and policy can respond to our changing world in a manner that is humane and in the national interest.

Video, Audio, Webinars
September 2, 2021

The sprawling U.S. immigration detention system has long been controversial for its conditions of care, number of immigrants and asylum seekers detained, and costs. This discussion of a report provides a vision for a reimagined immigration custody system. 

Reports
August 2021

The U.S. immigration detention system is sprawling, expensive, and has long been criticized for its prisonlike conditions and health risks. The pandemic has brought these risks into even sharper focus. This report examines detention’s role in the U.S. immigration enforcement system and proposes a different approach centered on release with supervision and case management—tools that are less costly, more humane, and ensure compliance with immigration proceedings.

Commentaries
August 2021

The Biden administration’s proposed asylum processing rule represents a fundamental retooling of the asylum system that preserves asylum as a bedrock element of the U.S. immigration system while also recognizing that a secure border and deterring unlawful crossings are legitimate and necessary attributes of an effective, credible immigration system, as this commentary explains.

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