E.g., 10/02/2023
E.g., 10/02/2023
Contested Ground: Immigration in the United States

This report, part of a Transatlantic Council on Migration series on national identity in the age of migration, traces how the American public and the U.S. government have responded to the diversification of migrant streams and the increasing proportion of illegal immigration in recent decades. It outlines the anxieties triggered by this immigration, the policy response at the national and state levels, and the implications of the second generation for the United States over the long run.

The report details how the composition of immigration to the United States has shifted over the past four decades, from overwhelmingly European to predominantly Latin American, with close to 30 percent from Mexico alone. Recent flows are also increasingly dispersed, expanding outside of traditional metropolitan regions to smaller towns and cities, as well as new destination areas in many Southern and Midwestern states. The author argues that much of the anti-immigrant sentiment stemming from these changes reflects public concerns that immigration is reshaping society, largely for the worse. According to national surveys, many Americans believe that immigrants displace natives in the labor market, increase crime rates, drive up tax burdens, and encourage the deterioration of social and moral values, despite existing evidence to the contrary.

These anxieties seem to be tugging the U.S. immigration system in a more restrictive direction, especially in the area of illegal immigration, with policies at both the federal and state levels fixated on enforcement, apprehension, and removal tactics as the primary response. The author points out, however, that the current legislative approach ignores the fact that demographic changes are driven as much or more by U.S.-born children of immigrants as by immigrants themselves.

Arguing that the central policy challenge for the United States lies in how to ease the integration of the second generation into American society, workforce, and politics, the author expresses concerns over the lack of funding allocated to immigrant integration programs and the absence of public policy framing a constructive response.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. A Nation of Immigrants

III. Anxieties about Immigration

IV. Developments in Immigration Policy

A. Federal Enforcement

B. State and Local Responses

C. The Real Policy Challenge: The New Americans

V. Conclusion