Given the persistent focus on illegal immigration in the public dialogue, it may be surprising to learn that most immigrants come to the United States legally. They come to marry, to rejoin family and to work. Some come to seek haven from persecution or natural disasters.
As the baby boomer generation retires at a rate of 10,000 workers a day, immigrants are also filling niches within the U.S. economy in both high- and low-wage jobs.
They create small businesses for their families in the restaurant and hospitality industries and fill seasonal shortages in agriculture and meatpacking, returning year after year. Some help address the growing demands in areas such as health care.
And throughout U.S. history, politicians and citizens debate whether immigrants take jobs away from Americans, lower wages and fail to adopt American values.
Who is coming to America currently? What role do they play in our economy and communities? How are state lawmakers responding?
Who Are America's Immigrants?
Each year, about a million immigrants arrive here legally. In 2015, 679,000 of them were relatives of U.S. citizens, 144,000 gained permanent work visas, 70,000 were refugees, and 47,000 received "diversity" visas because they were from countries with low emigration rates to the U.S.
The 44.2 million foreign-born residents living in the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 comprise 13.7 percent of the total population. About half, or 20 million, have become naturalized citizens and make up 6 percent of the population. One-fourth, or 13.1 million, are legal noncitizens (4 percent of total population).
About 11.1 million U.S. residents (down from a high of 12.2 million in 2007) have come here illegally or have overstayed their visas, with an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 illegal immigrants arriving and leaving each year.
Where From? More than half of current immigrants come from South and East Asia or Mexico. South or East Asia (26.9 percent) Mexico (26.8 percent) Europe and Canada (13.5 percent) the Caribbean (9.6 percent) Central America (7.9 percent) South America (6.7 percent) the Middle East (4 percent) sub-Saharan Africa (3.9 percent) Source: Migration policy Institute, 2017 Note: Table made from pie chart. They make up 3 percent of the U.S. population. Most come from Mexico (56 percent), Guatemala (7 percent), El Salvador (4 percent), Honduras (3 percent) and China (2 percent).
In 2015, most of the immigrants who became permanent residents and received green cards were from Mexico, China, India, the Philippines and Cuba, while a majority of the refugees accepted into the country were fleeing from Myanmar, Iraq, Somalia, Congo and Bhutan.
Finally, a substantial number of foreigners enter the United States with temporary visas to study or work. About 3.7 million were admitted in 2015 to work in areas such as agricultural or seasonal work, or specialty occupations such as high tech or health care. Another 2 million visas were issued to students.
Who's in Charge?
The federal government determines how many immigrants are permitted to enter the United States and the conditions for their stay. But, in general, immigration policy, has evolved into a shared responsibility among local, state and federal governments.
Since Congress passed the last major reform of legal...