New RSF Journal Issue: The Legal Landscape of U.S. Immigration in the Twenty-First Century

November 20, 2020

Immigration has long been viewed as both essential to American society and a polarizing political issue. Recent flashpoints around immigration include a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the legality of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), enacted in 2012, to provide a pathway to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants. The Trump administration has limited visas for foreign workers, banned travelers from predominantly Muslim countries, narrowed asylum-seeking procedures, and increased immigration enforcement. In the latest issue of RSF, edited by demographer Katharine M. Donato (Georgetown University) and economist Catalina Amuedo-Dorantes (University of California, Merced), an interdisciplinary group of scholars traces the history and contemporary landscape of legal immigration to the United States.

Donato and Amuedo-Dorantes outline American immigration policies from 1880 to the present and consider the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on immigration. They underscore the fact that many recent immigration policies have been a result of presidential executive orders rather than legislative acts, making families and workers who enter the country without proper documentation especially vulnerable. They also examine how and why these orders are often racist and xenophobic, privileging some racial and ethnic groups and excluding others.

 Contributors to the issue investigate the various ways in which immigrants secure visas, working permits, and citizenship in the United States, including through employment and family ties, as well as special statuses for military veterans, refugees, asylum seekers, and unaccompanied minors. Daniel Costa writes about how temporary migrant workers’ precarious immigration status makes them particularly likely to experience workplace abuse because they fear losing their jobs and being deported if they complain about unfair labor practices. Pia Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny consider the substantial increase in employer demand for temporary work visas, demonstrating how improved economic conditions have led to this surge, creating a viable alternative to hiring unauthorized workers. Julia Gelatt uses employment and economic data analysis to compare multiple classes of legal immigrants. Her research demonstrates that employer-sponsored immigrants are better educated, exhibit higher English proficiency, and work in more highly skilled jobs than other types of immigrants (including family-sponsored, humanitarian, and diversity visa immigrants).

Other contributors examine the experiences of immigrants with special statuses, including veterans. Cara Wong and Jonathan Bonaguro find that Americans are more likely to support a path to citizenship via military service for immigrants who entered the country with the appropriate documentation, and that many Americans believe that undocumented migrants should be barred from the military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and firefighting. Van C. Tran and Francisco Lara-García find little variation in early socioeconomic outcomes between refugee groups from various countries. They show that schooling and employment, along with strategic financial, community building, and other support services, are critical factors in the successful integration and improved socioeconomic outcomes of refugees. Luis Edward Tenorio finds that the patchwork of legal systems, including family, immigration, and federal courts that adjudicate the laws for children with special immigrant juvenile status, make for the uneasy and uneven integration of unaccompanied minors into key social institutions.

This issue of RSF is a timely contribution that will invigorate the field of scholarly work on the American legal immigration system.

This issue of RSF was copublished with the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Read the full open access issue here.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


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