About one in every three U.S. residents was part of a group other than non-Hispanic whites, according to national estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.  In 2005, the nation's minority population totaled 98 million, or 33 percent, of the country's total population of 296.4 million.  Hispanics continue to be the largest minority group at 42.7 million.  With a 3.3 percent increase in population from July 1, 2004, to July 1, 2005, they are the fastest-growing group.  Racial or ethnic minorities make up nearly half of the cohort of children under age 5.  Of that number 70 percent are of Hispanic origin.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the following observations can be observed about U.S. immigration policy:

Current U.S. policy on permanent immigration is based on four principles: the reunification of families, the admission of immigrants with special skills, the protection of refugees, and the diversity of admissions by country of origin.  The number of persons granted lawful permanent residence in the United States increased by more than 200,000 persons between 2003 and 2004, from 706,000 to 946,000.  The leading regions of origin of legal immigrants were North America and Asia.  These regions accounted for 36% and 35%, respectively, of all legal immigrants in 2004.  The leading source countries (of birth) for legal immigrants in 2004 were Mexico (18.5%), followed by India (7.4%), the Philippines (6.1%), China (5.4%), Vietnam (3.3%), and the Dominican Republic (3.2%).  The primary destination states in 2004, as in every year since 1971, were California, New York, Texas, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois.

Sixty-five percent of all persons legally immigrating to the United States in 2004 lived in these six states.  Data on immigrant's intended metropolitan area are not available for FY2004.  However, 10 metropolitan areas were the intended residence of 41% of all legal immigrants in 2003.  The leading destinations were New York, NY; Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA; Chicago, IL; and the Washington, DC-MD-VA metro area.

Illegal aliens, deportable aliens, or undocumented workers, are persons residing in the United States in violation of U.S. immigration laws.  It is estimated that there are more than 11 million unauthorized foreigners currently living in the United States, and the resident unauthorized alien population is estimated to increase by 500,000 people per year.  United States Border Patrol apprehensions increased steadily through the late 1990s, reaching a peak of 1.68 million in 2000. From 2000 to 2003, apprehension levels declined steadily, reaching a low of 931,557 in 2003.  Each apprehension, even of the same person, is counted separately.


The term guest worker has typically been applied to foreign, temporary, low-skilled laborers, often working in agriculture, construction or other seasonal employment.  According to CRS, in the past, guest worker programs have been established in the United States to address worker shortages during times of war.  During World War I, for example, tens of thousands of Mexican workers performed mainly agricultural labor as part of a temporary worker program.  The Bracero program, which began during World War II and lasted until 1964, brought several million Mexican agricultural workers into the United States.  At its peak in the late 1950s, the Bracero program employed more than 400,000 Mexican workers annually.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, as originally enacted, authorized a temporary foreign worker program known as the H-2 program.  It covered both agricultural and nonagricultural workers who were coming temporarily to the United States to perform temporary services (other than services of an exceptional nature requiring distinguished merit and ability) or labor.  Aliens who are admitted to the United States for a temporary period of time and for a specific purpose are known as nonimmigrants.  The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) amended the INA to subdivide the H-2 program into the current H-2A and H-2B programs and to detail the admissions process for H-2A workers. The H-2A and H-2B visas are subcategories of the larger "H" nonimmigrant visa category for temporary workers.

The United States currently has two main programs for importing temporary, low-skilled workers.  Agricultural workers enter through the H-2A program and other temporary workers enter through the H-2B program.


President Bush made immigration reform one of his top priorities.  He put a significant portion of his waning political capital behind his effort to fixt the immigration system.  His first attempt to do was approved by the Senate in 2006, but he was unable to find a suitable compromise with House Republicans. 

With the election of a new Democrat majority in both chambers of Congress, it appeared as if immigration reform would be the one initiative that President Bush would be able to accomplish, as it had strong bipartisan support.  On May 9, 2007, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced S. 1348, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, as a placeholder bill while his fellow Senators worked to reach an agreement on immigration reform.  Nearly two weeks later, on May 21, 2007, an agreement was reached, and Senator Ted Kennedy introduced a substitute amendment that now serves as the basic text of the legislation. 

On June 7, 2007, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on S. 1348 by a vote of 34-61.  The bill was then reintroduced on June 18, 2007 as S. 1639, after a group of Senators reached an agreement on the number of amendments to the bill that would be voted on.  On June 26, an effort to invoke cloture passed by a vote of 64-35, allowing the amendments to be considered.  However, two days later, the final vote on cloture failed (which would have allowed a final vote on passage), by a vote of 46-53. 


We do not expect immigration reform to be a frontburner issue 



Back to Issue Papers