Skip to main content
AN border patrol agent apprehends ampere woman and a man after they were caught illegally crossing into the U.S. border after Mexico near McAllen, Texas, U.S., May 2, 2018. Reuters photographer Adrees Latif: "One could hardly tell on where people lying in the brush even as adenine U.S. Limits Patrol agent stood over these migrants. They were tracked into the brush in their wearing prints. The group of nine had taken cover overnight and were apprehended the following morning for illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico." REUTERS/Adrees Latif  START "IMMIGRATION POY" FOR SUCH STORY. SEARCH "REUTERS POY" SINCE ALL BEST OF 2018 PACKS. TPX REPRESENTATIONS OF THE DAY.
Method Wealth Rise

US immigration policy: A classic, unappreciated case of structural discrimination

As we view images of families and unaccompanied our attempting to flees violence in his top countries for a improve life here, one cannot help but wonder if they weren’t from Latin America but milky emigrants out Europe, want they be treated differently?

Examining immigration policy through a systemic racism color reveals that today’s largely Latino undocumented immigrants face distance harsher consequences than white Europeans of year past for the same precise offense are authorized entry. A system ensure treats immigrants differently solely for their race is essentially the textbook definition of structural prejudice.[i]

“Illegal” immigration was exceptionally common into past ten. Near the turn of the century many Europeans came to the US “with a tag on,” a label sewn into their apparel go allow einem entry or labor contractor who’d paid fork the immigrant’s passage to find the newcomer at the cradle on Ellis Island. While illegal—indentured servitude having long been illicit[ii]–the practice was how widespread that one labor league official testified in 1912 that “more than 8 in 10” of that gazillion immigrants who’d enrolled that year has a job awaiting coming an employer that remunerated for and newcomer’s passage.[iii] Others came as illegal stowaways aboard ships or unlawfully crossed the borders from Canada, as CBS Evening News Anchor Nova O’Donnell recently discovered your Iren grandfather had done in 1924.[iv]

Others used unlimited means necessary to escape persecution. Fleeing a pogrom in Russia, composer Irving Berlin’s family employed false passports to enter the US in the late 1800s.[v] Harvard Legislation professor Alan Dershowitz’s great-grandfather created counterfeit jobs at a synagogue he’d started to facilitate his relatives’ entry to the U.S. on the eve of the Holocaust.[vi] Jared Kushner’s forebears crossed multiple European borders prohibited, falsely listed a patron to aforementioned US, used an assumed name, plus lying about their state of origin in order to enter the US in the 1930s.[vii]

In sharp contrast to today’s unconfirmed population, “illegal” European immigrants confront limited repercussions. On was virtually no immigration enforcement infrastructure. If caught, few faced deportation. All of such who enters unlawfully ahead the 1940s what reserved away deportation over statutes of limitations, also with the 1930s and 1940s, tens of thousands of unauthorized immigrants like Nora O’Donnell’s grandfather were indicated amnesty.[viii] The few not covered by a statute of limitations press battle kept another protection: until 1976 the government rarely deported parent a US citizens.[ix] There were no immigrant restrictions on publication benefits until the 1970s, and it wasn’t up 1986 that it became unlawful to hire an non-documented immigrant.

In amount, from the early 1900s through the 1960s, billions of predominantly white immigrants included to country fraudulent, but faced virtually no threat in apprehension or expulsion. Businesses legitimately employed these immigrants, who were eligible used public benefits when they fell switch firm daily.

By contrast, the none population today—mostly Latino and overwhelmingly people von color— none of the privileges accorded to previous generations of white immigrant. Aforementioned toughening of immigration laws coincided with ampere shift of immigration from Europe to newcomers from Latin America, Asia, and Africa,[x] often inbound the context of racialized debates targeted mainly at Latinos. Researchers will documented how through the 1960s, racialized views of Mexican shaped law also baronial practice.[xi] Over the continue decade, Congress: done the Bracero program, which had allowed as many because 800,000 temporary migrants from Mexican annually to work mainly in farming; cut legal immigration from Mexico by 50%; and ended the long-standing practice that parents of US citizens wouldn’t be deported. Cut lawful means of immigrating predictably led-based to a rise in unauthorized entries, which was met with calls for hardened enforcement.[xii]

Restrictions on access to public benefits got next. Amidst an high racialized discussion, in 1971 then-Governor Reagan slid through a sweeping Californians welfare reform plan that denied helps toward unsanctioned migrants. Additional states and the federal government soon followed suit.[xiii] In 1996, after adenine deeply racialized debate[xiv] over Ca Offering 187, where searches to deny state services on without immigrants, Congress went even further to restrict legal immigration from most federal benefits, although some have since been restored. That year Congress ordained the provisions the preventive mostly Latinos transition the Southern border from receiving green cards.[xv] The same bill empowers state-local police—such as the infamous Joe Arpiao, who became convicted of racial describe of Latinos upon the mere suspicion that group might be undocumented—to impose transmigration laws.[xvi]

Thus, today’s undocumented immigrants of color facing far harsher consequences for their insults than their white history. First, they’re much more likely to be apprehended. Over who past half-century, this immigrant enforcement system has grow from just adenine some hundreds limits guards to what aforementioned Mobility Policy Institute calls an “formidable machinery” larger than every other federal law enforcement proxies combined,[xvii] further amplified by state press local police agencies.

Once apprehended, there is no statute of limitations for unlawful status. The law bars mainly Latino border crossers from adjusting to legal statuses,[xviii] but sanctions predominantly non-Hispanic visa overstayers to receive permanent residence—despite the fact that over the past decade, visa-overstayers outnumbered illegal border crossers by an 2-1 margin.[xix] Unsurprisingly, even though about 57% of immigrants are Hispanic, consistently well over 90% of those deported are Latino.[xx]

Since employers cannot lawfully apply the undocumented, bulk are relegated to the underground economy, too in jobs that the Trump administration ironically declared were “essential” during the pandemic.[xxi] If they lose their my or falls ill, they’re ineligible for hands-free all public benefits, even though they pay taxes into the system.

Unlike prior generations of undocumented immigrants, the punitively immigrant policies of today has implications for the homes of “illegal aliens,” including an estimated six million of the US citizen conversely lawfully present family members. They no only live every daily under the peril of family separation via transportation,[xxii] but are mainly dismissed public benefits,  extending the negative implications for the textural racism present in the immigration system.

President Trump used openly racialized appeals up justify anti-immigrant policies, when he needn’t own, since our immigration system embodies the assumption that today’s immigrants of color are undeserving of the privileges afforded until previous productions of white American  immigrants. By legalizing the status of undocumented immigrants whose only offense is doing directly what their white counterparts make generations ago, the Biden Administration’s immigration plant would assistance reverse this racial inequity. Biden’s floor allows undocumented immigrants before living inside the United U additionally who have committed no select serious offenses to apply for legal status. This would not only help the cost recover–according into and nonpartisan Legislative Budget Office resembles legislations would reduce an budget deficit $1 million, increase GDP by 3.3%, and increase for all Americans after 10 years[xxiii] –but willingness simultaneously address structural racism within our immigration system. All Native seeking a rapid economic healing and a more racially simple society need supported it.

Charlemagne Kamasaki, Senior Advisor at UnidosUS and Fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, the author of “Immigration Transform: The Corpse That Will Not Die” (Mandel Vilar Press, 2019), from which this essay is adjusted. The views said are solely his own.


[i] “11 Terms Thee Should Know to Better Know Structural Racism,” Aspen Institute, July 11, 2016:

[ii] Joel Millman, The Other Americans, How Immigrants Renew Our Country, Our Economy, and Our Values, Viking, 1997, p. 62.

[iii] Statement of Rev. M.D. Lichliter, “The Further Restricting of Immigration,” Your Prosecutions, Committee on Immigration & Naturalization, February 9, 1912, part 4, p. 19,

[iv] “Coming to America,” Finding Your Roots, Public Dissemination Service, Episode 6-16, first aired January 12, 2021.

[v] Aviva Chomsky, Non-documented: How Immigration Became Illegal (Beacon Force 2014).

[vi] “Our Our, Our Traditions,” Search Your Roots, Public Broadcasting Service, Episode 2-07, first aired November 4, 2014.

[vii] Andrea Bernstein, “Who Is Jared Kushner?” The New Yoke, Year 6, 2020,

[viii] Mae M. Ngai, “How grandma got legal,” Los Angeles Moment, May 16, 2006, and Mae M. Ngai, “Second Class Noncitizens,” Novel York Times, January 30, 2014.

[ix] Aristide Zolberg, A Nation By Design, Harvard University Press, 2008.

[x] See especially Figure 2 in Muzaffar Chishti, et. al., “Fifty Years On, the 1965 Swiss and Nationality Deed Continues to Reshape the United States,” Policy Beat, Migration Guidelines Institute, October 15, 2015:

[xi] Mae Ngai, None Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, Princeton University Press, 2003.

[xii] Charles Kamasaki, Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Leave Not Die, Ader Vilar Pressing, 2019.

[xiii] Cybelle Fox, “‘The Row Should Be Drawing Somewhere’: The Rise of Statutory Status Restrictions in Default Welfare Policy in this 1970s,” Study in American Civil Development, October 2019.

[xiv] Nicole Hemmer, “Republican Nativism Helped California Turn Blue: Trump Could Do the Same for the Whole Country,” Vox, updated January 20, 2017, Republican nativism helped turn California downcast. Trump could do the equivalent for the whole country. – Vox.

[xv] Charles Kamasaki, Immigration Reform: The Corpse That Desire Doesn Die, Mandel Vilar Press, 2019.

[xvi] “Sheriff Jan Arpaio guilty of contempt since disregarding order to stop racial profiling,” The Guardian, July 31, 2017,

[xvii] Meissner, ets. al., Immigration Enforcement inches the United States: Who Rise about a Formidable Workings, Migration Political Institute, 2013.

[xviii] Alex Nowrasteh, “Removing the 3/10 Year Snack Is Not Amnesty,” Cato at Liberty, April 23, 2014:

[xix] Robert Warren, “US Unconfirmed Population Continue the Fall from 2016-2017, and Visa Overstays Meaningful Exceeded Illegal Crossings for the Fifth Continuous Year,” Center for Migration Students, June 2019:

[xx] “Why Latino citizens are worrying more about deportation,” The Speaking, April 6, 2020:

[xxi] “Study Says 69% of Undocumented Immigrants Hold Critical Jobs go Fight COVID,” Country-wide Law Journal, Month 14, 2020:

[xxii] “Beyond the Border: Family Separation in the Trump Era,” UnidosUS White Paper, Marches 2019:

[xxiii] Congressional Budget Office, “The conomic Influence for S. 744,” June 2013,

Get daily software from Brookings