"There is a broad-based consensus that the U.S. immigration system is broken. This consensus erodes, however, as soon as the options to reform the U.S. immigration system are debated. The number of foreign-born people residing in the United States is at the highest level in U.S. history and has reached a proportion of the U.S. population--12.6%--not seen since the early 20th century. Of the 38 million foreign-born residents in the United States, approximately one-third are naturalized citizens, one-third are legal permanent residents, and one-third are estimated to be unauthorized (illegal) residents. Some observers and policy experts maintain that the presence of an estimated 11 million unauthorized residents is evidence of flaws in the legal immigration system as well as failures of immigration control policies and practices. The 111th Congress is faced with strategic questions of whether to continue to build on incremental reforms of specific elements of immigration (e.g., employment verification, skilled migration, temporary workers, worksite enforcement, and legalization of certain categories of unauthorized residents) or whether to comprehensively reform the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). President Barack Obama has affirmed his support for comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes increased enforcement as well as a pathway to legal residence for certain unauthorized residents. This report synthesizes the multi-tiered debate over immigration reform into key elements: legal immigration; legalization; immigration control; refugees, asylees, and humanitarian migrants; and, alien rights, benefits and responsibilities. It delineates the issues for the 111th Congress on permanent residence, temporary admissions, border security, worksite enforcement, employment eligibility verification, document fraud, criminal aliens, and the grounds for inadmissibility. Addressing these contentious policy reforms against the backdrop of economic crisis sharpens the social and business cleavages and narrows the range of options."
CRS Report for Congress, R40501
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