Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Safety (Tuesday, March 15, 2022)
First, many members of the public mistakenly believe that our current laws permit anyone to immigrate legally to the United States as long as they don’t have a criminal background or other negative baggage and are willing to wait their turn in line. But as members of this subcommittee are well aware, our laws take the opposite approach. Being free of such disqualifying characteristics is not enough. To be admitted as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), a person must also affirmatively qualify under one of several specific categories created by Congress. The main categories are those seeking unification with specified family members who are U.S. citizens or LPRs, those whose occupational skills are needed by U.S. employers, those who hail from countries that in the past five years have sent relatively few immigrants to the United States, and refugees. A person who doesn’t fall within any of those four categories (or a handful of much smaller miscellaneous categories) cannot lawfully immigrate to the United States.
Second, the Immigration and Nationality Act contains more than 20 pages laying out the grounds on which otherwise qualified intending immigrants are ineligible. These inadmissibility grounds generally relate to criminality, national security, communicable diseases, likelihood of becoming a public charge, protection of the U.S. labor force, and the integrity of the immigration system itself.
Third, with some important exceptions, there are annual numerical limits on the admission of qualified immigrants. Those limits are of two kinds. There are annual numerical ceilings for eachcategory (and many subcategories) of immigrants – family immigration, employment immigration, etc. Within each of those categories, there are additional annual limits on how many immigrants may be admitted from a single country. In the past three decades Congress has enacted several laws concerned principally with immigration enforcement. Not since the Immigration Act of 1990, however, has Congress taken any major action to update our nation’s policies on legal immigration. In the intervening decades, much has changed, and there is now ample reason to revisit the system that governs the lawful admission of immigrants to the United States.