ALL IN THE FAMILY: Preferences for Relatives Drive U.S. Immigration and Population Growth

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Preferences for Relatives Drive U.S. Immigration and Population Growth


In 2015 the United States set a record for the largest number of immigrants in its population. By the second quarter of this year, the size of the total immigrant population (legal and illegal) reached 42.1 million – an increase of 1.7 million in just one year. Immigrants are now 13.3 percent of the total population; that’s the largest share in 105 years. The growth in the immigrant population was slow from 2007 to 2011, but has accelerated noticeably since then, with average net growth of over one million per year1. This surpasses the levels of both the early 20th century, which for a long time was the high water mark of immigration to the United States, and the 1990s (see Figure 1).

Unlike earlier time periods, when immigration ebbed and flowed in distinct waves, the last three decades are an accelerated continuation of an 80-year upward trend in annual immigration. Continuing high immigration has had a significant impact on U.S. population growth. Immigration, counting both new admissions and births to immigrant women, was responsible for three-fourths of the growth in our population this century2. If current trends continue, immigration will add another 100 million people to the United States in the next 50 years. This paper will explore the primary component of U.S. immigration – family-based immigration – and recommend ways to change the laws and regulations so as to help reverse the steep growth of recent decades.

The so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform proposals endorsed by the Obama administration would result in an annual increase of more than one million immigrants per year, not counting the immediate surge in green cards due to the legalization of the initial 11 million illegal aliens. Based on our experience with past amnesties and immigration increases, such a policy change would greatly increase future family immigration well beyond the initial amnesty.

Instead, to accomplish immigration reduction that will lead to population stabilization, Congress must consider cuts and tighter regulation of the categories that are currently unlimited (Parents and Spouses) in addition to eliminating certain quota-limited family categories, as recommended by the Jordan Commission in 1995.

Read the entire paper here.

Jessica Vaughan

Jessica M. Vaughan is Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a research institute in Washington, DC. Prior to joining the Center she was a consular officer with the U.S. State Department.
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