What Authority Does the U.S. Constitution Give the Federal Government Regarding Immigration?

A – The word “immigration” does not appear in the U.S. Constitution or any of its Amendments. Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 does read, “… To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, …”. The 14th Amendment, Section 1 addresses the protection of “All persons born or naturalized in the United States,…” which extended citizenship through the States to the former slaves. The rules of immigration were reserved to the States through the 10th Amendment until the first Federal law was enacted in 1875. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the following year that immigration regulation was an exclusive Federal responsibility. Congress established the Immigration Service in 1891, which was the first time the Federal government took an active role. Congress enacted additional quota systems after World War I in the years 1921 and 1924. The laws remained largely unchanged until the passage of the “The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965.” Changes to admittance were made again in 1976 and 1978. “The Immigration Act of 1990″ added a category of admission based on diversity and increased the worldwide immigration ceiling.

Other changes came through the introduction of new categories of immigration and citizenship with the resettlement of refugees after World War II. “The Refugee Act of 1980” allowed the President the authority to admit refugees on an annual basis, in consultation with Congress in response to United Nations protocols in 1967 and 1969, derived from the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. This new legislation was the first time that our country used international standards and definitions for our immigration policies. “The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986” addressed unauthorized immigration creating two amnesty programs “legalizing” about 2.7 million people who illegally entered the country. Because illegal immigration remained a problem, “The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996” was passed to provide greater controls on the borders and reduced benefits. The last change occurred with “The Homeland Security Act of 2002” which now has consolidated authority for border protection, naturalization, customs and immigration.