A Brief History of U.S. Immigration Policy from the Colonial Period to the Present Day

Cato Institute, Policy Analysis, No. 919

32 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2021

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Cato Institute

Cato Institute

Andrew M. Baxter

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Alex Nowrasteh

Cato Institute - Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity

Date Written: August 3, 2021

Abstract

More than 86 million people have legally immigrated to the United States between 1783 and 2019. The legal regime under which they immigrated has changed radically over that time; the politics surrounding those changes have remained contentious, and past immigration policies inform the current political debate. Conflicting visions and piecemeal legislation have left the United States with an archaic and barely coherent immigration system with outdated policy objectives that is primarily controlled by the executive branch of government. We review the history of U.S. immigration policy, including the legal controversies that empowered Congress with its immigration plenary power and the historical policy decisions that still guide the U.S. immigration system, in order to contextualize the current political debate over immigration at the beginning of the Biden administration.

Keywords: Immigration, American History

JEL Classification: N11, N12, J61

Suggested Citation

Institute, Cato and M. Baxter, Andrew and Nowrasteh, Alex, A Brief History of U.S. Immigration Policy from the Colonial Period to the Present Day (August 3, 2021). Cato Institute, Policy Analysis, No. 919, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3899344

Cato Institute (Contact Author)

Cato Institute ( email )

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Washington, DC 20001-5403
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Andrew M. Baxter

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Alex Nowrasteh

Cato Institute - Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity ( email )

1000 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20001-5403
United States

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