Eric Ruark's picture


  by  Eric Ruark

For years, politicians have told the American people that the U.S. immigration system is “broken.” The fix pushed by Congressional leaders has been “comprehensive immigration reform,” a term co-opted by immigration expansionists in an attempt to sell the American people a false bill of goods.

Comprehensive immigration reform originally referred to implementing the recommendations of the Jordan Commission by passing legislation that would secure the U.S. border, put in place effective measures to prevent illegal immigration, punish employers who knowingly hired illegal aliens, cut guest worker programs, and reduce the overall immigration level. It also meant the rejection of amnesty as a component of immigration reform, and Jordan herself was adamant on this topic.

The Gang of Eight bill in 2013, the last comprehensive approach to immigration policy, would have brought about the opposite of the Jordan Commission recommendations by giving blanket amnesty to illegal aliens upfront while holding out the promise of future border security and interior enforcement to follow within a decade. Future admissions of legal immigrants and guest workers would have doubled if the Gang of Eight bill had become law, and the U.S. population would have swelled by 73 million by 2033 to a total of 382 million (the current U.S. population is 324 million).

The provisions contained in the Gang of Eight are very unpopular with American voters, which is why those who supported its passage, and seek its revival, do their best to disguise and misrepresent what was actually in the bill. Part of their strategy is to convince the public that today’s immigration levels are at or even below the historical average, so to reduce immigration would somehow be “un-American” because, of course, American is a nation of immigrants.

The truth is that immigration levels today are the highest in our nation’s history, more than double the historical average going back to 1820 when immigration numbers were first recorded. Prior to 1965, when Congress passed legislation that eventually led to annual admissions averaging over one million over the past 25 years, the historical average was about one-quarter of the present flow.

Average Immigration to the United States by Decade

Immigration to the United States, 1965-2015

Immigration expansionists also frequently claim that mass immigration is needed to make up for a shortage of workers in the United States. With 49 million people between the ages of 18 and 64 not in the labor force, this argument has no merit, but, even if it were true, our immigration system is not set up to bring in immigrants who have vocational skills; instead it heavily favors familial ties.

Any genuine reform of the U.S. immigration system would accomplish what the Jordan Commission recommended: prioritizing the admission of immediate family members (spouses and minor children) and ending chain migration.

The chart below shows just how skewed the admission process is towards family members of immigrants. A point to note is that the 14 percent of immigrants admitted under employment-based preferences include the spouses and children of the sponsored immigrant, so only 7 percent of all immigrants to the United States in 2015 were admitted based on their vocational skills.

Immigration to the United States by Category, 2015

  • Family Preferences: 678,978 (65%)
  • Employment-based preferences: 144,047 (14%)
  • Refugees and Asylees: 151,995 (14%)
  • Visa Lottery: 47,934 (5%)
  • Other: 28,077 (3%)


Immigration to the United States, 1820-2015
(years exceeded one million are highlighted)

All immigration figures taken from DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2015.

ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA

Updated: Thu, Jan 12th 2017 @ 2:00pm EST

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