The United States has a long history with immigration with the vast majority of the current population coming from some form of immigrant background – that being all Americans other than those who are American Indian or Alaska Native. The economic strength of the United States, alongside the mammoth degree of soft power possessed by the country, means that demand for so-called ‘green cards’ (permanent residence visas) is high. Since 2007, the United States has approved around 1 million green cards per year. Nearly one fifth of the permanent residency approvals in 2017 were for persons residing in California.
Despite the United States weaving the features of hard working immigrants escaping oppression in Europe into the fabric of their national identity, immigration is a divisive political issue. At the center of the public debate is illegal immigration. Although the amount of illegal immigrants apprehended has fallen since a peak at the turn of the millennium, U.S. officials still apprehended 530,250 people in 2016. Due to the economic disparities between Mexico and the United States, as well as the shared border, illegal immigration from Mexico accounts for the highest amount of illegal immigration into the United States.
Illegal immigration is not the only immigration source to have been brought into the political discourse in recent years. The refugee policies of the United States have also been questioned by both members of the public and political leaders. Despite the intense degree of vetting required to successfully obtain refugee status in the United States, a high proportion of Americans felt that taking in refugees from Syria would make the country less safe in March 2016.
In part acting on campaign pledges thrust upon him during the Republican Party primaries, President Donald Trump banned the acceptance of refugees from Syria by way of executive order in March 2017. The issue of resettling refugees from Syria is highly polarized between those who identify as Democrats and those who identify as Republicans. In April 2017, 67% of Democrats believed the U.S. has a responsibility to resettle refugees from Syria. The corresponding figure for Republicans sat in stark contrast at 22%.