St. Mary's Law Journal


The legacy of immigration to the United States permeates the debate over current immigration policy. Because our self-definition as a nation is at stake in this debate, the issue of immigration arouses our deepest sentiments regarding the communities in which we live. We do not need to search far back in our history to find examples of imprudent law-making. Both the 1924 and 1925 immigration laws were motivated in large part by purposes which eventually undermined the principles on which they rested. These acts serve as prime examples of how employing erroneous reasons to enact even well-intentioned laws can be a self-defeating proposition. Few can deny ours is an era when reform of immigration laws once again has become a national imperative. During the ensuing fifteen years since the Select Commission on Immigration Reform, the basic message was lost. Serious immigration reform was frustrated by our failure to define the national interest our immigration policy must serve. And the recommendation of commissions and immigration reform legislation to limit the number of illegal immigrants per year have been met with mixed success. The United States is a nation of immigrants. Unlike many developed nations just coming to grips with the impact of immigration, the debate in this country is relatively advanced. Immigration will continue, as it has in the past, to play a decisive role in forming that heritage. Whether immigration will strengthen our nation and otherwise serve our national interests is not a matter of accident or coincidence. Rather, it will depend on the type of policies and the reasons for the policies enacted and ratified. In 1996, the country took steps in restoring the nation’s credibility to its system of immigration enforcement and in beginning the debate regarding its overall immigration priorities.


St. Mary's University School of Law