According to Ellen Percy Kraly, a geographer at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, the worries many Americans have about immigrants haven’t changed much from a century ago. Then, as now, “concerns had to do with sovereignty, jobs, issues of security, the loss of ‘traditional American values,’” she says.
Recent disputes between Clinton and Trump highlight how the immigration debate continues. Many Americans agree that the U.S. needs immigration reform but are divided over how to do so.
One of the fiercest battles has been over the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S., predominantly from Mexico and Central America (see chart). After surging for two decades, the total number of undocumented immigrants has remained stable since about 2009. That means fewer undocumented people are entering the U.S. and some are even leaving, thanks to tougher border security and an improving Mexican economy. But lawmakers are divided over what to do about undocumented people currently in the U.S.
In 2013, a bipartisan bill setting a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants passed in the Senate. But the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to consider it, and the bill died.
President Obama’s attempts to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation have had mixed success. In 2012, he issued an executive order to temporarily protect more than 1 million undocumented young people brought to the U.S. before age 16. But his later order to extend the protection to their parents was rejected by the Supreme Court in June.
Meanwhile, ISIS-inspired attacks by Muslims in the U.S.—such as the shootings in San Bernardino, California, last December, and in Orlando in June—have left some Americans wondering whether legal residents from Muslim countries represent a national security threat.