2014 Humanitarian Crisis – Recent History Lesson

We are currently facing a humanitarian crisis on our Southern border. To look at anti-immigrant protests in the news lately [1] one might think that this is a new problem that has started under the watch of the Obama administration. One would be mistaken. And badly, at that.

Let’s review some recent history related to immigration and immigration reform.


Congress passed the Immigration and Naturalization Act in 1965. On signing the act into law in October 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that the act “is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions….It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or our power.”

In the first five years after the bill’s passage, immigration to the U.S. from Asian countries–especially those fleeing war-torn Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia)–would more than quadruple. Other Cold War-era conflicts during the 1960s and 1970s saw millions of people fleeing poverty or the hardships of communist regimes in Cuba, Eastern Europe and elsewhere to seek their fortune on American shores. In the three decades following passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, more than 18 million legal immigrants entered the United States, more than three times the number admitted over the preceding 30 years.

By the end of the 20th century, the policies put into effect by the Immigration Act of 1965 had greatly changed the face of the American population. Whereas in the 1950s, more than half of all immigrants were Europeans and just 6 percent were Asians, by the 1990s only 16 percent were Europeans and 31 percent were of Asian descent, while the percentages of Latino and African immigrants had also jumped significantly. Between 1965 and 2000, the highest number of immigrants (4.3 million) to the U.S. came from Mexico, in addition to some 1.4 million from the Philippines. Korea, the Dominican Republic, India, Cuba and Vietnam were also leading sources of immigrants, each sending between 700,000 and 800,000 over this period.


In 1986 the Simpson-Mazzoli Act was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986.  The law (source):

  • required employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status;
  • made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit illegal immigrants;
  • legalized certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants, and;
  • legalized illegal immigrants who entered the United States before January 1, 1982 and had resided there continuously with the penalty of a fine, back taxes due, and admission of guilt; candidates were required to prove that they were not guilty of crimes, that they were in the country before January 1, 1982, and that they possessed minimal knowledge about U.S. history, government, and the English language.


In 2008,  President G. W. Bush signed the   William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (passed the House and Senate unanimously). The law was originally passed in 2000,  and  subsequently renewed in 2003, 2006, 2008 and most recently in 2013.

There are three main areas of this law.

PROTECTION: The TVPA increased the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect trafficked foreign national victims including, but not limited to:

  • Victims of trafficking, many of whom were previously ineligible for government assistance, were provided assistance; and

  • A non-immigrant status for victims of trafficking if they cooperated in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers (T-Visas, as well as providing other mechanisms to ensure the continued presence of victims to assist in such investigations and prosecutions).

PROSECUTION: The TVPA authorized the U.S. Government to strengthen efforts to prosecute traffickers including, but not limited to:

  • Creating a series of new crimes on trafficking, forced labor, and document servitude that supplemented existing limited crimes related to slavery and involuntary servitude; and

  • Recognizing that modern-day slavery takes place in the context of fraud and coercion, as well as force, and is based on new clear definitions for both trafficking into sexual exploitation and labor exploitation: Sex trafficking was defined as, “a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”4 Labor trafficking was defined as, “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”5

PREVENTION: The TVPA allowed for increased prevention measures including, but not limited to:

  • Authorizing the U.S. Government to assist foreign countries with their efforts to combat trafficking, as well as address trafficking within the United States, including through research and awareness-raising; and

  • Providing foreign countries with assistance in drafting laws to prosecute trafficking, creating programs for trafficking victims, and assistance with implementing effective means of investigation.


In 2011, a surge in immigration began for a myriad of reasons, all of which had been encountered previously when other immigrant groups came to the United States: economic opportunity, religious and political persecution,  and fleeing violence in their home country. Sources: [1, 2, 3]

Chart of Child Migrant Surge

Source: Mother Jones


On June 15, 2012 President Barack Obama signed a memorandum titled Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”). It was implemented by the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano. It directs U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to practice prosecutorial discretion towards some individuals who immigrated to the United States as children and are currently undocumented.

Contrary to popular belief, being selected for the DACA program (Dreamers) does not give you a permanent right to stay in the US. It is simply a deferment. Action on the individuals case will be taken up in the future. The individual could still be deported.



As we see, the current surge of immigrants at the Southern US border is not a new issue. But it is an American issue.  The solution to this problem has many facets: economic, political, legal, and humanitarian.

This problem did not arise overnight. It will take years to solve. But solve it, we must.

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