The Many Faces Behind Immigration

There are many actors throughout immigration over time.  Being that it is a social issue that applies to the whole country and not New Jersey exclusively, I want to focus on the presidential actors for the nation.  Although I focus on my home state, immigration regulations are set forth by the federal government and followed by the state government, despite some states’ treatments of immigrants being more welcoming and tolerant than others, such as New Jersey.  A major issue I associate with immigration is the inconsistency in legislation: whenever a new president assumes office, laws, regulations, and treatment of immigrants often changes alongside the new leader.  The history of immigration shows the back-and-forth that legislation underwent and continues to endure.  Some presidents advocated for the diversity and advantages of immigrants, while others expressed that immigration causes issues and does more harm than good for society.  Key political groups and figures in history and present-day continue to shape immigration and influence the future.

This was the flag for the Know-Nothing nativist political party (Wikipedia).

The Know-Nothing Party (1855): This political party was nativist and expressed extreme anti-immigrant and anti-Roman Catholic sentiments.  They saw German and Irish migrants to be threats to native-born Protestant Americans.  The political group thought that they would cause issues to the economic and political securities of citizens.  These views paved the way for racist and inaccurate views of immigrants.


28th U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia).

Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921): President Wilson expressed views beyond his time when he vetoed the Immigration Act of 1917 because he saw literacy tests to be an unfair disadvantage to those who were not formally educated: not everyone had access to the equal opportunity of acquiring an education.  Despite his veto, Congress overrode it and passed the Act into legislation.




“Some of the best stuff of America has come out of foreign lands, and some of the best stuff in America has made them better citizens than some people who were born in America,” (^1). – President Woodrow Wilson

33rd U.S. President Harry S. Truman (Wikipedia).

Harry S. Truman (1945-1953): President Truman advocated for the passing of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which was the first law pertaining to refugees.  The former president contributed to the welcoming sentiments for those in need and those escaping horrible war and terrors from their current home nations.  This was the first move made in efforts to aid refugees.  Despite there being pushback, he defended and assured residents that he did not want the bill to result in despair.



“Most of the individuals in the displaced persons centers already have strong roots in this country — by kinship, religion or national origin. Their occupational background clearly indicates that they can quickly become useful members of our American communities. Their kinsmen, already in the United States, have been vital factors in farm and workshop for generations. They have made lasting contributions to our arts and sciences and political life,” (^2). – President Harry S. Truman

42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton (Wikipedia).

Bill Clinton (1993-2001): President Clinton was one of the first modern presidents to enforce stricter restrictions on immigration.  He set forth changes on the Immigration and Nationality Act while increasing funding for border control operations (^3).  His goal was to restrict abuse of the asylum provisions of the law and restrict illegal entry into the nation.  In the long run, this could influence the common misconceptions of immigrants, portraying the majority of them as illegal citizens.



“The simple fact is that we must not — and we will not — surrender our borders to those who wish to exploit our history of compassion and justice,” (^4). – President Bill Clinton

Dreamers of the DREAM Act (

Dreamers and DREAM Act (2001-Present Day): The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, first introduced in 2001, continues to provide a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who came to the nation as children.  These immigrants are deemed “Dreamers” (^5).  Dreamers are able to receive in-state tuition and are granted educational and employment opportunities that they otherwise would not have received.

“In high school I didn’t have papers and couldn’t get a job. But as long as I had a chance for education, I thought I should get all the skills I possibly could,” (^6). – Ernestor De La Rosa, a Dreamer

44th U.S. President Barack Obama (Wikipedia).

Barack Obama (2009-2017): President Obama was one of the presidents who most advocated for immigrants.  He set forth Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children protection from deportation while allowing work authorization.  He and his administration eliminated large worksite raids and instead enforced investigation and penalization of workers (^7).  He practiced more tolerant methods to dealing with immigrants and immigration reform while still regulating illegal immigration.  He also provided undocumented immigrants living in the nation for an extended period of time a path to legalization.

“Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability –- a common-sense, middle-ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” (^8). – President Barack Obama

45th U.S. President Donald Trump (Wikipedia).

Donald Trump (2017-Present Day): President Trump’s treatment of immigrants is nothing less of controversial and radical.  He is not an advocate of immigrants and especially not those who entered the nation illegally.  He placed stricter restrictions on refugees.  His executive order on border security, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” has sections that undermine human rights and go against the American morale (^9).  Although he claims to want to decrease illegal immigration, he criminalizes all immigrants in his efforts and fixated much of his 2016 Presidential campaign on constructing a border wall that separates the states from Mexico.  His efforts seemingly cause society to regress into the times of oppression and prejudice.


“Democrats are proposing open borders, lower wages, and, frankly, lawless chaos.  We are proposing an immigration plan that puts the jobs, wages, and safety of American workers first,” (^10). – President Donald Trump

The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice logo (

New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (Present Day): The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice is a statewide-membership organization that aims to create and accomplish welcoming and supporting policies for immigrants within the state across different sectors of society (^11).  This activist group allows for citizens to get involved in the grassroots work and advocate for their neighbors who are immigrants.  This provides a voice to those who wish to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.  A number of other New Jersey organizations can be found here (also seen in the solutions tab).


“The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice recognizes the right to human mobility, the root causes of migration and the equality of all human beings.  The Alliance works towards policies that support the dignity and human and civil rights of immigrants,” (^12). – New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice



(^7) American Immigration Council Staff, “President Obama’s Legacy on Immigration.” Immigration Impact, August 1, 2019.

(^6) “Dreamers Stories and Quotes.” Refugee & Immigration Ministries.

(^3 and ^4) Martin, John L. “Immigration Reform Gains Momentum.”, August 1, 1993.

(^11 and ^12) “New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice.” New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, 2020.

(^9) “President Trump’s Executive Orders on Immigration and Refugees.” The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS), April 23, 2020.

(^10) “Remarks by President Trump on Modernizing Our Immigration System for a Stronger America.” The White House. The United States Government, May 16, 2019.

(^8) “Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation on Immigration.” National Archives and Records Administration, November 20, 2014.

(^2) Rothman, Lily. “President Truman’s Powerful Message on U.S. Helping Refugees.” Time. Time, June 20, 2018.

(^5) “The Dream Act, DACA, and Other Policies Designed to Protect Dreamers.” American Immigration Council, September 3, 2019.

(^1) Vought, Hans. “Division and Reunion: Woodrow Wilson, Immigration, and the Myth of American Unity.” Journal of American Ethnic History 13, no. 3 (1994): 24-50. Accessed May 10, 2020.