Congress has failed time and again to come up with a comprehensive policy on immigration, and it looks like it won't do so anytime soon.
However, that hasn't stopped the presidential candidates taking a position on the hot button issue—as we see below.
President Obama: Obama has admitted failure on getting a promised immigration overhaul program in place.
In an attempt to get some immigration legislation on the books, Obama had urged Congress to pass the Dream Act, which would give young illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the military. But the Senate blocked the bill in 2010. Obama has vowed to try and get the bill passed if he is re-elected.
However, in June, Obama issued an executive order to allow many immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children to be exempted for two years from deportation and granted work permits if they apply to the government. The exemption also applies to children who are students and/or veterans.
Some 1.7 million people could be eligible for the program, according to estimates. Tens of thousands have applied since August.
While taking these steps, Obama has pursued an aggressive policy of deportation in his first term. Since 2009, his administration has deported about 1.5 million illegal immigrants, more than the administrations of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined.
Most of those deported have been convicted of drug offenses or crimes such as drunken driving. Others repeatedly crossed the U.S. border from Mexico or were deemed threats to national security.
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Obama has stated that the government should focus on sending back criminals and recent arrivals rather than minors and families who are already settled in the U.S. He has come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
On state laws (Arizona and Alabama) that allow officials to target suspected illegal immigrants, Obama has come out against them. He labeled as "misguided" the 2010 Arizona law that, among other provisions, requires police to check the status of anyone they suspect is in the country illegally.
The Obama administration filed a federal lawsuit this year against Arizona, saying the state law superceded federal laws. In June, the Supreme Court threw out several of the law's provisions but left standing the one on status checks—but did reinforce the federal government's primacy in immigration policy.
As for legal immigration, Obama has repeatedly said he supports legislation, backed by some business sectors, that would increase the number of highly skilled foreign workers and entrepreneurs who can enter the U.S. on special visas or apply to immigrate. Resolution of the issue has been blocked in Congress, and Obama has said he can do little himself on the issue.
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In the GOP primary debates, Romney attacked his fellow Republicans when he felt they were being too soft on immigration. He has consistently said he opposes providing "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. Romney has stated that he is uncomfortable with the idea of rounding up and deporting people and that he favored a long-term, comprehensive solution to illegal immigration.
He also says he favors a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. He opposes education benefits to illegal immigrants and opposes offering legal status to illegal immigrants who attend college—but would do so for those who serve in the armed forces.
High-Tech and Security Firms
Romney, if elected, has said he would establish a national immigration-status verification system for employers and punish them if they hire noncitizens who do not prove their authorized status. He would also end visa caps for spouses and minor children of legal immigrants.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney vetoed a state law similar to the Dream Act, but Romney says he would honor work permits for immigrants who benefit from Obama's temporary exemption mentioned above—but he would not accept new applicants under the program. He also promises to put in place a comprehensive immigration plan before the work permits expire. (Read More: Not Enough Worker Visas?)
Romney has not specifically said he supports the immigration laws in Arizona, Alabama, but he has called Arizona "a model" for the nation on immigration And he has urged the Justice Department to drop its lawsuit against the Arizona legislation.
On legal immigration, Romney has said that he favors allowing into the country skilled and highly educated workers, who are favored by American high-tech firms and other industries. He has criticized the current annual limit (140,000) on the number of high-skilled visas—saying "it is a barrier to the kinds of immigrants the country needs to remain innovative."