debate tends to emphasize the economic aspects of immigration, immigration policy has historically been based on a broader set of policy goals, especially on the principles of family reunification. The social goal of family reunification is principally to unite nuclear families. It has strong and sustained political support from its main beneficiaries—U.S. citizens who wish to sponsor their family relatives for immigration to the United States.
Some aspects of the economic goals for immigration may conflict—for example, allowing workers to enter who have skills and can secure U.S. employment, yet guarding the wages and employment opportunities for resident workers.
One aim of the 1990 Immigration Act was to diversify immigration into the United States. In a major reversal from the early decades of the twentieth century, the stream of immigrants in recent decades has been dominated by Hispanics and Asians. The effort became to promote pluralism by expanding the proportion of European immigrants.
Fulfilling the goal of humanitarian assistance, about one-fourth of the immigrants admitted into the United States since 1945 have been refugees and asylees. Refugee admissions as a proportion of total immigration, including illegal immigration, has decreased in recent years, now accounting for about 15 percent. These admissions have been guided by the goal of offering protection to those fleeing persecution. The current legislative framework for humanitarian admissions is the 1980 Refugee Act, which has three goals: to base admissions on recognized international criteria; to create a more manageable flow of refugees; and to establish a program for resettling refugees with financial, medical, and social support. Since 1980, U.S. policy has recognized that many refugees arrive in the United States without money, family, or ways of making a living.
A substantial proportion of immigrants leave the United States. Some fail to find jobs or to adjust to life here. Others discover better opportunities back home. A few decide to move to a third country.
There have been emigrants as long as there have been immigrants. Some of the first colonists eventually returned to England. After the War of Independence, many U.S. residents moved to Canada, primarily to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Many turn-of-the-century immigrants from Italy, Greece, and Poland went home. It appears that a substantial proportion of immigrants at the turn of the century, particularly males, moved to the United States on a temporary basis. They earned income, accumulated some money, and returned after several years to their home country. These temporary immigrants were, in some ways, similar to the temporary farmworkers who were admitted to the United States under the Bracero Program from 1943 to 1964 and possibly also to recent illegal sojourners to the United States.