In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Immigrant Policy in the United States

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Migration and Globalization
  • Immigration Policy
  • Unauthorized Immigration
  • Immigrant Policy
  • Demographic Impact and Socioeconomic Conditions

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Social Work Immigrant Policy in the United States
David Engstrom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0155


Globalization and the end of the Cold War have sparked widespread migration across borders. Receiving countries develop immigration policies to shape and control the flow of immigrants coming to their borders and also establish immigrant policies to determine the rights and responsibilities immigrants have within their respective country. Immigration and immigrant policies ideally must address the heterogeneity of factors that cause people to migrate: some leave home for better economic opportunity while others flee because of persecution and oppression (e.g., refugees). This entry will focus on US immigration and immigrant policies. While some (but not all) of the policies may be specific to the United States, most (if not all) of the issues policies address are common to other immigrant-receiving countries. Because social work is concerned with vulnerable and oppressed populations, this entry examines how immigration and immigrant policies combine to offer protection and support for some immigrant groups. While references from a social work perspective are highlighted, this entry features works from a range of disciplines and interdisciplinary perspectives.

General Overviews

Immigration and immigrant policies are broad, interconnected, and constantly changing, making it almost impossible to have one source that covers all the policy and practice domains. Nevertheless, there are a number of good sources for social workers to consult. Daniels 2004 and Graham 2004 review the history of US immigration policy from two different vantage points and draw different lessons and conclusions from the same material. Social workers wanting to understand the complexity of the current debate over immigration would be well served to read both books. For those interested in examining historical archives on American immigration the Harvard University Library Open Collections section on immigration is recommended. Weissbrodt and Danielson 2005 provides a succinct yet thorough review of the policies and procedures the United States uses to admit foreign nationals. Social workers will find Chang-Muy and Congress 2009 a source for understanding US immigration policy and service delivery issues for specific immigrant populations such as immigrant children and elders. Likewise, Potocky-Tripodi 2002 offers an overview of multiple points at which social workers assist immigrant and refugee populations.

  • Aspiration, acculturation and impact: Immigration to the United States, 1789 to 1930. Harvard University Library Open Collections Program.

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    This web-based collection has a wealth of source material on American immigration that captures the voice of immigrants, immigrant institutions such as the immigrant press, and efforts to assist them such as the “settlement house” movement. The collection also has immigrant restriction documents such as the Dillingham Commission of 1907 and the Chinese Exclusion Acts.

  • Chang-Muy, Fernando, and Elaine P. Congress, eds. 2009. Social work with immigrants and refugees: Legal issues, clinical skills, and advocacy. New York: Springer.

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    Social workers will find this well-organized and informative edited volume a good source for understanding US immigration policy and service delivery issues for specific immigrant populations such as immigrant children and elders. The volume also examines the intersection of immigrants with fields of service such as mental health and criminal justice.

  • Daniels, Roger. 2004. Guarding the golden door. New York: Hill and Wang.

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    Daniels traces the history of US immigration policy from the first efforts to restrict immigration in the 19th century to the debate over unauthorized immigration at the beginning of the 21st century. This largely pro-immigration volume will historically ground social workers’ understanding of immigration policy.

  • Graham, Otis, Jr. 2004. Unguarded gates: A history of America’s immigration crisis. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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    This history of US immigration policy is sympathetic to the efforts to restrict large-scale immigration and draws on that tradition for an informed analysis of contemporary immigration.

  • Potocky-Tripodi, Miriam. 2002. Best practices for social work with refugees and immigrants. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

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    A good overview of multiple points at which social workers assist immigrant and refugee populations. The first part of the book discusses the reasons for migration, immigration and refugee policy, and a description and analysis of service delivery systems for immigrants. The second part examines culturally competent practice with immigrants and refugees and also best practices in a range of service areas such as mental health and family dynamics.

  • Weissbrodt, David, and Laura Danielson. 2005. Immigration law and procedure. St. Paul, MN: West Group.

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    Clearly explains the full range of policies and procedures employed by the United States to screen foreign nationals. The book also outlines the primary federal agencies enforcing immigration policy, reviews the history of US immigration policy, and examines the legal rights of immigrants and refugees.

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