Immigration policy is ripe for reform

Marta Tienda

Marta Tienda, an immigration policy expert at Princeton’s
Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, has found that the
number of older immigrants is on the rise. (Photo by Larry Levanti)

Family unification provisions enacted in the 1960s have contributed to population aging in the United States, according to an analysis by Marta Tienda, an immigration and policy expert at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

In research presented at two Population Association of America annual meetings in 2012 and 2013, Tienda found that the 1965 Amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which exempted parents of naturalized and native-born U.S. citizens from annual immigration caps, have led to an increase in late-age immigration over the last three decades.

Parents represented nearly one quarter of the 475,000 exempt-sponsored relatives in 2010, compared to only 11 percent of the 81,000 admitted in 1971, according to Tienda, the Maurice P. During Professor in Demographic Studies. The rise in late-age immigration stems both from the 1965 parental exemption provisions and from provisions that allow naturalized citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor extended-family relatives.

The findings suggest that policymakers should consider age and its economic and social consequences in crafting immigration policy — especially in light of rising health care costs and the challenges seniors face in qualifying for private health insurance, Tienda said. Her work is funded by the National Institutes of Health through Princeton’s Demography of Aging Center.

“People think of the sentimental part,” Tienda said, referring to family reunification. “This fact of late-age immigration has not gotten a lot of attention.”

–By Tara Thean