The governance of immigration has a checkered past, and policy makers’
efforts at reform rarely meet expectations. Critiques have echoed over the
years and across the political spectrum. The current system of immigration
governance is scattered around the federal government, with no clear
chain of command. No single government department or agency captures
the breadth of the Immigration and Nationality Act’s reach.
At the crux of understanding immigration governance is acknowledging
that immigration is not a program to be administered; rather, it is a
phenomenon to be managed. The abundance of commissions that have
studied the issues and the various administrative structures over time
offers some wisdom on ingredients for successful governance. Based upon
this research, options for effective immigration governance emerge.
This paper studies the administration of immigration law and policy with
an eye trained on immigration governance for the future. It opens with
a historical overview that provides the backdrop for the current state of
affairs. It then breaks down the missions and functions of the Immigration
and Nationality Act by the lead agencies tasked with these responsibilities.
The paper concludes with an analysis of options for improving immigration
governance. Each of these options poses unique challenges as well as