A timeline of immigration policy in the United States

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As the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday begins readying a sweeping bipartisan immigration bill for floor action, it’s worth remembering why the issue stirs up such heated emotions in the U.S. Congress.  A look at some of the landmark legislation enacted over the past century shows that the nation has spent much of its history arguing over who should be allowed to become an American.

Two pivotal turning points: The late 1800s, when Congress began excluding would-be immigrants based on national origins and 1965, when the nation ceased doing so. Another big change came in the 1940s, when Congress established a guest worker program to help employers fill jobs. But rather than the agriculture industry, which originated guest worker programs, the driver of this year’s debate will be high tech. One symbol of the change: FWD.us, the controversial group that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg formed to help push immigration reform. The group hired two top lobbying shops last month.

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The other big question: Will Congress do anything for the millions of people living and working in the country illegally? The last major bill to do so was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Since then, any further attempts have been thwarted by a bitterly divided Congress.

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(Contributing: Jennifer Cheng and Caitlin Weber.)

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