Immigration to America surged in the second half of the 1800s. This “immigration wave” led the U.S. to organize a system to process all the people in a systematic way that was viewed as most beneficial way for America, and, to limit the influx of people.
In 1882, the U.S. government passed two pieces of major legislation regarding immigration. One was the Chinese Exclusion Act. The other was the Immigration Act of 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act forbade Chinese to move to the U.S. The U.S. did this because it believed Chinese would not assimilate into American culture and because Americans feared Chinese were taking jobs. There was no such restriction for Europeans. The Immigration Act of 1882 set up a federal bureaucracy to handle the mass immigration from Europe of the 1880s. Immigrants entering the country by ship had to pay a tax. Any person unable to care for himself, with a criminal record, or with a mental of physical issue could be denied entry. From 1892-1954, many immigrants arrived through Ellis Island in New York, where U.S. officials accepted or rejected the applicants.
Mass immigration to America continued in the first decade of the 1900s but dropped dramatically after. This was due to three causes: World War I, American desire to allow entry only to those who support a free republic, and racial prejudices.
1. World War I, 1914-1917, made it difficult for people to immigrate to America because of all the personal hardships and duties of citizens at war. In addition, World War I was started by a Serbian anarchist and Americans didn’t want to admit any dangerous individuals.
2. In 1901, anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated President McKinley. Czolgosz was a Polish-American and Catholic whose parents had emigrated from Eastern Europe. McKinley’s murder made it obvious that some immigrants had the potential to harm the country. Because Czolgosz was of Polish and Catholic background and the majority of Americans were Protestant English, French, or German, Americans wanted to limit people from eastern and southern Europe. Also, America’s immigration policies were meant to keep out communists, who had pledged to destroy the United States.
3. The eugenics movement of the early 1900s promoted the idea that Americans of English, French, and northern German origin were genetically and socially superior than the rest of the world. Leaders in academia supported this idea. The Immigration Restriction League, comprised of presidents of Harvard, Wharton, and Stanford, believed in the idea of eugenics.
The Immigration Act of 1924, the National Origins Act, and the Asian Exclusion Act placed restrictions on the number of immigrants allowed to enter the U.S.A. based on their country of origin. Americans believed their country would be stronger if its population was from similar cultures and that people from certain ethnic and religious groups were genetically or socially inferior to others. The number of immigrants allowed to enter into the country was limited to 2% of foreign-born residents from a particular country in the 1890 census. In 1929, this was changed so that the total immigration from any one country could be 150,000, based on a percentage of a country’s representation of the U.S. population in 1920. During this time, illegal immigration to America increased.
In the second half of the 1900s, two changes regarding immigration to America greatly influenced immigration.
Under the Bracero Program, Mexican citizens were allowed to come and work temporarily. When this program ended in 1964, Mexicans began coming illegally to the United States in every-increasing numbers. The number of Mexicans and Latin Americans living illegally in the United States is estimated at somewhere over 11 million.
In 1965, the United States abolished the nation of origin restrictions in the Hart-Celler Act, opening up immigration to America base on kinship ties, refugee status, and needed skills. This law dramatically changed the number and origion of people immigrating to the U.S. And, as the Vietnamese War ended, many war refugees fled the communists and moved to America, where the immigrants were received as refugees.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists from Asia (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon) hijacked American planes and crash-landed them into the World Trade Center towers in New York city, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and in a field in Pennsylvania. The terrorists had entered the United States legally. The United States began a war on terror that we are currently in. Because of the threat of terrorism, many Americans are worried that there is a grave threat to the United States from legal and illegal immigration to the country.
Illegal immigration has continued from America’s southern borders in great numbers. Because the United States government has not done enough to secure the southern border, various states have tried to implement federal law. To fight a state attempting to follow the law, the Obama administration has sued Arizona for trying to implement federal law regarding immigration.
Questions to Discuss:
1. Is it correct for the United States to limit immigration? Why do you think this?
2. Does the fight with terrorists affect how the U.S.A. should legislate immigration control?
3. What should the U.S. do with its illegal immigrants?
In the summer of 2014, around 50,000 minors from Central America and Mexico illegally crossed the U.S. border from Mexico, hoping that the U.S. government would accept them into America, house, feed, and educate them, and eventually allow for citizenship. This migration of young people caused many Americans to argue strongly, either for allowing the youth into the U.S., or to deny entry. Much disinformation exists about immigration to the United States. To understand immigration to America today, it is worthwhile to understand it historically.
For immigration, it is best to break up the first 125 years into four periods: 1776-1788, 1789-1802, 1800-1849, and 1850-1899. For the most part, the immigration policy of America was open, but, there were also restrictions on immigrants, for good reasons and sometimes, for bad. Like every country in the world, the United States wanted to maintain its existence and grow in strength. It tried to allow immigrants who would strengthen the republic. America encouraged immigrants with similar cultural backgrounds to encourage the growth of the republican form of government. And, as with every country of the world, it appears Americans favored certain nationality groups over others primarily because of their race.
After winning independence from Great Britain, the new country was united under the Articles of Confederation. Because American Founding Fathers were wary of a strong king, the first government they created allowed for great freedom of the states, and each state decided on its own immigration policy. For example, to become a United States citizen of Maryland, a person had to declare a belief in the Christian religion. In South Carolina, a person had to live in the state for at least two years. There was great variety in how each state handled immigration, with some more restrictive than others.
Like all new countries, the U.S.A. faced many existential threats. Great Britain did not respect America and kidnapped American sailors, forcing them to be British sailors. Britain had troops still stationed on America’s western frontier. France was in the middle of their revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and wanted the U.S. support in defeating Britain. When we didn’t side with France, the French attacked American ships. The American government was cautious to allow French and British immigrants. It was also guided by the idea of allowing citizens from countries of similar cultures, with the idea that the new government, a republic, would be strengthened by people of similar ideas.
In 1789, the 13 states ratified the U.S. Constitution created by the American Founding Fathers. One of the new Congress’ first acts was to write legislation regarding immigration and naturalization. Naturalization is the process how U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen. In the first two Naturalization Acts (1790 and 1795), citizenship was allowed to “free white persons, of “good moral character.” The immigrant had to live in the country for a number of years (first 2, and then in 1795, the residency years was increased to 5 years), take an oath to support the Constitution, to renounce any title of nobility, and to renounce any loyalty to any other nation. In 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed. Residency requirements increased to 14 years and the President could imprison any immigrant he thought was dangerous.
This time period was one of incredible American expansion into the western part of North America. Immigration during these years came from Europe, but new citizens also came from the lands that had been part of Mexico. Indians were not eligible to obtain citizenship based on the Naturalization laws of the 1790s. Indians were considered nonwhite, and were seen as members of their tribes, which were not part of American citizenry. Mexicans who lived in the areas of land won by the United States in the Mexican-American War of 1846-48 were allowed to become American citizens. Citizens from northwestern European countries, especially England and France, continued to migrate to the U.S. The Irish Potato Famine of 1845 pushed many Irish to America. Years of residency requirement dropped from 14 years to five years.
In the second half of the 19th century, immigration to America reached its highpoint. Europeans immigrated in large numbers to the U.S., and the U.S. government tried to slow or stop all Asians from moving to the United States. In 1862, President Lincoln signed the “Homestead Act of 1862.” This act allowed Congress to sell land for $1.25 an acre, and attracted millions of Europeans to settle the west. The Gold Rush of 1849, and political problems in Germany and France brought Europeans to America. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act passed. This law stopped all Chinese from migrating to America.
1. At which time period did the states control immigration? Why?
2. During which years was immigration strongly discouraged? Why?
3. During which time period was the most immigration to America?
4. Based on the graphs below, which decade, from 1776-1899, did America have the most immigration?
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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