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?