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Brief History of American Response to Immigration


Like any other country in the world today, America owes its roots to those people whom had come from other lands to settle, bringing along with them language, religion and traditions. And like most other countries, its people (not always its politicians) were fiercely protective over who should be allowed to come and settle.

For America, these were English speaking white Europeans of the Christian faith along with black Africans they brought to use as forced slave labor. By 1700, America's heritage was predominately seen and felt with 80 percent of the population being British, 11% African along with a combination of Dutch, Irish/Scottish and German. During the first session of Congress James Madison spoke out on whom was desired to become American citizens when he said:

When we are considering the advantages that may result from an easy mode of naturalization, we ought also to consider the cautions necessary to guard against abuse. It is no doubt very desirable that we should hold out as many inducements as possible for the worthy part of mankind to come and settle amongst us, and throw their fortunes into a common lot with ours. But why is this desirable? Not merely to swell the catalogue of people. No, sir, it is to increase the wealth and strength of the community; and those who acquire the rights of citizenship, without adding to the strength or wealth of the community are not the people we are in want of.

James Madison on Rule of Naturalization, 1st Congress, Feb. 3, 1790.

Studying early debates in Congress from 1790 through 1900 on immigration matters reveals a vast majority of politicians who are seen as deeply patriotic and proud of America's white English heritage--and defensive in preserving it. These debates also reveal a public at large very concerned with whom might arrive and settle amongst them and made their fears known as evidence by the many petitions recorded in both the House and Senate--praying for federal action to slow or stop the flow of immigrants.

What follows is a brief chronology of Americas response to immigration through the years which in toady’s highly charged political climate of pandering to foreign born voters would be seen as inhumane, racist--or even incorrectly as unconstitutional.

1790: The Naturalization Act of 1790 limits the right of become a naturalized citizen to "free white persons," thereby excluding Africans and Asians. US government takes the first steps toward closing its open attitudes about immigrants by limiting those who could become naturalized citizens on the basis of race and political affiliation. Law remained for 162 years.

1798:  The Alien Act of 1798 authorizes the president to order out of the US any alien regarded as dangerous to the public peace or safety.

1852: California's Foreign Miner's Tax imposes $3 monthly tax for non-native-born citizens of the US (the Chinese) and those becoming citizens under the Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo (the Mexicans). The tax was enforced by tax collectors who kept part of the fee for themselves, were allowed to take property of those who failed to pay, and often used extreme violence in their collection methods.

1855: California legislature levies a $50 tax on every ship bringing immigrants "ineligible for citizenship." The California Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional in 1857.

1862: California legislature passes "An Act to Protect Free White Labor Against Competition with Coolie Labor and to Discourage the Immigration of Chinese to the State of California." Requires a tax on laborers who were not working in agriculture.

1876: California Senate committee investigates the “social, moral, and political effect of Chinese immigration.”

1877: United States Congress investigates the criminal influence of Chinese immigrants.

1886: February - Arcata adopts an anti-Chinese resolution declaring, "We, the citizens of Arcata and vicinity, wish the total expulsion of the Chinese from our midst. We endorse the efforts of Eureka to exclude all Chinese settlements in the city and environs." Ferndale passed a similar resolution several days later.

Crescent City decides to "remove all Mongolians from our midst." No Chinese are allowed to live in Humboldt County for the next 60 years.

San Francisco School Board issues a decree that all persons of Asian ancestry must attend segregated schools in Chinatown by stating, "Our Children should not be placed in any position where their youthful impressions may be affected by association with pupils of the Mongolian race."

1875: The US government passes its second act limiting who becomes naturalized citizens based on race. The Revised Federal Statutes specified that racially, only persons of white or black descent were eligible to become American citizens. All Asian immigrants, being neither white nor black, were classified as "aliens ineligible to citizenship."

1878: California legislature bars Chinese individuals from owning real estate.

1879: Second California Constitution passes with two new articles that discriminate against the Chinese: Chinese immigrants were denied the vote in California; and state and local public works agencies were forbidden to employ a Chinese laborer.

All Chinese citizens in Eureka are loaded onto two steamers bound for San Francisco. A gallows is erected in the middle of Chinatown with a sign stating, "Any Chinaman seen on the street after 3:00 will be hung to this gallows." On the ships, rival tongs are separated - 135 Chinese on The Humboldt, and 175 on the City of Chester. High seas prohibits sailing until February 14th.

Eurekans adopt three proposals declaring that all "Chinamen" be expelled from the city and not allowed to return; that a committee be appointed to act for one year to warn all Chinese who attempt to come to Eureka to live, to use all reasonable means to prevent their remaining, and in the case of a disregarded warning, to call a mass meeting of citizens who will determine the appropriate action; and that a notice be issued to all property owners requesting them not to lease or rent property to Chinese.

1882: The Chinese Exclusion Act, which forbade the immigration of Chinese immigrants. The law was in response to outraged American miners in California whom had to compete for mining jobs against Chinese immigrants. The law remained in affect, being slightly altered during WWII, for the next 82 years.

San Francisco Schools Policy establishes a separate school for the Chinese. Sacramento followed the example in 1893.|

1885: City Councilman, David C. Kendall is fatally shot by a stray bullet fired by rival Chinese tong members. 20 Chinese are arrested. Vigilante behavior becomes difficult to quell. That evening a meeting was held at Centennial Hall during which a resolution was proposed to massacre "every Chinaman" in the city. When it fails to pass, another suggested destroying Chinatown and driving the occupants beyond city limits.

Congress bans the admission of contract laborers.

1905: Asiatic Exclusion League is organized by delegates from 67 organizations who met in San Francisco to begin plans to press for legislation to halt all Japanese immigration. Before the end of the decade, the League began lobbying or an amendment to Constitution that would deny citizenship to Asians.

1906: The Starbuck-Tallant Canning Company of Port Kenyon near Ferndale imports 23 Chinese and 4 Japanese laborers from Astoria, Oregon. The Humboldt Times headline reads, "The Chinese must go."

1910: Angel Island is opened to enforce immigration laws during the Asian exclusion years. From 1910-1940, at least 175,000 Asian immigrants - mostly Chinese - were detained and interrogated at Angel Island. The average stay was 2 weeks; the longest was 2 years. Thousands were deported.

1913: California Alien Land Law prohibits land ownership for "aliens ineligible for citizenship" - i.e., Asians - and limited their lease of agricultural land to three years.

1915: The Supreme Court rules in Ozawa v. United States that first-generation Japanese are ineligible for citizenship and cannot apply for naturalization.

1918: After the Russian Revolution and the end of WWI, many Americans became suspicious of the "new" immigrants and the dangers they posed to American society.

1920: California Alien Land Law prohibits leasing land to "aliens ineligible to citizenship." By 1925, prohibited in Washington, Arizona, Oregon, Idaho, Nebraska, Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, New Mexico, Minnesota, and Missouri. During World War II, Utah, Wyoming, and Arkansas also joined.

1922: The Cable Act forces women married Asian men to relinquish their citizenship. "Any woman who marries an alien ineligible to citizenship shall cease to be a citizen of the United States." Repealed in 1936.

1924: The US government passes its second law restricting immigration based on nationality. The Immigration Act established quotas designed to reduce immigration from southern and eastern Europe (especially Jews and Italians) and prohibited the admission of "aliens ineligible to citizenship" - all Asians, including wives of Asians already in the US. For the first time in history, immigration dramatically decreases.

1929: Congress makes annual immigration quotas permanent.

1929-1937:  Illegal Mexican immigration increased. The US Immigration Bureau worked with authorities in Los Angeles to send illegal Mexican workers back to Mexico. The lack of jobs as well as governmental pressure convinced about 70,000 to return to Mexico between 1929 and 1930: Between 1931-32, nearly 10,000 Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, mostly children born in the US of Mexican parents, boarded special trains from LA for Mexico. By 1937, half a million Mexicans had left the US

1940: The US government amends the Naturalization Act to give Latin Americans citizenship.

1941:  Throughout WWII, despite the requests of hundreds of thousands of German Jews to immigrate to America to escape Nazi persecution, the vast majority were denied. The annual German quota was 211,895 spaces, but in no year were these figures met. Prominent refugees such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann had little problem entering the US, but less prominent persons had great difficulty and most were denied.

1945: The US government amends the Naturalization Act to give citizenship to Filipinos and Asian Indians.

1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act allows individuals of all races to be eligible for naturalization. The act also reaffirms national origins quota system, limits immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere while leaving the Western Hemisphere unrestricted, establishes preferences for skilled workers and relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens; and tightens security and screening standards and procedures.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs begins selling 1.6 million acres of Native American land to developers.

1965: The US government passes the Immigration Reform Act that lifts numerical restrictions against Asian immigrants and set new restriction limits - 120,000 immigrants annually from the Western Hemisphere and 170,000 from other countries. Emphasized that immigration was devoted to reunifying families of American citizens. Immigrants had to have a sponsor who in turn, had to pledge to support arriving relatives or workers. Thereafter, Asian and Hispanic immigration soared. This may well be turning point that will later transform America from a white/black working middle class nation to one of a poorer diverse nation in terms of individule wealth/wages due to influx of new people willing to work for cheaper wages.

1978: The US government amends the Immigration Reform Act to allow a global ceiling of 290,000 immigrants annually. In reality, since 1965, the annual numbers of immigrants have been much higher.

1980: The US government passes the Refugee Act defining refugees as anyone "who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country because of persecution, or a well-founded fear of persecution, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion."

1987: The US government passes the Immigration Reform and Control Act which grants amnesty to any illegal immigrant who entered the US before 1982 and had continuously resided here since. Of the 3.7 million eligible for amnesty, 2.6 million accepted it. Employers who hired illegal aliens became subject to fines and jail sentences if a pattern of hiring illegals could be found. Employers were not obligated to verify the validity of documents. Consequently, many growers simply ignored the growing reality of counterfeit documents for illegals.

1996: The US government passes the Immigration Law Amendments to enforce the pledges of sponsors to support arriving relatives and workers. Sponsors must prove their income is at least 25% above the poverty line ($20,000 for a household of four) and must promise to maintain support until the arriving immigrant has worked 10 years or become a citizen.

1997: The US government passes the Immigration Amnesty Bill giving amnesty to all Nicaraguan and Cuban immigrants. All who applied automatically received permanent residency.

1998: The US government passes the Omnibus Budget Bill authorizing the H-1B visa program that allows the entrance of 115,000 foreign workers annually who have training or experience in high-tech fields - especially engineering, accounting, and programming. An H-1B visa allows a stay of up to three years but can be renewed for a total of six years.

1999: The US government passes the H-1B Visa amendments to close the loophole allowing Americans to be openly fired and replaced by H-1B workers..

2000: The US government passes the H-1B Visa amendments which almost doubles the number of temporary visas for foreign skilled high-tech workers from 115,000 annually to 195,000 annually for the next three years. the legislation was changed in response to the arguments of tech companies that contend they face a shortage of 300,000 workers and a 1.4 percent unemployment rate in the information technology industry. If they cannot draw the needed workers from abroad, they argue, they will be forced to more their facilities and research overseas.

US Census Bureau estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the US more than doubled during the 1990s. About 8.7 undocumented immigrants live in the US - about 115,000 are from the Middle East (many of whom are "quasi-legal" or political refugees) and 3.9 million (44%) are from Mexico. Latinos numbered 35.3 million in the census. Estimates today place number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. from Mexico any where from 12 million to over 20 million due to high pregnancy rates among poor immigrant woman who seek welfare and anchor babies to make deportation difficult under current political climate.