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Essay/Term paper: Immigraton laws

Essay, term paper, research paper:  World History

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Immigraton Laws

The first immigrants to the territory now the United States were from Western
Europe. The first great migration began early in the 19th century when large
numbers of Europeans left their homelands to escape the economic hardships
resulting from the transformation of industry by the factory system and the
simultaneous shift from small-scale to large-scale farming. At the same time,
conflict, political oppression, and religious persecution caused a great many
Europeans to seek freedom and security in the U.S.

The century following 1820 may be divided into three periods of immigration to
the U.S. During the first period, from 1820 to 1860, most of the immigrants came
from Great Britain, Ireland, and western Germany. In the second period, from
1860 to 1890, those countries continued to supply a majority of the immigrants;
the Scandinavian nations provided a substantial minority. Afterwards the
proportion of immigrants from northern and Western Europe declined rapidly. In
the final period, from 1890 to 1910, fewer than one-third of the immigrants came
from these areas. The majority of the immigrants were natives of Southern and
Eastern Europe, with immigrants from Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Russia
constituting more than half of the total. Until World War I, immigration had
generally increased in volume every year. From 1905 to 1914 an average of more
than a million immigrants entered the U.S. every year. With the start of the war,
the volume declined sharply, and the annual average from 1915 to 1918 was little
more than 250,000. In 1921 the number again rose; 800,000 immigrants were
admitted. Thereafter the number declined in response to new conditions in Europe
and to the limitations established by U.S. law.

The first measure restricting immigration enacted by Congress was a law in 1862
banning American vessels from transporting Chinese immigrants to the U.S.; 20
years later Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act excluding Chinese
immigrants.(Immigration) In 1875, 1882, and 1892, acts passed by Congress
provided for the examination of immigrants and for the exclusion from the U.S.
of convicts, polygamists, prostitutes, persons suffering from contagious
diseases, and persons liable to become public charges. The Alien Contract Labor
Laws of 1885, 1887, 1888, and 1891 prohibited the immigration to the U.S. of
persons entering the country to work under contracts made before their arrival;
professional actors, artists, singers, lecturers, educators, ministers, and
personal and domestic servants were exempt from this provision.(Immigration)
Immigrant skilled laborers, under these laws, were permitted to enter the U.S.
to work in new industries. A diplomatic agreement made in 1907 by the U.S. and
Japan provided that the Japanese government would not issue passports to
Japanese laborers intending to enter the U.S.; under the terms of this agreement,
the U.S. government refrained until 1924 from enacting laws excluding Japanese

In 1917 Congress passed an immigration law that enlarged the classes of aliens
excludable from the U.S.; its basic provisions were, with some changes, retained
in later revisions of the immigration law. It imposed a literacy test and
included an Asiatic Barred Zone to shut out Asians. Aliens unable to meet
minimum mental, moral, physical, and economic standards were excluded, as were
anarchists and other so-called "subversives". The Anarchist Act of 1918 expanded
the provisions for the exclusion of subversive aliens.(Immigration)

After World War I, a marked increase in racism and the growth of isolationist
sentiment in the U.S. led to demands for further restrictive legislation. In
1921 a congressional statute provided for a quota system for immigrants, whereby
the number of aliens of any nationality admitted to the U.S. in a year could not
exceed 3 percent of the number of foreign-born residents of that nationality
living in the U.S. in 1910. The law applied to nations of Europe, the Middle
East, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Asian Russia, and certain islands in the
Atlantic and Pacific.

In 1924, the basic immigration quotas were changed; the new law provided for
annual immigration quotas for all countries from which immigranta might be
admitted. Quotas were based on the desirability of various nationalities; aliens
from northern and Western Europe were considered more desirable than those from
southern and Eastern Europe. Immigrants who fulfilled lawful residence
requirements were exempt from quotas, as were alien wives, children, and some
husbands of U.S. citizens.

In 1941 Congress passed an act providing for the denial of visas to aliens whose
presence in the U.S. would endanger public safety. Immigration legislation
passed after 1941 included repealing the laws barring Chinese from entering the
U.S. and allowing their admission to the country in accordance with an annual
quota. A federal law passed in 1945 authorized (for a limited time) the
admission to the U.S., without regard to quota and physical and other standards,
the wives and children of citizens serving in or honorably discharged from the
armed forces of the U.S. during World War II.

A federal law of 1946 authorized the admission to the U.S., under annual quota,
of immigrants from India. Legislation was enacted by Congress in 1948 to permit
the immigration before July 1, 1950, of 202,000 European people driven from
their homes in the years preceding World War II as a result of political or
racial persecution and those forcibly transported from their homes during World
War II.

Most of the laws relating to immigration were enacted by the Immigration and
Nationality Act of 1952. The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 made an additional
allocation of places for the victims of war and disaster. The 1965 amendments to
the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished the national-origin quotas and
established an annual limitation of 170,000 visas for immigrants from eastern
hemisphere countries.(Immigration) Another law, effective in 1968, provided for
an annual limit of 120,000 immigrants from the western hemisphere, with visas
available on a first-come, first-served basis. In 1977 an amendment to the
Immigration and Nationality Act changed the quota to 290,000 immigrants
worldwide, with a maximum of 20,000 for any particular country, thus abolishing
separate limitations for each hemisphere. At the same time, a system was set up
for western hemisphere immigrants, giving preference to those who are related to
U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens and to workers whose skills were
needed in the U.S. The Refugee Act of 1980 reduced the worldwide quota to
270,000 persons, while retaining the preference system. Spouses, children, and
parents of U.S. citizens are exempt from limitation, as are certain categories
of special immigrants. In 1992 alone about 700,000 newcomers were accepted in
the United States (The New Americans, 17)

In the 1980s concern about the surge of illegal aliens into the U.S. has led
Congress to pass legislation aimed at curtailing illegal immigration. The
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allows most illegal aliens who have
resided in the U.S. continuously since January 1, 1982, to apply for legal
status. In addition, the law prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens and
mandates penalties for violations.

Despite our long history of immigration and constant population flux, many
Americans believe that it is time to curtail immigration to the U.S.. The
increase in foreign born citizens is too large to ignore. Immigration generates
39 percent of the total population growth (Mandel, 114). Due to this increase,
many Americans are becoming uneasy about new immigrants to the U.S.. In a Roper
poll conducted by the organization Negative Population Growth, 83 percent of
those interviewed favored a lower level of immigration; 70 percent of the people
supported a level of 300,000 per year.(Pending Legislation) The largest cause
for concern for most Americans appears to be the problem of illegal immigration.

Illegal immigration has become the scapegoat for increased unemployment. Almost
two-thirds of Americans believe that "new immigrants joining the labor force
drive down the wages." (Mandel, 119) However, entry of new immigrants has been
shown to increase native wages, sustain the pace of economic growth, and revive
some declining sectors. (Rumbaut, 615) Those most likely to benefit from this
situation are also those most supportive of more restrictive measures. Higher
than average support for a "zero immigration" policy was expressed by those
without a high school diploma and incomes below $15,000 per year.(Pending
Legislation) Also, curiously enough, the highest level of support for tougher
measures against illegal aliens came from Midwesterners (85%). (Pending
Legislation) Another popular misconception is that immigrants consume a
disproportionate amount of social services. The difference in percentages
consumed by natives and immigrants was less than 1% and immigrants actually
generated a surplus of$25 to $30 billion (Rumbaut, 617).

Despite evidence to the contrary, many Americans still believe immigration to be
harmful. This is simply not the case. As stated, legal immigrants provide a
benefit not only to themselves, but also to native people. Though the problem of
illegal immigration must be addressed, it should be done in such a way as not to
discourage legal immigration. America was founded and populated by people from
other countries. We must continue this if we expect to survive in the 21st


Blotnick, Srully. "Unleashed (Immigrant Professionals)." Forbes 26 Jan. 1987:

Mandel, Michael J. "The Immigrants: How They are Helping to Revitalize the U.S.
Economy." Business Week 13 July 1992: 114-18.

"Immigration," Microsoft (R) Encarta. Copyright (c) 1994 Microsoft Corporation.
Copyright (c) 1994 Funk & Wagnall's Corporation.

"Pending Legislation", www.usbc.org/surveys/npg-poll.htm

Rumbaut, Ruben, "Origins and Destinies: Immigration to the United States since
World War II," Sociological Forum 9:4 (1994), pp. 583-621.

"The New Americans: Yes, They'll Fit in too." The Economist 11 May 1991: 17-20.


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