History of Immigration
What was the law when your ancestors came?
20,000 – 10,000 years ago – ancestors of today’s Native Americans arrive
1619 – Slaves brought forcibly from Africa and the Caribbean
1620 – Pilgrims arrive in Plymouth - start of planned European migration
Colonial Times - Colonial leaders encouraged immigrants to come to the new world to alleviate the chronic labor shortage, develop new resources, and increase the revenues of colonial government. Exemption from taxes and debts made it easier for immigrants to settle in the new colonies. In most of the colonies Roman Catholics, poor people and convicted felons were not welcome.
1790 - Naturalization Act – first attempt of Congress to regulate naturalization of immigrants. Citizenship is restricted to "free white persons" with 2 years of residency. 1790 the residency laws extended to 5 years.
1798- Alien and Sedition acts. Resident "aliens" suspected of being subversives could be expelled. The residency laws were raised to 14 years. 1802 reinstated 5 year wait.
1819- First records of arrival of immigrants mandated to be done by ship captains.
1875 - First exclusionary act. Convicts, prostitutes, and "coolies" (Chinese contract laborers) are barred from entry into the United States. Prior to this most legislation encouraged immigration.
1882- Immigration Act passed. The federal government moves to firmly establish its authority over immigration. Chinese immigration is curtailed; ex-convicts, lunatics, idiots, and those unable to take care of themselves are excluded. In addition, a tax is levied on newly arriving immigrants.
1891- Office of Immigration created with the authority to decide who could and who could not enter the U.S. Paupers, Polygamists, the insane and persons with contagious diseases are added to the list of the excluded.
1892 - Ellis Island opened.
1903 -Epileptics, professional beggars, and anarchists are now excluded.
1907- Exclusions further broadened. Imbeciles, the feeble-minded, tuberculars, persons with physical or mental defects, and persons under age 16 without parents are excluded.
1917 - 1924 - Laws established the quota system and imposed passport requirements. They expanded the categories of excludable aliens and banned nearly all Asians. A literacy test was introduced as a criterion. In1924 the US Border Patrol is created. 1929 - National Origins Act. The annual immigration ceiling of 150,000 is made permanent, with 70 percent of admissions slated for those coming from northern and western Europe, while the other 30 percent are reserved for those coming from southern and eastern Europe.
1948 - Displaced Persons Act. Entry is allowed for 400,000 persons displaced by World War II. However, such refugees must pass a security check and have proof of employment and housing that does not threaten U.S. citizens' jobs and homes.
1952 - Act established the modern day US immigration system. It created a quota system which imposes limits on a per-country basis. It also established the preference system that gave priority to family members and people with special skills.
1968 - Act eliminated US immigration discrimination based on race, place of birth, sex and residence. It also officially abolished restrictions on Oriental US immigration.
1976 - Act eliminated preferential treatment for residents of the Western Hemisphere.
1986 - Act focused on curtailing illegal US immigration. It legalized hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants. It also introduced the employer sanctions program which fines employers for hiring undocumented workers.
1990 -Act established an annual limit for certain categories of immigrants. It was aimed at helping U.S. businesses attract skilled foreign workers; thus, it expanded the business class categories to favor persons who can make educational, professional or financial contributions. It created the Immigrant Investor Program.
1996- Legislation strengthened border patrols, restricted judicial authority to review deportation cases, set greater penalties for the smuggling of immigrants, doubled border patrol, cut immigrants from social programs, mandated construction of fences in heavily trafficked areas.
Reviewing history may help us to make better decisions for the future. Our ancestors, many of them seeking economic stability, just arrived. They had no papers - just hopes. Prejudice influenced laws. Some people came by force. Until quite recently, hard work was an expectation for acceptance. There have been times when our borders were open. The vast majority of immigrants, including those in later years who arrived without documentation, obey the laws, rear wonderful families and share a rich cultural heritage with the nation.
Yes there are real concerns and immigration law needs to be reviewed. However, immigration concerns cannot be separated from other real, global concerns. The benefits from our globalized economy are not reaching poor workers in many countries including our own. Trade laws often just aren’t fair. Increased inequality leads to desperation. The US system isn’t welcoming to those who bring sweat equity and not financial investment with them to the borders. Fear is in many hearts. Sometimes it is real and sometimes exploited to plant distrust and manipulate our thoughts and feelings. The questions we face are not simple and cannot be solved with a fence or harsh punishment of undocumented people or those who hire them. The answers lie deep within our systems and our hearts.
These answers need to include 1) working with other counties to come up with long term strategies for raising living standards. Debt forgiveness for impoverished nations would encourage improving education systems, rebuilding infrastructure, and strengthening small and medium sized businesses; 2) supporting small-farmer organizations around the world in their call for food sovereignty. This would mean deemphasizing export-oriented agriculture for a while and the promotion of fair trade; 3) reducing economic insecurity by strengthen labor laws, expand public health care, and raising the minimum wage – in the US and elsewhere; 4) giving immigrants presently in the US the chance to become legal residents and to reunite their families. Anyone who decides not to become legal could be investigated and deported.
Perhaps we, and our legislators, need to take time this summer to ponder, “Let the one among you who has broken no law be the first to lay the blocks of the wall”.
Source: Yes Magazine