Over 60 million people have immigrated to the United States since 1600, from all over the earth, making this country more multicultural than any other. There are many reasons why people have migrated to the United States of America. Groups of people, families, or individuals sometimes leave their country by their own will because of undesired events such as: religious persecution; war; harsh economic conditions; harsh environmental conditions; disease; or genocide. At other times, they might be taken from their country involuntarily, such as in the case of slavery. Those migrants who come on their own will are often seeking better jobs, freedom, or preservation of their lives. Getting into the United States is not easy, and depending on the politics of the time, there has been an array of difficulties. History will show America’s inconsistencies in Immigration policies, but the people of the world still flock to America, and when they come undocumented, problems can arise.
In order to regulate newcomers, the first federal immigration authority was formed in 1891–the Superintendent of Immigration, under the Treasury Department. While this was the first formal agent to regulate immigration, there had been many other ways that immigrants had been regulated before this. First, came the Alien Act of 1798. This act granted the President the power to deport any alien he considered dangerous in any way. This power, however, only lasted for two years, at which time the act was not renewed. During the early 1800’s what we would call immigrants were called emigrants, this changed somewhere around 1817. This shift in word choice from emigrant, (one who leaves their country to live elsewhere) to immigrant (one who comes into a country as a non-native) was due to the growth in the view of nativism. People with this view were against the “Non-American” ideas and culture brought by immigrants.
Within the ideas of nativism, the “Know Nothing” movement began. Know-Nothings claimed that the immigrants, who were principally Irish and Roman Catholic, threatened to destroy the American ideals. They claimed that the pope, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, was a prince of some sort, and had the potential power to exert political control over a large group of Roman Catholics in America. During this period, many Democrats and members of the Whig party, who felt threatened by these things, supported the Know Nothing movement. Although this idea had long since existed among many Americans, they had never before been expressed in such powerful form.
In 1887 the American Protective Association was formed, founded by Henry Bowers. Its founder and followers feared unemployment would rise due to the rise in immigrants. Just like those in the “Know Nothing” movement members also greatly resented the Roman Catholics. This more radical group went as far as burning down Chinese business buildings in San Francisco. The American Protective Association was out of existence by 1911.
Prior to 1876, states were able to form their own immigration laws. In this year that ability was ruled to be unconstitutional. Congress was the body that gained this power under Article I, Section VIII of the Constitution, which states: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States…To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes.” Immigration was looked at as a “commerce with foreign nations”, which did not concur with the Thirteenth Amendment that had abolished slavery just eleven years prior. Congress gained the power nonetheless.
By 1892, just one year after The Superintendent of Immigration was established, twenty-four inspection stations for incoming immigrants had been set up, including the famous Ellis Island. The Office of the Superintendent of Immigration of the Department of the Treasury -now known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (I.N.S.)- was designated as a bureau in 1895 with responsibility for administering the alien contract-labor laws. In the following years Congress passed twelve laws that dealt with immigration. Three quarters of these laws specifically aimed to keep the sick, criminal, and those found to have “unacceptable” morals or politics out of the United States. The remaining quarter of the laws passed were aimed at labor, so to secure jobs of Americans away from immigrants.
The Act that stands out the most among these stained immigration policy acts is the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Its preamble states: “Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof.” It goes on to read: “Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That from and after the expiration of ninety days next after the passage of this act, and until the expiration of ten years next after the passage of this act, the coming of Chinese laborers to the United States be, and the same is hereby, suspended; and during such suspension it shall not be lawful for any Chinese laborer to come, or, having so come after the expiration of said ninety days, to remain within the United States.” Nine sections follow in this act, all aimed to keep any new Chinese from coming to America for work. It also punishes those who bring the Chinese in, or who forge or tamper with any documents related to or involved in the identification of Chinese workers. It was not until 1943 that this act was finally repealed.
In the period between the enactment and repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the governments’ policies in immigration changed once again. In 1917, literary tests were used as a mean of restricting immigration. The use of these tests eventually led to the use of a quota system in United States policy. The National Origin Acts of 1924 and1929 were established by Congress and put severe limits on new immigration. It limited the number of immigrants to 150,000 per year and favored immigrants from Great Britain. It also attempted to preserve the demographic status quo by limiting “undesirable” groups. The percentage of foreign born went from 13% to 4.7% in 50 years under this system.
The Immigration Act of 1952 reduced restrictions on Asians in general (Russell 61-2). The Act also removed racial and sexual bars to immigration and naturalization and established preferred categories of immigrants. First were those with high levels of education and then various types of relatives, including parents of US citizens, spouses and children of permanent resident aliens, and, also, brothers, sisters, and married children of US citizens. Immediate relatives of US citizens were exempt from any limitations.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the national origins quotas that had been in operation since the 1920s and “embraced an immigration selection system based on family reunification and needed skills”. However, the Act did place a ceiling for the first time on immigration from the Western hemisphere, while contributing to an increase in immigration from Asia (Dï¿½az-Briquets 166-7). The lack of restrictions prior to the 1965 Act was due in part to the desire for cheap labor that came from those regions and also in part to promote good neighbor relations.
Since the 1940s, the major source of immigrants to the United States has been Mexico. The reasons for this extensive migration are well known. A long, open border, economic opportunities, and again, the need for cheap labor have all contributed to this movement. Another factor in this was the economic recession in Mexico in the 1970s. During the period from 1946 until 1992, over 4.3 million legal immigrants arrived from Mexico; hundreds of thousands more came illegally (Russell 69).
The huge number of illegal immigrants, and the threats that they were thought to present to the United States, led to the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The major components of the Act provided for legalization of over 3 million undocumented aliens (approximately 1.8 million of whom were Mexican), established sanctions against employers who hired illegal aliens, and, supposedly, improved border controls to limit further illegal migration (Dï¿½az-Briquets 169-71).
The 1986 Act was soon followed by the Immigration Act of 1990. This Act increased the annual ceiling on immigration to 675,000, and reformulated the old preference system into family-based and migration categories. The migration categories include a diversity component to help bring in under-represented countries. In addition, the Act gave the Attorney General the authority to grant Temporary Protection Status (TPS) to “citizens of countries facing natural or human made crises” (Dï¿½az-Briquets 172). As a result such status was granted to approximately 187,000 Salvadorans. When their grant expired at the end of 1992, they were given “deferred enforcement departure” (DED) until 31 December 1994, since their return home was considered a potential threat to the Salvadoran economy (Russell 52).
The 1990 Act remained in effect until pressures for reform led to the passage of more immigration reform legislation in 1996. That new legislation was influenced in part by an increase in the number of refugees coming from Central America and the Caribbean. Although recent changes in Immigration law have shown acceptance, some immigrants still find it hard to make it to America legally.
Illegal immigration has been a source for debate over the entirety of United States history. As I have shown, Congress has repeatedly jarred legislation to control the flow of immigration. As Illegal immigration rises and hatred or intolerance grows more laws will be implemented trying to release some of the pressure. Some would argue, but Illegal immigration does have both pros and cons.
On the Pro side, Illegal immigration offers cheap labor to businesses. By not paying minimum wages to the Illegal workers, it gives the business an edge over other competitors, who are paying at least the minimum. Immigrants, whether legal or not, provide cultural diversity in the United States. Incoming Immigrants can give business the opportunity to expand culturally as well. Letting once national corporations become international with the help of newly acquired culture.
Also, this cheap labor lowers the cost of products produced in the United States. If the businesses can produce products and services at a lower price, they can keep there overhead low, which results in a lower price for United States consumers. While earning money in our country many immigrants send what they earn to their families in other nations, where the United States dollar, in many cases, goes further than their own.
On the Con side, it is argued that Illegal immigrants don’t pay all taxes. If they are not paying why should we pay for public services while they do not, this is similar to the free rider problem. Just as nativists were worried about, illegal immigrants are sometimes willing to work for under the minimum wage then the employer will not pay more for the job to any other employee. Leaving non-immigrants to either lose jobs, or lower what they expect to be paid.
When illegal immigrants come to this country they do not get tested for diseases that might infect the population. This can cause a health problem, with such contagious diseases as polio, tuberculosis crossing the borders with the immigrants. Illegal aliens also cost the states money, paying for education, health care, and other social services. In an already under funded programs they give these services a more heavy burden to deal with.
Among the political leaders who speak out against illegal immigration, Dianne Feinstein (d-Calif.) called for tough and controversial enforcement measures, including imposing a toll on anyone entering the United States to raise revenues to beef up the Border patrol (Miller 25). Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) one of senate’s leading authorities on immigration issues, also proposed a similar border tax ten years ago, but was defeat in senators fearing it would detour tourists (Miller 26).
Referring to the Democrats “If they want to go home and do nothing about illegal immigration, that’s a gross violation of what we should be doing,” said Sen. Alan K. Simpson, R-Wyo., sponsor of the Senate bill (Carney 2531). Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and other Democrats on the Immigration Subcommittee said Republicans would have to choose between passing an immigration bill, and proving their ideological purity on the public school issue (Carney 2531).
Both democrats and republicans agree that illegal immigration should be dealt with. The problem is they can’t agree on any one of the proposes given to them. The Democrats say it is the Republicans fault, the Republicans say it is the Democrats fault. With this type of finger pointing neither of them will gain a fast decisive action to resolve the problem.
When it comes to illegal immigrants there are many interest groups that have been involved in this issue. Agricultural business has especially been involved. Agriculture employs more undocumented workers than any other industry in the country. Half of California’s 700,000 farm workers are estimated to be undocumented. “Three decades ago, the percentage of foreign-born farm workers in California was 50 percent,” the Chronicle stated. “Now it is 92 percent” (Sandoval 20).
However, this does not mean agriculture is the sole provider of employment for Illegal immigrants. Most businesses have a chance to employ immigrants at a lower cost, and with the same ease as the agricultural industry. The government knows all to well that the current levels of punishment are too low, Richard Rogers, district director of the INS in Los Angeles, was quoted as saying: “If we were to increase fines 75 to 80 percent, we would probably have a lot of people out of business.” (Sandoval 20), both acknowledging the problem, and agreeing that standards should be changed.
I do not believe there is a clear answer to the growing problem of Illegal Immigration in our country, and I am sure that our policies will be ever changing. The history of our Immigration policy is not necessarily a clean one, we have denied whole races, and based quota’s on scientific racism. We have made many mistakes when dealing with immigration law in my eyes. Yet I still find the issues and problems with Illegal immigration unsettling. I think many problems stem from Illegal immigration, but a harsh punishment, such as exclusion, has proven ineffective. I can say, with all honesty and belief, that our countries policies regarding these pressing issues have continued to move forward. Immigration law has started from non-existent, to all too harsh, and I believe it is now finding its way to some middle ground. While pride for our country can be lost in examining its history with regard to immigration, hope can be gained for the future through analysis of history’s path to the present.