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Immigration To The United States Of America History Essay

The United States of America reflects a vibrant history of immigration. Even at this point in time, the country remains to be a nation of immigrants (Smith 1998). Nevertheless, immigration in the United States is a widely debated issue that dates back to the colonial times (Smith & Edmonston 1997). At present, this issue is still unabated (Smith 1998), which stirs quite a degree of emotions and controversy (Carter & Sutch 1998). The current policies on immigration are products of a long history of immigration. This research paper will be exploring a part of this immigration history, with particular focus on the period 1880 to 1925, to which some may call as the “Era of New Immigrants” or the “Period of Selective Immigration” (Isaac 1998; Sorin 1995). The research paper will discuss the different trends and policies concerning immigration during this particular point of history. The research paper will also identify the different groups who migrated to the Unites States during this time and discuss the different discrimination practices towards them.

During this period, it is estimated that almost 24 million immigrants came to the United States (Horowitz & Noiriel 1992; Powell 2005). Most of these “new immigrants” came from Southern and Eastern Europe, specifically, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Russia, many of which were Jewish and Catholic and did not speak English (Horowitz & Noiriel 1992). In the year 1882 alone, there were 788, 992 European immigrants who entered the United States, with 250,630 coming from Germany, around 180,000 from the British Isles and 105,000 from Scandinavia and the rest from the different countries of Southern and Eastern Europe (Wepman 2007).

There were several push and pull factors for the high level of immigration in the United States during this period. For one, the urbanization or industrialization all over Europe brought about significant political, social and economic changes (LeMay 1987). Industrialization attracted many people to flee from their rural hometowns towards the highly industrialized cities in hopes for a decent living, especially after the decline of agriculture and their rural way of life. Instead, the city life brought them no such relief, but horrific conditions such as soaring birth rates, overpopulation, and diseases outbreak (i.e., cholera, malaria), as a result of the industrial revolution (LeMay 1987). Many found themselves in unemployment or low wages, acquiring diseases, forced to military enlistment and/or religiously oppressed. Consequently, there was political turmoil and the government, attempting to alleviate the poor conditions, found emigration to be the practical solution for their problem and openly promoted and supported the batches of European immigrants on their way to the United States (LeMay 1987).

Europeans, on the other hand, were inspired to go to the United States because of their depressing conditions in Europe. Moreover, the United States became the best option especially as it holds a reputation as the “Land of Liberty” and letter from friends and relatives who were already in the country depict a lofty lifestyle. Furthermore, the United States promised the “golden opportunity” drew millions of immigrants to have their share (LeMay 1987). With transatlantic voyage through the steamship lines, the immigrants embarked on their new adventure to the Land of the Liberty.

However, like Europe, the United States also found itself amidst the industrial revolution. From the late 19th century towards the early 20th century, the United States experienced a rapid transformation of industrialization --- from a principally rural agrarian economy to one that is highly industrialized, moving from the provincial centers to major metropolitan cities as a result of increasing investment, employment and productivity in the manufacturing sector (Hirschman & Mogford 2009). Many of the “new immigrants” found themselves trapped in the swarming urban centers and the same disease outbreaks that it had in Europe (LeMay 1987). The “new immigrants” also had a difficulty of incorporating themselves in the culture of their new homes especially with their inability in speaking English, illiteracy even in their own language and their backgrounds of coming from non-democratic governments (resulting to a lack of trust to the government).

The “new immigrants” occupied themselves mostly in the Northeast side of the country and built tiny ethnic communities that allowed them to preserve the culture of their native countries --- speaking and publishing newspapers in their native languages, creating novelty grocery stores and restaurants, and building schools, churches and synagogues --- allowing them to bring a piece of their culture to their new homelands. However, these little communities did not reflect the grandeur of the American lifestyle. Many of the immigrants during this period received minimal salaries from their low-paying, wage labor jobs. Their work constituted primarily low-end extensive manual labor jobs in manufacturing firms, construction, sewing and other domestic labor. The immigrants entered the United States, bringing only a few possessions and money and were compelled to occupy in cheap substandard houses in the worst parts of the overly populated metropolitan city.

Soon, the major metropolitan cities became too overpopulated and the cities’ infrastructures could simply not manage it anymore. Consequently, problems in terms of sanitations arose --- sewers overflowed, trash was not collected, water became impure, and there was a general unpleasant smell in the air. Crime rates also increased at this point in time. Because of these reasons, immigration was believed a disadvantage to the country. Many native-born Americans charged the “new immigrants” to have caused the troubling conditions in the cities. In addition, they also accuse the immigrants for taking over their nation. Immigration policies were revisited with an attempt to solve this issue. In May 1882, the first racial law was enacted to block Chinese workers from entering the country. Shortly after that, around August that same year, Congress added further restrictions that included idiots, lunatics, and persons likely to become public charges. In 1885, Congress also restricted entry of immigrant laborers brought about by job offers. In 1888, Congress allowed deportation of laborers who entered the country illegally, and in 1891, grounds for exclusion were expanded, and any foreigner entering the country illegally may be deported immediately. Since then, immigration policies continued to be visited from time to time, expanding the list of restrictions (Levine, Hill & Warren 1985). Between 1921 to 1924, the laws on immigration was further limited and restricted, wherein in 1921, Congress passed a legislation which limited the annual number of immigrants from each country to 3 percent of the number of people born in that particular country and residing in the United States as reported in the 1910 census (Levine, Hill & Warren 1985). There was also an immigration law passed in 1924, which used the national origin of each person in the United States in 1980 as the reason for distributing the flow if immigrants.

In 1891, the Ellis Island Inspection Stationed opened as the new immigration processing center (LeMay 1987). But before reaching Ellis Island, the aspiring immigrants crammed in large steam ships, carrying at most 2,000 passengers in the lower decks of the ship, traveling from Europe to North America in two weeks time. The steerage class, located in the lower decks, was divided in compartments for families, single men, and single women, with each section having metal bunks three beds high. The ship was poorly sanitized with stench overpowering the air and lice widespread among the travelers. Upon arriving to the United States, first and second class passengers were inspected and cleared by immigration officers while still on the ship and allowed to disembark the ship immediately from the Hudson River piers. The rest, however, had to be transported to Ellis Island through big open barge-like ferries, to which they had to endure extreme weather conditions.

The whole immigration process could instill emotions of fear and anxiety for the aspiring immigrants. When they arrived at Ellis Island, also known as the “Gateway to America”, they had to wait in long lines for their turns for inspection. The inspections included their physical health such as any symptoms of wheezing, limping, and even varicose veins. Incurable and other diseases like epilepsy, cholera, and tuberculosis were forbidden to enter the country and were immediately returned to their steamship for transport to their port of departure. Any signs of insanity were also carefully watch out for. Those who were diagnosed to be sick were taken to the Ellis Island Hospital for observation and care. However, if the person appeared to have no progress and was distinguished to be incurable, he/she is also denied entry to the United States. Those who passed the medical inspections were taken for interviews. The entire immigration process could take roughly around 5 hours and days or weeks to those taken to the hospital for observation and cure.

Upon entering the country, the life of the immigrant was not easy. Aside from acquiring only low-end jobs, immigrants also faced a significant degree of discrimination from the native-born Americans and their little ethnic communities did not protect them against discrimination. Accordingly, during the 1880s, there was no basic difference among the types of immigrants, although during the 1890s, the discrimination was more expressed against the “new immigrant”. These include Europeans, Italians and Jews. Discrimination towards the “new immigrants” were solely biological and psychological, wherein the immigrant groups (i.e., Mediterranean, Jewish and Slavic) inspired fear because of the ethnological and cultural differences from the Anglo-Saxon. Discrimination towards the “new immigrants” left them without defense and at times stigmatized them.

Episodes of racial discrimination led to massacres. Immigrant strikes for example prove the discrimination towards the new immigrants, wherein, in 1897, a bloody encounter by the Police and the Polish and Hungarian strikers occurred, leaving 22 people dead and 40 others wounded badly. Most would agree that if the strikers had been native-born Americans, no blood would have shed. Earlier in 1895, a similar event occurred when violent strikes transpired in the coal fields of Colorado, wherein Italian miners and residents were systematically slaughtered after the connection of 6 Italian workers in the death of an American bar keeper. Aside from these examples, discriminatory laws were also established. In 1908, immigrants were required to pay $20 to acquire a hunting license, whereas citizens only had to pay $1. In another instance in 1909, the Michigan state government barred the issuance of a barber’s license to any immigrant applying for one.

In conclusion, while the United States remains to be an immigrant nation, its long history of immigration is one that reflects a higher goal of protecting its citizens and giving the best for them. Clearly, the period of 1880 to 1925 illustrated a selective and restrictive process for immigrants to enter the United States as a result of the free flow of immigrants to the country. The “new immigrants” also faced a significant degree of racism aimed towards them that sometimes left to bloody massacres. Nevertheless, history showed that the country has learned a lot from its mistakes and hopefully this should continue throughout.

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