History of US Immigration Laws

1845 words (7 pages) Essay

15th Feb 2019 International Relations Reference this


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The first law that dealt with how someone attained citizenship was the Naturalization Act of 1790. This act created a standard way on how naturalization and residency issues were to be handled for new citizenship candidates. This new law required that applicants to live in the United States for at least two years and in their state of residence for one year before they could apply for citizenship. 

The first attempt by the U.S. government to bar or limit immigration from certain countries was the Chinese exclusion law. This law barred immigration of Chinese an also individuals “convicted of political offenses, lunatics, idiots, and persons likely to become public charges.

The U.S. government needed a department that could handle all issues dealing with immigration and in 1891, the Bureau of Immigration was established under the Treasury Department where they managed all immigration laws. In 1906, the newly created Bureau of Immigration added “knowledge of English” as a requirement for naturalization. As time passed, additional restrictions were placed on immigrants coming to America. There were medical conditions such as mental and physical defects.   

In the early 1920’s, we saw the first inclusion of numeric limits. The immigration law set annual quotas based on the nationality of the immigrants. During this same period, the quota system was enacted which worked like the numeric limits by limiting immigrants based on their country of origin. The quota law also established the Border Patrol.

In 1948, the refugee provision was enacted to admit individuals fleeing persecution to enter the U.S. and during the first two years of this act, 205,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. Although the U.S. was creating provisions to allow certain individuals into the country, they also enacted exclusions and deportations laws to remove communist subversives. 

 In 1952, the immigration system went through major changes. The Immigration and Nationality Act created and it confirmed the quota system, restricted the amount of immigrants coming from the Eastern Hemisphere and leaving the Western Hemisphere without restrictions. It also created preferences for skilled workers and placed tighter screening and security procedures.

The next big change to the immigration system came in 1965 when the Immigration and Nationality Act was created. This act eliminated the quota systems, but kept restrictions on how Many people could immigrate to the U.S. from certain parts of the world. Under President Ronald Reagan, the Immigration Reform and Control Act was established to legalize aliens who were unlawfully in the U.S. since January 1, 1982. It also created penalties for employers who hired illegal aliens and created an immigration classification for agricultural workers. Lastly, if created a visa waiver program to admit nonimmigrants without visas.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Homeland Security Act was created and this newly created department would be responsible for immigration adjudication and enforcement. And in 2005, the Real ID Act was established to standardize the way state driver’s and documents dealing with identity are issued. The main reason for this new Act deals with restricting terrorist from illegally obtaining governmental identification.

The United States was formed by immigrants who came here looking for a better way of life. The first immigrants came to America over 12,000 years ago. These immigrants were indigenous people who crossed over the ice bridge between Asia and America. The French and Spanish made their way over and established camps in the 15th century. The reason for migration to America was for economic opportunity. Coming to America brought the potential of cheap land and in addition to this, many farmers, craftsmen, fishermen all found work in this new land. “Independence of resources (the colonies produced nearly everything they needed) and trade among the colonies and with the indigenous peoples led to prosperity.”

Religious groups such as the Quakers, Pilgrims, Protestants came to America to get away from the persecution in Europe. They were able to setup their religious camps without the fear of government intrusion. They could practice and live according to their religious beliefs which was not possible in Europe. With the large number of faiths now found in the U.S., we can attribute this to the early immigrants.

Slavery was another way of immigration, although inhumane, this was part of America’s history. Many landowners did not have enough labor to work their fields and they turned to the “Transatlantic Slave Trade” to brings slaves over to work their fields. This trade route brought a constant flow of slaves to America and did not stop for many decades. If we go back to 1790 to look at the Naturalization Act, President George Washington wanted to limit naturalization to white people of “good moral character”. I can only assume that a slave owner would be able to acquired their naturalization in America. If you were an African (slave) or indigenous person you would have been barred from becoming a U.S. citizen. In the 1880’s, due to new technological advances, immigration increase due to steam ocean lines making the crossing easier and cheaper. The new technology in the Industrial Revolution created a surplus of labor which helped with the migration to America. Many Italians, Greeks and Eastern Europeans made the voyage to America looking for labor. This group of immigrants made up the majority of people migrating between 1880 and 1930.

Now if we look at present day immigration issues, we will see that Donald Trump has created an executive order that bans travelers coming from “seven Muslim majority countries”. These immigration plans Mr. Trump wants to put in action are way more restrictive than what of presidents have done. Some see these actions by the president similar to what happened in the early 20th century when numerous laws were passed to reduce the number of immigrants. The immigrants of that time had a saying “America beckons, but Americans repel.” What they meant by that is that, on the one hand, the United States had tremendous employment opportunities for them, possibilities of education for their children, freedom of religion, political freedoms that they couldn’t enjoy in their home countries. And yet at the same time, the foreign-born represented a threat to some parts of the population.”

Over the decades, these has always been restrictions placed on immigration and American citizens have been told that it was done in the name of national security and to protect our economy. Donald Trump used these same arguments during his run for the presidency. 

We can now take a look at some facts about legal and illegal immigration into the United States. There has been a significant decline in the number of undocumented Mexicans coming to the United States. There are more Mexicans returning to their home than those entering. This change is due to border enforcement, weak housing construction market, and increase number of deportations. Some lawmakers have advocated a “self-deportation” policy. This policy does not have any effect of illegals living in the country because they have been in the United States for decades and have family with children and will not uproot and move to a worse situation. If an undocumented immigrant finds himself in an unfriendly state, they would relocate to a friendlier state.

The Center for American Progress believes that the United States could increase their gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over 10 years if immigration reform would be done in Congress to address the large number of undocumented immigrants living here. In addition, the state and local taxes could be close to $11.2 billion in one fiscal year. In June 2012, Barack Obama announced the DREAM Act which would let young undocumented aliens apply for deferred action, which would provide them with protection from deportation and giving them the authorization to work legally. The Yale Law Journal stated, “Presidential policymaking has always provoked political controversy, at least as much because of deep ideological disagreements over immigration policy as because of the perception it creates of an aggressive or boundless Executive.” 

The Secure Communities Program was strongly enforced and it led to the deportation of over 1 million people. The program worked with county jails to check the immigration status of all individuals brought into the county jails. These are some states that do not want to participate because they believe “the program interferes with local policing priorities and inevitably leads to racial profiling.”







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