Eat @ Joe's By Ralph Raffio
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A Brief History of American Immigration
February 9, 2017 -- Immigration and travel is the hot topic, what with the White House and the courts battling over President Trump's January 27 executive order.
Whatever is ahead, however, it's clear some politicians want to give U.S. travel and immigration policy still another rewrite. This week, for example, two U.S. senators introduced a bill to slash legal immigration in half.
To that end we decided to look back at major milestones in our nation's immigration policy throughout its 241 years.
IN THE BEGINNING
Congress passes the nation's first immigration law, the Naturalization Act of 1790. It restricts citizenship only to "free white persons" of "good moral character." Native Americans are ineligible to become citizens.
THE GREAT FAMINE
Large numbers of Europeans were already emigrating to America in the early- to mid-19th century, but Ireland's seven-year famine (1845-1852) is a seismic event. Around half of all immigrants who enter the United States in the mid-1840s are Irish trying to escape starvation, poverty and disease.
THE (FIRST) MEXICAN WALL
The Mexican-American War ends with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Stones are piled to mark the U. S.-Mexico border, but over time these crude markers are destroyed. Under the treaty, the United States gets the land that becomes New Mexico, Arizona and California. Most Mexicans living in the annexed territories opt to become U.S. citizens rather than leave their homes.
THEY KNOW NOTHING
Anti-immigrant sentiment among Protestant Anglo-Saxons had grown fierce by the mid-19th century. That's when the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party (also known as the Know-Nothings) reaches its zenith. The Know-Nothings even run their own presidential candidate in 1856, former U.S. president (and Whig) Millard Fillmore. He loses to Democrat James Buchanan, who unseated sitting Democratic president Franklin Pierce, and John C. Fremont, first candidate of the two-year-old Republican Party.
BORN IN THE USA
The Fourteenth Amendment is adopted in 1868. To wit: If you are born in the United States, then you are a citizen of the United States--whether your parents are or not. Two years later, blacks are allowed to be naturalized--but not Asians.
THE GREAT WALL AGAINST CHINA
Congress passes the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. It is the first law to target a specific ethnic group, prohibiting all Chinese people from emigrating to America.
In 1890, the federal government takes control of all immigration matters. A year later, the Office of Immigration (later known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service) is created. The INS survives until 2003. That's when it is absorbed into U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security.
PAY PER (SANE) HEAD
The Immigration Act of 1882 creates a 50-cent "head tax" on each immigrant entering the country. The law also denies entry to "any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of him or herself without becoming a public charge."
GIVE US YOUR TIRED ...
On January 1, 1892, a teenager from County Cork, Ireland, becomes the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Her name is Annie Moore. Over the next 60 years, more than 12 million immigrants go through the facility, the vast majority becoming U.S. citizens. Now part of the National Park Service, Ellis Island and the nearby Statue of Liberty are supported by a foundation that also funds the Museum of Immigration. The Statue of Liberty has the famous plaque quoting part of Emma Lazarus' The New Colossus.
ANARCHISTS NEED NOT APPLY
President William McKinley is assassinated by a Detroit-born "anarchist" named Leon Czolgosz in September, 1901. Congress reacts by passing The Immigration Act of 1903. Also known as the Anarchist Exclusion Act, it bans known anarchists from entering the country.
WHERE ANGELS TREAD
The Angel Island Immigration Center opens in 1910 in San Francisco Bay. It serves as the processing center for immigrants from China, Japan, India and the Philippines. The facility was built largely as a result of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which allowed only merchants, clergy, diplomats, teachers and students to emigrate--but not laborers. Around 18 percent of Asian applicants were rejected at Angel Island compared to one to three percent at Ellis Island. The center burned in 1940.
READING IS FUNDAMENTAL
The Immigration Act of 1917 bars anyone over the age of 16 who is illiterate from entering the country, imposing literacy exams on applicants. The law bans all sorts of other people too, among them: alcoholics, epileptics, the feebleminded, idiots, imbeciles, political radicals, polygamists, prostitutes, even homosexuals.
THE QUOTA SYSTEM
The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 drastically reduces the flow of two principal types of immigrants: Eastern European Jews and Southern Italians. Africans are also severely restricted and Arabs, like the Chinese, are outright banned. The Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, extends the quota system. It continues to favor Western and Northern Europeans over all other groups. President Calvin Coolidge, who signed the act, once wrote: "Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend."
CLOSED FOR HARD TIMES
In 1930, President Herbert Hoover all but halts immigration during the Great Depression. Immigration is slashed by about 90 percent and remains severely restricted until the next decade.
THE CHINESE BAN ENDS
The Magnuson Act of 1943 ends more than 60 years of Chinese being barred from U.S. immigration. The annual quota: 105 people. Those already here are allowed to naturalize. Three years later, the ban on Indians and Filipinos is lifted.
REFUGEES ARE WELCOME
The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 allows hundreds of thousands of Europeans displaced during World War II to resettle in the United States. It is also the first substantial piece of U.S. legislation to protect refugees. In signing the bill, however, President Harry Truman felt the law was discriminatory and should have allowed more war immigrants to come to America.
BARRED BY POLITICAL INTENT
The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act establishes ideological criteria for entering the country. Both immigrants and visitors can be denied entry based on their political beliefs. Calling it "un-American," President Truman vetoes it, but he's overridden by a 278 to 113 vote. This law is the underpinning of President Trump's Executive Order. The actionable clause: "Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate."
NO MORE QUOTAS
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminates quotas based on nationality. Americans can now sponsor family members in other countries as a means of becoming U.S. citizens. The law ushers in the modern era of mass immigration.
AMNESTY AND PENALTIES
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provides amnesty for around three million illegal immigrants living in the United States. It also makes it a crime to knowingly hire an undocumented worker.
A BAN IS LIFTED
The Immigration Act of 1990, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, lifts the ban on homosexual immigrants. Prior to this gays and lesbians were barred and marked as "sexual deviant(s)." It also creates a lottery system for random assignment of immigrant visas.
CUBANS, WET AND DRY
President Barack Obama last month ended a 20-plus-year policy of allowing any Cuban who touches U.S. soil to become a citizen after one year. The so-called wet foot/dry foot policy returned people to Cuba only if they were found at sea. "By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries," Obama announced just before leaving office.
This column is Copyright © 2017 by Ralph Raffio. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2017 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property and responsibility of Ralph Raffio. This material may not be reproduced in any form without his express written permission.