Immigration: History Of American Policy


From the time the first white settlers came to America,
this country welcomed people from any country in the
world. Many newcomers came from Ireland, Germany, Great
Britain, and France because of poor harvests, famines,
political conflicts, or revolutions. A new wave of
immigration began in the late 1880's and people came from
countries in southern and eastern Europe, such as Italy and
Austria-Hungary. The number of newcomers was so large that
many cities became overcrowded and jobs became scarce. This
situation aroused antagonism, resentment and conflicts,
and the need to establish some laws and regulations became
evident. The "open-door" policy ended in 1882 when Congress
passed the nation's first general immigration statute. 

The first law that regulated immigration was the Oriental
Exclusion Act which halted Chinese immigration. n 1917,
Congress passed a second law that required an immigrant to
prove that he could read and write at least one language. 
Physically handicapped immigrants and children under 16 did
not have to meet this requirement. 

After World War I, a marked increase in racism and the
growth of isolationist sentiment in the U.S. led to demands
for further legislation. In 1921 a congressional act
provided for a Quota System for immigrants. The law was
aimed especially at central and eastern European countries
that had been sending untrained and underprivileged
emigrants. The quota that was set allowed each country to
send each year only 3 per cent of the number of persons of
that nationality living in America in 1910. The Immigration
Act of 1924 changed the quota to 2 percent and made 1890
the base year. The National Origins Law went into effect
in 1929 and set a limit of 150,000 immigrants a year. After
World War II, immigration into the United States rose
sharply as thousands of refugees sought new homes. The
United States admitted about 7,376,000 immigrants from 1945
through 1971. In the 1980s concern about the surge of
illegal aliens into the U.S. led Congress to pass
legislation aimed at cutting illegal immigration. The
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allows most
illegal aliens who have resided in the U.S. regularly since
January 1, 1982, to apply for legal status. Also, the law
prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens and mandates
penalties for violations. 

Debate over immigration and immigration policy is not new
to the nation's history. From time to time, Congress jarred
legislation to control the flow of immigration. As
immigration rises and hatred grows more laws will be
implemented trying to release some of the pressure. An
important immigration issue that the government needs to
resolve at the present time, is the problem of illegal
immigration. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act
which aimed at curbing illegal immigration, has succeeded
in reducing the flow of illegal immigrants into the United
States, according to a study released on July 20, 1989 by
the Urban Institute. Border patrols operated by the U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) arrested 1.3
million illegal immigrants, most from Mexico, in a two-year
period ending in September 1988. In 1989, the U.S.
Department of State announced that 10,000 extra visas would
be issued to immigrants from 162 countries - most of them
in Europe, Africa, and South America - deemed
underrepresented in the usual immigration flow. People
from those countries, including aliens living in the United
States illegally, were eligible to apply for permanent
residency through a special lottery. Winners of visas would
be chosen randomly by computer. 
Emigration and immigration cause problems for the
immigrants, for the country he leaves, and for the country
to which he moves. Congress passes all immigration laws of
the United States, and the Immigration and Naturalization
Service in the Department of Justice administers these
laws. It has authority to admit, exclude, and deport
aliens according to the laws. Even with all the above
mentioned rules and regulations, the United States has
received a larger number of immigrants than any country in
Bontemps, Arna and Conroy, Jack. Anyplace But Here. Hill &
Wang, 1966.
Carney,Dan, " Social Policy " Congressional Quarterly
Weekly Report, 9/7/96, Vol. 54 Issue 36,p2531.
Conover, Ted. A Journey Through the Secret World of
America's Illegal Aliens. Vintage, 1987.
Hutchinson, E. P. Legislative History of American
Immigration Policy, 1798-1965. Pennsylvania, 1981.
May, Charles Paul. The Uprooted. Westminster, 1976.
Miller,Glenn F., Los Angles Times, 7/1/93,pA25.
Taylor, Monica. Workbook For Political science 5, Western
Custom Publishing.


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