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A Guide to Immigration Legislation History of America

A Guide to Immigration Legislation History of America

Prior to World War II, the American nation strictly followed previous quota laws with little indication to extraneous situations. One example of the predilection towards quotas regardless of international pressure, came in the 1930’s when American policy-makers refused to address the number of refugees fleeing from a Nazi-controlled Germany. Many prominent members of the Jewish religion, in addition to modern historians and scholars, continue to criticize this blatant disregard for the importance of human life.
Following the destruction of World War II, the need for actual refugee law became unavoidable. The conditions in Europe and around the world illustrated a social and political imperative for America to assist in this ever-growing refugee effort. Even though America came to pass the displaced persons acts of 1948 and 1950, the nation was still late to address the burgeoning need for rapid assistance due to the rebuilding efforts of a war-torn world. Upon passage, there remained much to be desired in terms of refugee policy and this would be addressed thoroughly in subsequent years.


Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Some pieces of legislation that directly concern themselves with American immigration law have been altogether nullified by revisions to domestic immigration policy, and in some cases, rightfully so. The Naturalization Act of 1790, which basically set the proverbial bar for immigration and naturalization in this country, could not have survived untouched up to today by restricting rights of citizenship to whites, as it is so overtly discriminatory to non-European immigrant groups and immigration to America nowadays is dominated by emigrations from the Americas and Asia. Other legislative measures, though still colored by anti-immigration sentiments expressed toward specific populations, nonetheless has more resonance in this day and age.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, or McCarran-Walter Act, did have its notable drawbacks and detractors, based on its retention of national origins quotas that came to pass with immigration acts of the 1920’s, even when European civilians were applying for refuge in large numbers following World War II.
Still, it was at least a partial influence on the current preference-based system of accepting visa/green card applications in its three-part immigration classification scheme. Restrictions on race and gender were also lifted, ending the decades of repression levied upon Chinese immigrants and other Asian immigrant groups.
Furthermore, the five-year wait for permanent residents to naturalize was also ironed out with the McCarran-Walter Act. While the amendments of the 1960’s made the Act more reminiscent of current statutes, the 1952 INA is still regarded as the bedrock of American immigration law. 

Refugee-Escapee Act of 1957 & 1960 Fair Share Refugee Act
The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the status of refugees set the international standard for the induction of refugees into a country’s populace. The domestic standard for refugees, at least in terms of a legal distinction and yearly ceiling, was established as a result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which as noted elsewhere, was hotly contested for its adherence to nationality-based quotas associated with keeping southern and eastern Europeans out of the country in spite of the notion they posed no apparent threat to America.
The Refugee Relief Act of 1953, passed by the United States congress, would partially assuage the needs of refugees from civil unrest/international conflict in Israel and Palestine as well as the ever-increasing issue of those inhabitants of Soviet republics fleeing the shackles of Communism.
With the outpouring of political refugees from Hungary after the brief rise and fall of the spontaneous Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the need to modify American immigration policy on more inclusive terms was evident.
The Hungarian freedom fighters’ very public struggle against Communism and the Soviets’ perceived insensitivity about handling the situation after the Revolution were obviously a source of inspiration to later internal anti-Soviet reform movements as well as numerous factions within America (e.g. disenfranchised African-Americans). The U.S. federal government was clearly inspired too, as it passed two refugee acts in the next few years that allowed for refugee admissions on the basis of executive parole.
The Refugee-Escapee Act of 1957 was a non-quota conduit for escapees from Communist territories, and the Fair Share Act of 1960 further addressed the refugee numbers of Hungary and those still living in DP camps after World War II.


Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
While the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, a.k.a. the McCarran-Walter Act based on its primary sponsors was by no means a step backwards for the United States a whole, it did fall short of the expectations of many (notably President Truman, who vetoed it) in that it held onto the national origins quotas first provided for in 1920’s-era legislation. By virtue of the amendments made to domestic immigration policy in the 1960’s, America did take leaps and bounds forward for bringing itself closer to its self-identification as a promoter of universal rights and equality of all men.
Most significant of all these changes was the very abolition of national origins ceilings based on fractions of the entire pool of permanent residents in the United States. In their stead arose impositions of annual 20,000-person maximums for applicants from the United States from individual nations, which were still very much improvements on the setup of their predecessors. 
Yet the effects of the 1965 INA were felt far beyond modifications made to immigration based on absolute numbers. In fact, some of the biggest influxes of immigrant groups came as a result of the removal of numerical limits on certain classes of prospective immigrants, notably those unmarried children of immigrants and other immediate relatives and others who possess some “exceptional ability” of certain use to the American workforce.
At the same time, Ted Kennedy and other supporters of these revisions (before they were passed into law) maintained that the new policies would not radically alter the face of the country, and to some extent, the verbiage of the Hart-Celler Act reflected this; the law specified that alien workers should not take the opportunities of American applicants.
Just the same, the freedom of foreign relatives from quota constraints via the insistence of said policymakers on the preservation of family would dramatically shape shifts in immigration trends to America. Latin American, Asian and African presences in the United States skyrocketed in the wake of the 1960’s version of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and it was only legislation like this that made watershed events such as Barack Obama becoming the first African-American president of the U.S. possible.


Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1981
Essentially, the 1981 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 took the optimism and free-wheeling spirit of opening the doors to the United States of America wider and focused them in a more practical way, hammering down some of the specifics that were realistically neglected by the Hart-Celler Act and even that of the 1952 version of the legislation.
Perhaps most crucially, the provisions of the 1981 INA addressed abuses of the system that are inherent in America’s approach to allowing migrants to become part of the overall U.S. population, paying greater attention to the details of deportation and the smuggling of illegal immigrants to the country (the federal government was even afforded privileges to seize vehicles of permanent residents with probable cause to suspect their use in facilitating unlawful entry).
As one might expect, there were other facets of the 1981 INA amendments that did not involve the trappings of deportation law. Among these revisions were the elimination of a policy that required foreign residents to reassert the details of their residence, changes made to re-entry visa parameters and new paths to temporary residency for students and physicians alike.
Nonetheless, the 1981’s most lasting applications to American immigration policy would seem to favor the issue of deportation. Much in the way prior U.N. resolutions defined refugees on the basis of their country of origin, the INA amendments declared of deportees that 1) they should be returned to their country of origin/country of last residence, 2) if the country will not accept them, that the Attorney General should process their case, and 3) that the cost of any fines related to their removal be handled by a district customs director.
While these invocations of deportation law were arguably minor at the time, they did serve to re-address concerns previously left to the turn of the 19th century, and would come to have larger application to the growing issue of illegal immigration in subsequent decades.

American Immigration History by Generation

American Immigration History by Generation

The history of American immigration as perceived in modern times did not begin until the middle of the nineteenth century. Prior to this time, subsequent to the American Revolution, nearly one-hundred percent of the nation’s populace were immigrants from other nations.
Immigration policy between 1940 and 1960 became shaped by the results of World War II. First, the War Brides Act allowed for military wives that were foreign born to immigrate to the country. In addition, American policy reflected the mounting problems presented by a large constituency of displaced persons.
The American Immigration History 1960-1980The Immigration and Nationality Actsouth-east Asian immigrantscreated further global representation in the frameworks of the American culture. In addition to the Civil Rights Movement that finally rid the nation of aggravated segregation, an ever-growing Chicano movement fought for Latin American immigrant rights.
Immigration totals continued to increase from Asian and Latin countries throughout the late twentieth century. Although European-based Americans still maintained the majority of American citizens, the minorities began rounding out and mirroring a more globalized world. After national quotas were removed, the American focus took to the process of illegal immigration.
Statistics show that a continuously larger number of illegal immigrants were entering the United States through Mexico. The majority of these immigrants came as a result of a networking effect that sent family members of past illegal immigrants over the American border. Understanding the need to address the concern of illegal immigration before it spiraled out of control, the federal legislature passed the Immigration Reform and Council Act.
On paper, the legislative initiative appeared comprehensive but failed to implement ways in which to combat future increases in illegal immigration. Immigration history disproved the efficiency of the legislation as illegal immigration multiplied at a frightening rate throughout the nineties. The continued inability to address the issues surrounding illegal immigration displays the inherent difficulties concerning immigration.

American Immigration Overview

American Immigration Overview

The history of immigration to the American continent surpasses the length of the United States as a sovereign nation. Each generation witnessed specific trends of immigration from varying counties of origin. This cyclical fashion would result in the federal government reacting to the varying trends with legislative initiatives that ranged from downright racism to high-minded altruism.
Although legislators, presidents, and the general populace often attempted to maintain the social make-up of the United States, the influx of immigrants from all over the world would come to create the multi-cultural country that grew with every decade.
American Immigration History by Ethnicity
European nations would come to colonize the United States in a rapid fashion after the initial discovery of the continent. Even though Native-Americans inhabited much of the mainland continent, the colonizing powers wiped out much of the native population. Due to this tragic and barbaric reality, the foundation of the American culture would stem from these original European settlers. As it turned out, different regions of the Eastern coast of North America laid claim to different European ethnicities and religions.
Still, the vast majority of these original colonizers were white protestant males that came for a varying degree of religious and cultural freedoms. In full, many of these smaller subsections of European cultures inhabiting the East coast maintained economic and political ties with their European nations of origin.
Most parts of the civilized world began citing the recognizable evils of slavery. With that said, the American continent was built on slavery. As European nations started tapering back the role of slaves in most cities, the soon to be United States of America witnessed drastic increases in the slave population all the way up until the Civil War. Based on this fact, the African-American population comprised a large percentage of the American populace.
Beyond the European colonization efforts, the American Revolution would come to pave the way for a more expansive role in global immigration to the United States. After the middle part of the eighteenth century, the majority of Americans still claimed British ancestry, but growing trends of Irish and German immigration began expanding the cultural roots of America.
Leading towards the nineteenth century, the growing industrial revolution attracted hopeful laborers looking for economic prosperity. Stagnant wages and a perpetual European working class caused further increases in the aforementioned immigration trends and also attracted high numbers of Italian immigrants.
In addition, the California gold rush and construction of the transcontinental railroad encouraged Asian migration, predominately from China. The cyclical economy caused a backlash against Chinese laborers and would result in overtly racist legislation that ended certain immigration trends for nearly a century.
Japanese immigration continued for a short while, but as racist sentiments began to exacerbate throughout the country, nearly all immigration from Asian countries would cease. Once the immigration process opened after World War II, Asian and Latin immigration would begin to change the face of America yet again.


American Immigration History by Generation
American immigration history became shaped by each specific generation and their reactions to certain trends. Prior to the victorious American Revolution, the idea of immigration escaped any actual consideration. For those who wished to embark on the long and treacherous journey across the Atlantic, there were opportunities in the new world that were simply inconceivable in the overly-populated European cities. In addition, a strict aristocracy disallowed upward mobility whereas an immigrant to North America could not only own land, but build a business and acquire actual economic security.
Political instability and the warring European superpowers resulted in low immigration trends for the young country. Just after the War of 1812, over ninety-five percent of the country was native born, clearly an odd statistic for a country formed entirely by immigrants and that just gained its sovereignty a mere two decades earlier.
For the large part, the American project in democracy was seen around the world as an unfeasible dream that would fade out quickly. As a three-branch democratic republic that practiced a system of checks and balances with no true fixture of central power, America’s government was truly the first of its kind for nearly two millenniums.
As such, this would be an unattractive choice for immigrants until the nation embodies some type of stability. Once the industrial revolution took off and the economic system was created, this sentiment reversed entirely. Between the middle of the nineteenth century and the turn of the twentieth, the American cultural make-up underwent seismic changes.
Many Americans resisted these changes due to new immigration trends, and the late nineteenth century and early twentieth unleashed a series of immigration policies rooted in prejudice and stereotype. During the Progressive Era, overarching changes and a new focus on domestic betterment would again cause the institution of immigration to change.
As southern plantations began to cede large swaths of their population to northern cities and once the great migration was underway, new social theories and sciences added another level of interpretation to policies dealing with immigration. Overarching global and domestic concerns–the Great Depression, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War–each chartered new courses for American immigration.
Not until the revolutionary nineteen-sixties would the system of immigration open up from quota laws enacted in the early twenties. After this point, increased immigration from Asian and Latin countries would define immigration from the nineteen-seventies till the present.
The most recent concerns and central focus of immigration policy became the lack of a comprehensive immigration bill that would finally deal with the trends of illegal immigration that becomes a more increasingly dangerous with every passing year.

A History of American Immigration By Ethnicity

A History of American Immigration By Ethnicity

American Immigration History Background
American immigration history represents the collective cultures that create a national image. The idea of America stems purely from immigration with the individual identity of an American representing a lineage not from one singular place. Each culture that represents the ethnic make-up of the nation maintains their own history of trials and tribulations; some facing pure racism while others assimilating with ease.
Immigration began to aggregate around the time of the Industrial Revolution spreading out individuals of all racial backgrounds throughout the continental United States. Immigration history displays the necessity of early immigrant totals coupled with industrialization requiring the strong workforce that would come as a result of a large influx of people throughout American history.
German American Immigration to the United States
German immigration throughout the history of the American nation represents one of the strongest cultural influences on the larger social make-up of the American nation. German immigration began long before actual American sovereignty and actually maintain a representation in the original English settlement in Jamestown.
The largest colonial immigration of German citizens came around the late eighteenth centuries where they established cultural hubs in main regions; most specifically New York and Pennsylvania. German immigrants also played a part in the American revolution where some thousands of paid militiamen known as Hessians fought alongside the British red coats. Immigration statistics show that the German states sent the majority of immigrants, as compared to any other nation, during the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries.
Historically, German immigrants found it easy to assimilate into the broader American culture but around the time of World War I, anxieties towards national allegiance forced certain stereotypes on the new immigrants. World War II also forced certain prejudices on the German people and many actually were forced into internment.
Italian American Immigration to the United States
Italian immigration did not begin to amass in large numbers until the late nineteenth century. Unlike their counterparts in decades past, the new immigrants from Italy experienced stark prejudice and the American culture affixed stereotypes that continue today. The increases in Italian immigrants was due in large part to an Italian economy facing stagnation and offering low wages.
The majority of Italian immigrants settled in most major cities and their labor generally leaned towards unskilled factory work in their early years of immigration, though some farm settlements of Italian immigrants have gained a level of historic lore. Immigration laws of the early twentieth century attempted to limit the numbers of Italian immigrants entering the country. Often referred to as new immigration, an influx in immigrants from eastern and southern Europe wrongfully encouraged federal immigration laws aimed to decrease the allowed numbers of immigrants from these regions.
Irish American Immigration to the United States
The history of Irish immigration began in large part during the middle of the nineteenth century. Most historians recognize this trend as a direct result of crop failures, commonly referred to as the potato famine. Since the Irish economy placed a heavy necessity on the potato crop, the failures resulted in widespread poverty, famine, and death. Large percentages of the entire Irish populace emigrated to the United States, making longstanding American citizens weary of that.
Overarching stereotypes placed on Irish immigrants assumed that they may deflate the idea of the American dream and comprise the first true American working-class. Irish immigrants settled in some of the worst areas of modern day cities, for example, the Five Points District of New York City became home to an immense number of these immigrants. Also, their collective observance to Catholicism made the largely Protestant American nation distrust the overall Irish allegiance to America, instead assuming that their true dedication remained to the Pope. Later trends of public service dissuaded these preconceptions.
Asian American Immigration to the United States

Asian American immigration refers to the great wealth of nations that represent the immense Asian continent. Asian American immigrants experienced a great deal of prejudice throughout American immigration history and were often unduly denied opportunity to join the American system and basic social structure. Chinese immigration made up the first wave of Asian immigrants entering the continental United States. Initially for gold prospects on the West Coast, Chinese immigrants were eventually scorned and then banned entirely. 
The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first legislation predicated on Asian racism in a long line of horrific affronts to the Asian American culture. Japanese American immigrants experienced additional racism with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of an executive order allowing Japanese citizens to be interned to protect against suspected (wrongfully so) espionage or other subversive practices. Asian immigrants would not be given fair rights and equal protection in the history of immigration until after the mid-twentieth century.

Latin American Immigration to the United States

Latin American immigration is often times reduced in scope to Mexican immigration due to the proximity of Mexico and America, as well as Mexico being the usual entry point for immigrants coming from South America. Historically, immigration from Mexico and the other Latin countries to America was a common practice and represented a usual “back-and-forth” of individuals in search of the best occupations. Often, these Mexican and other Latinos would enter America for seasonal work and return home to their families. As time went on these workers began to settle in American southwest that were formally under Mexican control, simple opting to illegally immigrate.
This trend over the last few decades created a network effect of the latter workers’ families joining them in America and pushing the totals of illegal immigrants to high numbers. In response to mounting stereotypes during the 1960s a growing Chicano Movement sought to guarantee equality for the growing Latin-American presence in America. Although historically overshadowed in large part by the Civil Rights Movement, the Chicano Movement fought against stereotypes that had been mounting since the Mexican War.

African American Immigration to the United States
Although African American immigration showed little increase throughout American history, it remains the second largest ethnicity in the United States. The vast majority of African Americans are descended from indentured servants and former slaves that came to America prior to the termination of the slave trade. Many conceptions of African Americans today assume that most if not all came from colonial slaves that worked without pay or recompense.
This was not the case as many African Americans came to America and paid for the voyage with a set amount of labor that would then guarantee their release upon completion. Just prior the the Revolutionary War, African Americans already represented a fifth of the total population living in the colonies. After the Civil War and the passage of the Civil War amendments, African Americans still were refused fundamental rights. Jim Crow laws and segregated facilities perpetuated socially accepted racism until the 1960s.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Following the Civil War, the nation as a whole began to enact a more specific immigration policy. Different trends of immigration caused some previous generations of Americans to rethink immigration policies of the time, and put in place actual restrictions in addition to other considerations.
National sentiment towards immigrant labor sat at the root of many of these anxieties and started to influence immigration policy on a large scale. This process of granting freedoms only to drastically remove them, became a usual practice in American immigration policy. The end Civil War, which granted rights to former slaves was met in the next decades with political posturing that responded to national outcries for stricter race-based immigration policy.
Immigration policies subsequent to the end of the Civil War illustrated a central change in the way the nation responded to immigrants. As the job market went through cyclical changes, older-generation Americans became furious over the loss of occupation to new immigrants. Perceptions of these new workers continued to worsen as many immigrants would demand lower wages and would also be used for replacement labor in response to strikes.
The first of the immigration policies dealing with specific types of restrictions came in 1875. In response to the aforementioned national mood towards immigrants, this immigration policy was the first to prevent the immigration of specific types of people. This would be important precedent for future pieces of legislation that would further the idea of race-based immigration policy. 
A gross example of immigration policy in the nineteenth century is referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act that was passed in 1882; an act that instituted harsh restrictions on both the immigration and naturalization of Chinese immigrants. It was originally passed with a time constraint permitting its jurisdiction for a span of ten years.
Later immigration policies would uphold the ruling of the Chinese Exclusion Act, by instating an effectual block of Chinese immigrants from coming to the country, in addition to denying the naturalization of Chinese immigrants already in the country for nearly a century.
Another legislative act passed in 1882 initiated further restriction of who could enter the country and put in place a 50-cent tax for all immigrants traveling to America. American immigration policies from this point reflected the overall growth of the nation and a certain air of privilege when it came to choosing who would be able to immigrate to the country.
Immigration policies would grow from this point on to make the process of immigration much more difficult, if not impossible for certain types of people. An act in the early 1900s would make the Chinese Exclusion Act permanent until it would be finally repealed in the 1940.