Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Immigration Term Paper

Pages: 8 (2458 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 6  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: American History

¶ … United States, from its beginnings, has always existed as one of the most appealing destinations for the immigrants of the world. Naturally, this should come as no surprise considering that over 99% of its inhabitants are immigrants or descendents of immigrants. It is a nation comprised of a mixture of the world's ethnicities and cultures -- or at least it seems so. Despite the fact that immigration has been the crux of the U.S. economy for centuries, strong opposition to it has been prevalent from the onset. More established groups and nationalities have used both overt and covert methods to discourage immigration from specific areas of the globe, while promoting immigration of favored nations and ethnicities. Historically, the U.S. policy towards immigration has been one of open doors on the surface, but general opposition from within -- a fear of immigration exists for those who are already here. The grand statement inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty declares:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest lost to me:

lift my lamp beside the golden door." (Andryszewski 10).

And yet, the doors to this nation have never been that unquestioning, and often the criteria by which individuals are accepted or rejected have often relied upon bigoted notions. In 1876 the California State Legislature concluded:

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Chinese immigrants] have never adapted themselves to our habits, mode of dress, or our educational system, have never learned the sanctity of an oath, never desired to become citizens, or to perform the duties of citizenship, never discovered the difference between right and wrong, never ceased the worship of their idol gods, or advanced a step beyond the traditions of their native hive." (Andryszewski 10).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in Immigration Assignment

Doubtlessly, the United States policy regarding immigration has ceaselessly demanded that foreign peoples conform to our culture, religion, language, and preferably be of our race. The general fear is loss of our way of life; loss of our jobs, degradation of our language, loss of our vast open spaces, weakening of the economy, and loss of our identity. To many people these threats are very real; presently the U.S. takes in almost half of the world's immigrants; this suggests that if there were no regulations, drastic changes would come about (Brimelow 26). This has always been the worry, and traditionally, legislators have sought to mitigate these changes by preferentially accepting those whose culture, language, education, religion, and color were most close to our own. The ideological basis of the United States and its historic and present immigration practices cannot be reconciled.

It has been argued by some contemporary writers that since the image of the American melting pot is so obviously flawed, that the relative success of the United States as a world power can be explained by our selective immigration policy. Peter Brimelow condemns the notion that part of America's historic nature is to accept people regardless of birthplace or ancestry, and uses this to justify his idea that the greatness of our nation is partially due to our preferential immigration policy. He writes, "It [the melting pot] is ludicrously false as a description of America's 'essential nature.' This was highly specific -- racially, religiously, culturally -- right up until modern times, reinforced when necessary by legislation." (Brimelow 15). Although the truth of this statement from a historical standpoint his difficult to deny, it fails to indicate that such selectivity should be desirable.

The first official legislation dealing with immigration in the United States was explicitly racist. In fact the "first federal naturalization law requires that applicants be 'free white persons,'" in 1790 (Brimelow xii). Aside from this general regulation, immigration was primarily regulated by the states rather than the federal government during most the first century of American independence. By the mid nineteenth century, however, "The Gold Rush of 1849 first attracted large numbers of Chinese workers to California, where they did a great deal of mostly menial work for very low pay." (Andryszewski 28). Yet, when the gold rush ended competition for jobs and racial hostilities grew exponentially; calling for action from Congress. This pressure on Congress produced the "Chinese Exclusion Acts":

In 1882, Congress prohibited the immigration of any more Chinese laborers. In 1888, Congress prohibited Chinese workers already in the United States from returning if they should ever leave the country, however briefly, and in 1892 the lawmakers authorized forcing some Chinese in the United States to return to China. Statute by statute, more restrictions were added. Immigration from other Asian states was also restricted; President Theodore Roosevelt's 1906 'Gentlemen's Agreement' with the Japanese government, for example, curtailed immigration from Japan. By 1917 the list of excludables included virtually everyone born is Asia." (Andryszewski 29-30).

This was just the first of an emerging trend illustrating the racial prejudices and fears pervading the U.S. government. While Congress was busy cracking down on Asian immigration, massive migrations from Europe were taking place. Of the approximately 2.24 million foreign born citizens of the United States in 1850, some 1.44 million of them were from Northern and Western Europe (Andryszewski 31). Irish were the most abundant, making up roughly 1 million of these immigrants; which should not be surprising, considering they already spoke English and were Christian (Andryszewski 31). Additionally, "Only somewhat more than half a million (almost all German) of America's foreign-born were from central and eastern Europe. And only a scant eight thousand immigrants had come from the Mediterranean states of southern Europe." (Andryszewski 31). This was during what came to be known as the "first wave" of foreign immigration into the United States, which lasted from about 1820 to 1880 and -- to a large extent -- can be explained by the Irish potato famine. This marked the official beginning of a common distrust of immigrants held by many native born, and contributed to distinctions made along ethnic lines that reached well into the twentieth century.

By 1890 the second wave of immigration had begun, and the composition of this group was rather different than the first, which had been nearly fifty percent Irish. By this time, however, the anti-immigration sentiment had been brewing for half a century, and racial values played an even stronger role in the laws that came out of this age.

This anti-immigration feeling came to a head in the late 1890's, as the second wave of immigration was rising toward its peak in 1907, when 1,285,000 foreigners poured into America. Many Americans -- probably a majority of nonimmigrants -- insisted that the immigrants of this second wave, dominated by people from southern and eastern Europe, were inferior to the people of western Europe, like the English, Germans, Irish, and Scandinavians who had made up the bulk of the first wave. It was believed, as one person wrote, that the second-wave immigrants had a "higher percentage of inborn socially inadequate qualities than do older stocks." (Collier 73-74).

Of course, this was during a time when extreme views like eugenics were being perpetuated by leading thinkers and governments. Many people firmly believed criminal behavior, laziness, stupidity, and allegiances to political parties were heritable traits passed on from generation to generation. This sort of mentality facilitated numerous anti-immigration policies because people felt that many foreigners were inherently anarchists and desired nothing less than to destroy the foundation of the American infrastructure and economic system. In some portions of the country people attempted to enact policies that would prevent criminals or "mentally deficient" individuals from reproducing -- it was a time when many people were very concerned about keeping the national stock pure, and pointing human evolution in the direction they desired. Doubtlessly, this way of looking at evolution was grievously flawed, but it does help to explain why large segments of the population were utterly opposed to certain types of individuals entering American society.

The new immigrants of the second wave were feared and seen as a direct threat to the American way of life. "Between 1891 and 1914 Italian-Americans were lynched in New Orleans, murdered in Colorado, beaten in Mississippi, and shot by mobs in Illinois." (Collier 75). Consequently, strong immigration policies followed and echoed the nation's distrust of these new invaders; the Immigration Act of 1924 was the most powerful of these laws:

This law set quotas for each country according to a formula that heavily favored immigrants from north-western Europe against those from elsewhere. Quotas fro places like England were much larger than the number there who wanted to come to America, while quotas for other places were smaller. The net effect was to reduce immigration to a trickle." (Collier 76).

Also during this time of the second wave, the immigration department of the federal government set up operations at Ellis Island -- officially opened on January 1, 1892 (Anderson 4). At this facility potential immigrants underwent a series of examinations and tests to determine whether they were worthy of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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