Thousands of immigrants were forced to leave their countries of origin in the mid-1800s for different reasons: political, war, religious persecution, unemployment, and food shortages. When they learn that in America exists the hope of a new beginning they did not hesitate to take this opportunity. In an unprecedented wave, immigrants left their countries and embarked with a suitcase full of dreams without having the slightest suspicion of the battles that were to bear them because of discrimination. Moreover, the journey to America was very risky in which many of them died during the trip (North Site, 2015). During this big massive wave of immigrants from Europe the establishment of a port of arrival on the East Coast of the United States became necessary, Ellis Island which was also known as the Golden Gate, was selected for that particular task (Kerr, 2015).
A similar situation occurred in California with the arrival of Asian immigrants who had a welcome less than friendly and discriminatory (Allerfeldt, 2003). We must recognize that the impact of migration has played an important role in the development of America during the nineteenth century from industrialization to agriculture and transportation. Of course, these was not all entirely positive for immigrants, bringing unprecedented levels of anti-immigration feelings, feared of loss of job position, territory, and possible loss of national identity. However, despite all these obstacles the immigrants continued to struggle to improve their situation at time of adversity (Hirschman, 2006).
According to Berg, the nineteenth century exploded an immigration movement when approximately 20 million people from all over the world flooded the major cities around the United States in search of freedom and prosperity. Ellis Island in New York was the major hub located in the East Coast, assigned with the task to process immigrants from Russia, Italy and other Eastern and Southern European countries (Berg, 2005). This period brought massive immigration struggles between races and especially discrimination in unimaginable proportions. We must add that this brought a rising nativism “fear of foreigners” with its roots in anti-Catholicism and fear of foreign radicals.
The creation in 1894 of The Immigration Restriction League had one purpose in mind, slow down the flow of illiterate immigrants to America by giving them a literacy test (Hirschman, 2006). Despite all these obstacles, immigrants from Scandinavia and Germany were established in areas that they felt more comfortable playing a determinant role in the economy and in the establishment of farms. The Irish, on the other hand, were devoted to work in the cities where they were the main source of labor in the construction of transportation network including canals, railroads, and roads. The immigrant labor, without a doubt, provides the pool of labor that is needed in every corner from the garment shop in New York up to the stockyard of Chicago (Hirschman, 2006).
The influx of immigrants to America was not limited to Ellis Island but the phenomenon also had its impact on the American West Coast specifically California. Trades made with countries in the Pacific have influenced the movement of migration in places like China and Japan, triggering an increase in the immigrant entrance to America. Of course, the story was repeated as that of the Europeans, by imposing entry restrictions to the Asians for fear that they were taking all the jobs available in America (Allerfeldt, 2003). The main reason for the Chinese to leave their country was due to the crops failure which sparked a famine in 1852. Once California was reached, most of the Chinese immigrants dispersed to work in the gold mines, where they faced harsh discrimination.
As part of their contribution, the Chinese formed part of the labor that worked on the construction of the transcontinental railroad (Wandrei, 2015). Chinese immigrants were discriminated strongly as they represented a clear threat to the labor force of that time. Also, it was mentioned that Chinese undermined the good order of American culture. The U.S. Senate passed the Exclusion Act of 1882 which restricted the entry to all those who wanted to work, but allowed admittance to merchants, students, tourists, foreign diplomats and children of US citizens. Regardless the restrictions imposed by law, they were always able to manage their illegal entrance with the purchase of counterfeit documents (Chin, 2013).
In my opinion, the phenomenon of immigration in America was needed to achieve progress in the area of industry, railways, tourism, farming and mining. I think it is important to mention that the workforce from abroad had a huge impact and were a dynamo in the U.S. economy during the nineteenth century. Also, I should add that no matter the discrimination to which they were exposed, immigrants had an established goal to better their quality of life. The boom of industrialization in American at the end of the 1800’s set the wheels in motion for the massive influx of immigrants. There were many factors that contributed to the exile of Europeans to America; among them we can enumerate the terrible famine, and the rapid growth of the European population. The Chinese got their initial entry into America during the gold rush. Chinese immigrants faced discrimination much harder than those of Europeans from racial slurs, even insults because of their appearance. The Chinese Exclusion Act was created to block further entrance of Chinese citizens to America.
Allerfeldt, k. (2003). Race and Restriction:Anti-Asian Immigration Pressures in the Pacific North-West During the Progressive Era 1825-1924. History 88 (289), 53. Berg, R. L. (2005). Ellis Island and American Immigration. Book Links 15 (1), 57-62. Chin, P. (2013). The Chinese Exclusion Act 1882. CHinese American Forum 28 (3), 8-13. Hirschman, C. (2006, July 28). Border Battles. The Impact of Immigration on American Society: Looking Backward to the Future. Access January 22, 2015. http://borderbattles.ssrc.org/Hirschman/index.html Kerr, S. (2015). The Classroom. Programs to Help Immigrants in the 1800s. Access January 22, 2015. http://classroom.synonym.com/programs-immigrants-1800s-21245.html North Site. (2015). Early Immigration in the U.S. Access January 22, 2015. https://sites.google.com/site/thenorthsite/early-immigration-in-the-u-s-1 Wandrei, K. (2015). The Classroom. Difficulties Chinese Immigrants Had in
the Late 1800s. Access January 22, 2015. http://classroom.synonym.com/difficulties-chinese-immigrants-late-1800s-21290.html