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U.S. Immigration – 1875-1910 Essay

Throughout the history of the United States immigration has played a big role. In fact, the birth of the US came about because of Europeans that immigrated here for religious freedom. From those small settlements came towns and cities, built by immigrants. But not all migrated here for religious freedom. Many came on wishes for a better life or to pursue business deals. As early as 1610, Italian craftsmen were brought here to by the Virginia Colony to start the glass trade. So regardless of their drive, people have immigrated here since the beginning of the history of the United States and still continue to.

Americans encouraged relatively free and open immigration during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and did not think anything of that policy until the middle 1900s. After some states passed immigration laws following the Civil War, the Supreme Court ruled in 1875 that the regulation of immigrants is a federal responsibility. As the number of immigrants rose in the 1880s and economic conditions in certain areas worsened, Congress started to use immigration legislation. The Chinese Exclusion Act was one such example. Under this act, passed on 6 MAY 1882, states “the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof.” As a result, Angel Island was set up to detain and question Chinese Immigrants.

Between this act and the Alien Contract Labor laws of 1885 and 1887, certain laborers were prohibited from immigrating to the United States. Also in used was the more general Immigration Act of 1882, which charged a head tax of fifty cents on each immigrant, and bar the entry of “idiots, lunatics, convicts, and persons likely to become a public charge”. Also passed were the Alien Acts of 1885, 1887, 1888 and 1891, prohibiting the immigration to the U.S. of persons entering the country to work under contracts made before their arrival. In 1888 provisions were adopted to provide the expulsion for aliens. All these immigration laws soon created the need for a Federal enforcement agency.

In the 1880s, state board or commissions enforced immigration law with direction from U.S. Treasury Department officials. At the federal level, U.S. Customs Collectors at each port of entry collected the head from immigrants, while “Chinese Inspectors” enforced the Chinese Exclusion Act (at Angel Island). Congress soon expanded the list of excludable classes, and as a result when the Immigration Act of 1891 barred polygamists, persons convicted of crimes of moral turpitude, and those suffering loathsome of contagious diseases from immigration, it also created the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration, located in the Treasury Department.

Under the 1891 law, the Federal Government assumed the task of inspecting, admitting, rejecting, and processing all immigrants seeking to the United States. The Immigration Service’s (IS) first task was to collect arrival manifests (passenger lists) from each incoming ship, a responsibility of the Customs Service since 1820. Also enforcing immigration law was a new Federal function, and the 1890s witnessed the Service’s first attempts to implement national immigration policy.

Operations began in New York Harbor at a new federal immigration station on Ellis Island, which opened 2 JAN 1892. The largest and busiest station for decades, Ellis Island housed inspection facilities, hearing and detention rooms, hospitals, cafeterias, administrative offices, and representatives of many immigrant aid societies. The station also employed 119 of the Service’s entire staff 180 in 1893. During its first decade at Ellis Island and other ports, the Service formalized basic immigration procedures. Inspectors questioned arrivals about their admissibility and noted their admission or rejection on manifest records. Detention guards and matrons cared for those people detained pending decisions in their cases, or those awaiting deportation. Often, aliens were excluded because they lacked funds o had no friends or relatives nearby.

Congress continued to exert Federal control over immigration with the Act of 2 March 1895, which upgraded the Office of Immigration to the Bureau of Immigration and changed the agency head’s title from Superintendent to Commissioner-General of Immigration. The Act of 6 June 1900, further merged immigration enforcement by assigning both Alien Contract Labor law and Chinese Exclusion responsibilities to the Commissioner-General. (In 1902, the Chinese Exclusion Act was extended for and indefinite amount of time.) Also, since most immigration laws sought to protect American workers and wages, and Act of 14 February 1903, transferred the Bureau of Immigration from the Treasury Department to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor.

Attention then turned to naturalization; a duty assigned to Congress by the constitution but carried out by “any court of record” since 1802. A commission charged with investigating naturalization practice and procedure reported in 1905 that were was little or no uniformity among the nation’s more than 5, 000 naturalization courts. Congress responded with the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906, which framed the rules for naturalization in effect today. The 1906 law also proscribed standard naturalization forms, encouraged state and local courts to relinquish their naturalization jurisdiction to Federal Courts, and expanded the Bureau of Immigration into the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (INS).

After the creation of the INS, a few more Immigration Acts or revisions were passed (1906-1910). Procedural safeguards for naturalization were enacted in 1906, in which knowledge of English was a requirement. Also the Immigration Act of 1907 extended the restrictions of earlier acts by using synonyms for criminals and the insane. Section One of the act was aimed at keeping Japanese and Koreans out of the Gentlemen’s Act between the U.S and Japan. While the Congress continued to strengthen national immigration with this act, a Presidential Commission investigated the causes of massive emigration out of Southern and Eastern Europe and a Congressional Commission reports later influenced the writing and passing of future acts, such as the Immigration Act of 1917, which required that immigrants be able to read and write in their native language.

Although the United States of America is referred to as the “melting pot”, which it is, it did not achieve that name without numerous acts and laws restricting or containing immigration. Despite what people may think, with out some of these acts, the U.S. could have been subject to extreme over-population. However, it can be argued that the time during 1875 and 1910, there where an excess of acts passed which now would be considered extremely discriminative and racist. The final word is that immigration continues to this day with restrictions to keep it over control, and they are needed.


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