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The past immigration policies of the United States were very biased and unfair towards Chinese foreigners and people of African descent. Having labor competition was among the reasons for banning Chinese immigrants, and their population declined, given that their spouses were not allowed to enter the country. The discriminatory practices of the United States in terms of immigration policies had changed when they started their alliance with China during the Second World War. The immigration policies began to change as the United States believed in equality and humanitarian rights.
Within this paper, you will find specific policies that address the past immigration and naturalization acts that prohibited the equal opportunity of establishing permanent residency in the United States as a foreigner based racism, classism, and sexism. One immigration policy will be identified as disassembling the structured isms and lead to a more inclusive act that was birth during the nation’s fight against racial inequality. Today, we can see how the policies impacted the American population and hopefully cause the future of immigration and naturalization to maintain inclusiveness.
As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an immigrant is defined as a person who comes to a country to take up permanent residence. There are four main categories of immigrants in the United States: United States Citizen, Permanent or Conditional Residents, Non-immigrants, and Undocumented (Mejer, 2020). Individuals that are considered in the U.S. Citizens category are individuals who were either born in this country or have committed to the naturalization process after three to five years as permanent residents.
The citizens are safe from deportation unless their citizenship was attained through fraudulent actions. These individuals also have access to legal employment and public benefits if needed, as well as the ability to petition for the legal status of their spouse, children, and/or parent (Mejer, 2020).
A Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) is an individual who has lawfully gained a valid permanency resident card or ‘green card’ (Mejer, 2020). An LPR is authorized to reside and work in the United States permanently. A ‘green card’ can be obtained through various methods. Conditional residents are individuals who have been married less than two years before receiving their permanent resident card. This type of residency requires that the spouses file jointly to remove the conditions of the individual’s status within two years of receiving their green card, else the process could result in termination and possible deportation.
Non-Immigrants are individuals who obtained visas legally and reside in the States but temporarily. Examples of these temporary visas can include student visas, business visitors or tourists, fiancées, or K-1 visas and individuals who are granted temporary protected status. Once the visa expires or a violation occurs, the legal status will change to undocumented. Lastly, undocumented immigrants are individuals who reside in the country without judicial authority.
Meaning, they are not legally granted access to live, work, or attain any public benefits such as a license or health care (Mejer, 2020).
Under the Naturalization Act of 1790, the United States indicated the initial policies for the citizenship of immigrants. Soennichsen (2011) noted that any foreigner, being a ‘free white person, who shall have resided within limits and under the jurisdiction of the United States for the term of two years, maybe admitted to becoming a citizen on application to any common-law court’ (p. 115). This law did not welcome indentured servants, American Indians, and even freed black slaves.
Part of the policy was to check if the immigrant demonstrates good character, and the conditions were to live in the United States for a minimum of two years and 365 days in the state where they would apply for citizenship. The court would issue an oath of allegiance, and the court clerk would handle the paperwork of the proceedings. In 1795, Congress revised the act to expand the residence requirement minimum to five years, which is still in effect today (Glass, 2012).
Overall, the Naturalization Act of 1790 appeared to serve as an inclusion to white people but discriminated against and excluded people of color and specific socioeconomic statutes. This act did not permit free individuals and people of color the right to apply for the opportunity to gain lawful residency in the States, although they were forced here and resided on this soil for years. This act left not only individuals of African descent but also Native Americans in an indeterminate state regarding their legal status and their ability to be recognized as a lawful permanent citizen.
The act depicts the racially motivated exclusion towards people of color. Although it expressed that ‘any foreigner’ could be naturalized after meeting the eligibility requirements, the eligibility requirements were not all-inclusive to every person or any race outside of Whites. They were unnecessary at the time due to its deliberate efforts to exclude non-Whites. This act specified that although foreigners could be naturalized following the due process, it was only for the White foreigners. Although the act was revised in 1795, it did not change the racial inequality component of the act; instead, it maximized the timeline of residency from two years to five years. Not only is the Naturalization Act of 1790 outdated, but it is also a blatant reflection of racism and classism, which should not have been allowed at all.
The Commonwealth Act No. 473 of the Philippines was established in 1939. This particular policy is also known as the Revised Naturalization Law. The qualifications stated that the person should be aged a minimum of 21 years, and the residency period should be at least ten years in the United States. This act also required that foreigners ‘must possess a good moral character and conducted himself in a proper and irreproachable manner during the entire period of his residence in the Philippines in his relation with the constituted government as well as with the community in which he is living (Arrelano Law Foundation, 1939).
In addition to that, the act required that the petitioner should have purchased a real estate in the country amounting to five thousand pesos and above or is employed in a high-paying, legal profession and has excellent written and spoken English or Spanish skills. The petitioner should have registered their children in either private or public educational institutions in the country, which was under the scope of the Office of Private Education, and there were no discriminatory policies in the Philippines concerning the application for citizenship (Arrelano Law Foundation, 1939). The United States allowed foreigners regardless of their racial background to apply for citizenship as long as they met the qualifications stated in the Revised Naturalization Law.
Those who are disqualified from the application for citizenship are petitioners who are supporters of the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time, given that the majority of the residents in the Philippines are believers of Christianity. This kind of mentality is considered taboo. As well as those who have been imprisoned because of moral turpitude, persons who believed in the need for aggression, assault, or violence were also disqualified. Those afflicted with diseases that have no cure that can be transmitted by direct or indirect contact are also excluded.
Although this act confronted the issue of race, contrary to the Naturalization act of 1790, by permitting all races to apply for citizenship regardless of their ethnic background, it appears biased as it reflected an impossible level of classism as the opportunity to apply for citizenship was offered exclusively to individuals who indicated a high level of achievement, education and monetary support. This policy was useless at this time due to its inhumane biases towards individuals of lower socioeconomic status and in consideration of women. This policy caused me to question what happens to individuals who meet the character and moral expectations, but lack the financial and educational means to apply for citizenship and is seeking an opportunity to improve the socioeconomic status once granted the right to enter and reside in the United States lawfully. America is often referred to as ‘the land of opportunity,’ but who are afforded these opportunities, and are the requirements in the acts fair for everyone?
This act removed the obstacle of race and replaced it with additional challenges, which once again made it challenging for individuals from a non-White ethnic group, to achieve the goal of legal permanency. This policy reflected not only classism but also sexism as it repeatedly referred to the petitioner as ‘he.’ This act reflected the belief that not only were men seen as superior and actual humans but that women were viewed subservient and unconsidered in
applying for citizenship at this time. With this act in mind, it requires the petitioner to speak at least Spanish or English fluently. However, to date, by law, there is no official language for the United States. Thus, it raises the question as to why English and Spanish were required to be eligible to apply for citizenship.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, abolished an earlier quota system based on national origin and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled laborers to the United States (History Editors, 2010). Over the next four decades, the guidelines put into effect in 1965 would significantly change the demographic makeup of the American population. In fact, immigrants entering the United States under the new legislation came increasingly from countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, as opposed to Europe (History Editors, 2010).
President John F. Kennedy even took up the immigration reform cause, giving a speech in June 1963, calling the quota system ‘intolerable.’ After Kennedy’s assassination that November, Congress began debating and would eventually pass the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, co-sponsored by Representative Emanuel Celler of New York and Senator Philip Hart of Michigan and heavily supported by the late president’s brother, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts (History Editors, 2010). During Congressional debates, many experts testified that little would effectively change under the reformed legislation, and it was seen more as a matter of principle to have a more open policy. Indeed, on signing the act into law in October 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated that the act ‘is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions….It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or our power’ (History Editors, 2010).
Following the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, Asian immigrants fleeing war in Vietnam and Cambodia nearly quadrupled the first five years (History Editors, 2010). Before the passing of this act, Asian immigrants were barred from entry into the United States. In addition to Asian immigrants seeking asylum in times of war between the 1960s and 1970s, individuals from Cuba, Eastern Europe, and additional violence-plagued countries sought refuge in the United States (History Editors, 2010). In fact, more than eighteen million legal immigrants fled to America once this act was in place, which was more than the country had seen in the past thirty years.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was formed amid a very racially tense time as people of color were fighting Jim Crow laws, segregation and the preservation of their civil rights. This policy included all racial and ethnic groups. It removed bearers of racism, classism, and sexism as it permitted nearly anyone from any socioeconomic status, with the exclusion of criminal acts, to seek permanency in the United States. This policy aided in the goal of family reunification and preservation. Prior policies were generated to promote the increase of Whites and their legal permission and residence in America, while simultaneously deconstructing people of color by placing limitations, restrictions, and exclusions on their ability to gain legal citizenship.
President Kennedy was proactive in not only the Civil Rights Movement but also the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, with both policies speaking volumes to the level of inhumane treatment towards non-Whites and the structured dismantling of their families and livelihood due to the previously discriminatory stipulations outlined in lawful policies. Once the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was enacted, it granted hope to individuals from various regions and countries the equal opportunity to not only see the chance of obtaining
citizenship but lifted the unjust and unfair requirements, which once made it nearly impossible for them to gain access to America. Although this policy has undergone a few alterations, it still allows everyone, from almost any background, a right to ‘the land of opportunity’ by becoming inclusive to each majorly and minor is known as identified immigrant groups. This policy was highly useful at the time of its formation as it was pivotal to strengthening the family dynamics of foreigners who sought safety and stability in America.
Today, the mixed culture of the United States is greatly influenced by the arrival of millions of immigrants across the globe. A large number of Africans, Europeans, and Chinese nationals settled in the country for work opportunities. The immigration laws in the United States have undergone immense changes in the passing decades, and the immigration policies in the United States have demonstrated discriminatory practices and unfair treatment towards non-Whites.
Among the top immigrants in the United States are Mexicans, Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos. As it pertains to race and ethnicity, there are reportedly more Asian immigrants than Hispanic immigrants who have arrived in the U.S. in most years since 2010. In fact, immigrants and their descendants are anticipated to account for 88% of U.S. population growth through 2065 (Radford, 2019). The highest number of refugees that come into the United States are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, followed by Myanmar, Ukraine, Bhutan, and Eritrea (Radford, 2019).
California, New York, and Texas are the states with the most significant number of immigrants. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Seattle, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Jose, and Sacramento are among the metropolitan areas that are exceedingly populated with immigrants (Radford, 2019).
The Naturalization Act of 1790 and Commonwealth Act No. 473 reflected just how profoundly racism, classism, and sexism impacted and influenced the formation of policies. The act applies specifically to immigration and one’s ability to have the opportunity to lawfully establish themselves and their loved ones in the United States. Through much hard work and persistence, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 aided in not only addressing but racially exclusive guidelines to obtaining American citizenship but was proactive in its approach to allot for citizens of various backgrounds to have the ability to not only enter the United States but also even make it their home and be allowed to undergo the naturalization process.
Currently, there are new and more restrictive policies being formulated to not only limit but restrict the entrance of immigrants into the United States, and families are being torn apart under the current presidential and federal guidance. My intent with identifying the listed policies was not only to address how inhumane, prejudice, and inconsiderate early policies were towards people of color and those from lower socioeconomic statuses but also to provoke the need for change in current immigration and naturalization policies. How often are the policies written or mandated by individuals who can relate to them? When immigration and naturalization acts are considered, are past foreigners who are now naturalized and their descendants awarded the opportunity to provide perspective in the policies that directly impact them and their immigrant loved ones, or is it still a form of intolerance? Change, in the way of inclusion during the formation of policies, can ensure exclusion will not be reflected in immigration and naturalization acts as we saw in the past and is evident today.
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