History of Immigration

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History of immigration

By Chrissy McCollum

In 1882, the United States passed the Immigration Act, which imposed a 50 cent tax on every immigrant and banned the entry of "any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge." In the same year, the Chinese Exclusion Act was also passed, which restricted all immigration of Chinese laborers and declared the Chinese ineligible for naturalization. These acts were passed because of “an increasing pressure brought to bear against immigrants, especially Chinese laborers in California.” Immigration had been relatively open in the first century of American independence. The Immigration Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act were the first two immigration acts to set strict restrictions on who could migrate to America. In years following, restrictions on who could enter the country got stricter.

Ten years after the Immigration Act and Chinese Exclusion Act were passed, Ellis Island opened. It served as the primary immigration station of the U.S. between 1892 and 1954, processing some 12 million immigrants. By some estimates, 40 percent of all Americans have a relative who passed through Ellis Island.

The Immigration Act of 1907 was enacted to broaden the categories of people banned, or “undesirables,” from immigrating to the U.S. The list excluded anyone who was considered “imbeciles,“ or “feeble-minded“ people, those with physical or mental disabilities that prevent them from working, tuberculosis victims, children who enter the U.S. without parents, and those who committed crimes of “moral turpitude.“ Also in 1907, Congress passed the Expatriation Act of 1907, which said that women must adopt the citizenship of their husbands. Therefore, women who marry foreigners lose their U.S. citizenship unless their husbands become citizens even though a man could still marry a foreign woman and keep his citizenship. This act was revoked in 1922 when the Cable Act was enacted. The laws regarding citizenship and marriage before 1907 only included immigrants from Europe. Women were most often seen as a part of a family unit with their husbands being the head of the household. The Cable Act was a huge step for women in their efforts to be seen as individuals.

During World War II, many American workers were fighting in war and not able to attend to  the farms. In 1942, the U.S. allowed about 5 million Mexican workers to enter the country and participate in the bracero program. This program temporarily allowed Mexicans to work in the U.S. minding agricultural fields. It became the largest U.S. contract labor program. A few years into the war, Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act, allowing 200,000 refugees who were displaced because of war, come to America.

The Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as a person who flees his or her country “on account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.“ Refugees are considered a different category than immigrants. The President of the United States and Congress are granted the authority to establish an annual ceiling on the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. The act also lowers the annual limit of refugees admitted to the country 270,000, from 290,000, although every year the limit of refugees America would accept fluctuated.

In 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan passed the controversial Immigration Reform and Control Act. This Act gave undocumented immigrants a chance to gain legal status. Nearly three million migrants were granted amnesty. The act also intensified efforts to crackdown on U.S. employers hiring undocumented workers and increased the annual limit of admitted refugees to 540,000 people.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act enacted in 1996 broadened the definition of “aggravated felony“ and increased the number of crimes classified as such so immigrants could be deported for a wider range of crimes. The act also increased the number of Border Patrol agents and established an “expedited removal“ procedure to deport immigrants without a formal hearing. In the same year, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act sharply cut legal permanent residents’ eligibility for many public-assistance benefits, including food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and Medicaid.

In November of 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a new action plan that would increase border security, make the process for high-skilled immigrants to contribute to our economy quicker, and deal responsibly with the numerous undocumented immigrants that were already living in America. Under the new policy, people who are parents of U.S. citizens or legal residents will receive deportation deferrals and authorization to work legally if they have been in the U.S. for more than five years and pass background checks. Obama's action also amended the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows people under age 31 who were brought to the U.S. as children to apply for two-year deportation deferrals and work permits. Obama's policy change lifted the age ceiling and added a year to the deferral period.

Since his election in 2016, U.S. President Donald J. Trump made several efforts to fulfill his campaign promise of an extensive border wall. This costly security measure drew a wide range of criticisms, and sparked contentious debates surrounding the nature of U.S. border protections. During this time the White House declared its intentions of phasing out the DACA program passed by President Obama. Republicans and Democrats both were called on to pass a replacement program by a proposed deadline of March 5, 2017; however, lawmakers were unable to reach a consensus, and many beneficiaries of DACA were put into legal/political limbo, and they remain in limbo.

Changes to policies

In recent years, the U.S. government has made significant changes to the immigration policies in place. Since President Trump has been in office, the number of refugees seeking admission to the United States was reduced to the lowest it has been since the refugee program was formed in 1980. As of September 5, 2018, the United States is no longer accepting or renewing applications to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program - which is currently providing work authorization and temporary relief from deportation to approximately 690,000 unauthorized immigrants brought to the United States as children - and has ended the designation of Temporary Protected Status for nationals of Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan.

The White House is also currently reviewing a plan that could nullify the Flores Settlement that was created in 1997. The settlement stated that immigrant children that arrive with their families be released from custody within 20 days, a rule they have blamed for their separation of thousands of families at the border. The judge reviewing the case has since rejected the plan to make changes to the Flores Settlement.

Social, Political, Economic, Cultural factors that shape policies

Terrorist attacks, such as 9/11, prompt new concerns about “homeland” security and prompts heightened scrutiny of incoming travelers at airports, borders and ports. In late June of 2018, The Trump Administration’s travel ban was passed by the Supreme Court. This ruling restricts and in some cases completely bans access to America, even asylum, from the countries of Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Venezuela. The hope of the travel ban was to better secure the U.S. border from possible terrorist attacks. President Trump said, “It was done for the security of our nation, the security of our citizens, so that people come in who aren't going to do us harm.”

During difficult economic times, some Americans fear not having job security. These citizens are fearful that there are so many immigrants coming to America for work, they will potentially take jobs that Americans need during difficult times. President Trump said the immigrants “compete directly against vulnerable American workers.” On the contrary, a report done by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine says, “The prospects for long-run economic growth in the United States would be considerably dimmed without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants.” High-skilled immigrants have helped create jobs and spark innovation in America. This report concludes that immigrants have a “positive impact” on the nation’s economy.

Timeline of Immigration Policies

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