Thursday, May 04, 2006

It was easier in the old days

Challanged by the assertion that today's migrants should obey the law and come to the US the way "my grandparent came" legally. I started researching how the law might have changed in the last 100 years. I was trying to find out exactly when restriction on coming to America included the use of visa and passports, because as late as the early 1900's all it seems you had to have was a way to get here and aletter from someone saying you had a job promised. And you didn't have to have a dime in your pocket or anyone actually verifying that you HAD a job or were gainfully employed.

Yep the law has changed a lot. All of this information and more can be found by simply doing a Google search for Wikipedia (the free on line encyclopedia). Some of this information listed below is exactly quoted from that source, other parts are abstracted for/due to space and time limitations.

In 1790 the first Naturalization Act was passed. It limited immigration to free while men of good moral character who could obtain citizenship in a mere 2 years, after swearing to defend the Constitution.

In 1795 it was amended to include provisions that the person declare his intention he had to wait 2 years before doing soto become a citizen of the United States,apply for the citizenship and give up any rights to a title or rights of nobility in any foreign land. The time nesessary as a resident in the United States was increased to 5 years. This version also included the right of children under the age of 21 to become citizens when their father did. Women, like servants were just assumed into the system because "everyone knows" women and people from Asian countries didn't have the intelligence to reason and vote, so they didn't really matter. There was also a provision that you could not be insane or have a mental defect, be an imbecile.

In 1798, again limiting the law to "free white" persons the delcaration time was increased to 5 years and the residency requirement to 14 years before one could become a citizen.

In 1882, in response to the Burlinggame Treaty the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed prohibiting the entry of any person of Chinese Origin, no matter what his country, from immigrating to the United States for a period of 10 years. This stopped Chinese people , who came in response to the California Gold Rush in 1849 , from continuing to arrive in the United States. It has since been repealed, but remains a part of the US Code and is the only law that specifically prohibits immigration of any one ethnic or racial group.

The Geary Act was a United States law passed in 1892 written by California Congressman Thomas J. Geary. It extended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by 10 years and adding new requirements.The law required all Chinese residents of the United States to carry a resident permit, a sort of internal passport. Failure to carry the permit at all times was punishable by deportation or a year at hard labor. In addition, Chinese were not allowed to bear witness in court, and could not receive bail in habeas corpus proceedings.

The Geary Act was challenged in the courts and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1893. So much for due process, huh? The act was renewed until 1943 when it was repealed by the passage of the Magnuson Act allowing a quota of 105 Chinese to enter the country legally, per year.

Another bit of direct info from Wikipedia:
In the United States, the Emergency Quota Act of May 19, 1921 limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 3% of the number of persons from that country living in the United States in 1910, according to Census figures. This totaled about 357,802 immigrants. Of that number just over half was allocated for northern and western Europeans, and the remainder for eastern and southern Europeans, a 75% reduction from prior years. Professionals were allowed in despite their origins. The act was passed in a time of swelling isolationism following World War I.

This part of the explaination I thought was most informative, due to the nature of the current immigration situation regarding illegal Mexicans. Again, it's lifted from the Wikipedia word for word.

The United States Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the National Origins Quota Act, Johnson-Reed Act, or the Immigration Quota Act of 1924, established a system of national quotas which limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people who were already living in the United States in 1890, according to the census of 1890. (total quota: 164,667) 86% of the quotas were allocated to northern and western European countries. It superseded the 1921 Emergency Quota Act. The law was aimed at reducing the influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s, and prohibited immigration from Asia. It set no limits on immigration from the western hemisphere which was exempt due to the dependence of the southern states on inexpensive Mexican labor.

It passed with strong congressional support (only 6 dissenting votes in the Senate). Some of its strongest supporters were influenced by Madison Grant and his 1916 book, The Passing of the Great Race. Grant was a eugenicist and advocate of the racial hygiene theory. His data, which is now considered by the vast majority of scientists to be flawed, purported to show the superiority of the founding Northern European races.

My observation is that this one little law is also very racist. It doesn't exclude Mexicans, and it doesn't limit them. Looks like we realized - even then - that we needed them. If you go to the Wikipedia and read more about this Johnson Reed Act you'll notice it was also pretty anti-semetic. What ever happened to that right to practice your own religion I wonder?

I'll continue searching for those magic laws that make it harder to just show up with a promise of a job. But I am tired and want to get to bed early tonight.

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