American history is not marked by heavenly lifestyle, but it’s filled with violence and conflicts. One of the major issues that challenge America's democratic setup is their ethnic diversity. After the civil war, the ethnic divisions continued among people and this time the conflicts are based on immigrants. The tensions surrounding immigration peaked from 1875 to 1930 where the US governments during that period came up with so many legislations in swift response to these tensions. In this assignment, we would analyse the important events of immigration between 1875-1930 that caused major tensions and how the US governments responded to these tensions. We would also analyse the current immigration situation in the US and compare it with the situation of 1875-1930 and conclude with similarities on these issues from both eras.
Social Setup in America
In today's America, we see people from all races from the world as a part of their social setup. America's population includes people from Europe, Africa, Asia and its very own ethnic Native Americans. In simple terms, we can call America as a 'Little World'. The current social lifestyle in America with these different ethnic groups is an outcome of immigration that took place on a large scale since its independence. In the 19th Century, the flow of people from these continents reached millions after the job opportunities increased following the country's fastest economic growth. After the historical discovery of gold in 1848, the immigration levels increased to an alarming rate. For example, a major group of around 20,000 Chinese miners immigrated during this period in search of job opportunities. Similarly, a large number of Europeans as well as the native Mexicans followed during that time period. The presence of these groups brought in a new social order. However, their presence also led to ethnic tensions especially in the form of race and religious beliefs.
Ethnic differences in American society due to immigration
During the 19th Century, there was no firm policy from the US governments to immigration. As the country required a large number of labourers to improve their basic infrastructure and increase growth in many sectors, the governments allowed immigration during this period. At this time, the restrictions were mainly on people with criminal backgrounds and hence disallowed them from entering the country as migrants. There are large numbers of immigrants from Europe who migrated to the country during this time. Initially, it was the Irish people from very low financial backgrounds who moved to the country on a large scale. As historical facts suggest that there are over two million from Irish community who moved to the US during that period. The Germans followed it up on a large scale from the European continent. The Chinese and Japanese immigrants represent the ethnic groups of Asia. A major group of Africans followed the presence of these immigrants on large volume that brought in major challenges to US governments. As most European immigrants represented the Catholic Christian community, it’s become a challenge or even a threat to traditional Americans who formed the Christian Protestants community on a large scale. As a result of these divisions among Christian communities, tensions raised to a new level especially among low-income labourers where traditional Americans resisted the presence of immigrants sharing the same platform. Similarly, the migrants from Asia whose existing social class are far better compared to the Americans which led to ethnic differences based on living standards. The Americans find it humiliating after hesitation from these Asian immigrants to adapt to the American culture as they continued to live as separate ethnic groups by following their traditional urban ethnic lifestyle. Finally, the African immigrants who are brought in for low wages became victims of colour (Vellos, "Immigrant Latina Domestic Workers and Sexual Harassment"). Hence, the flow of immigrants helped the American government to raise the economic growth but also brought in major tensions in the form of ethnic differences among Native Americans and immigrants.
Government legislations on immigration during 1875-1930
As tensions mounted following immigration, the US government came up with its first major action plan by preventing the criminal convicts and prostitutes entering the country. The act of 1875 ensures that immigrants with these backgrounds are restricted from entering the country. The act is seen as a major move to restrict the flow of Chinese labourers as an anti-Chinese sentiment prevailed among Americans since they are given preference as they agree for very low-income jobs. This act identifies these immigrants as forced labourers and brands the women immigrants as prostitutes thus all these immigrants will be considered as convicts. This act thus figures out that these male labourers and female prostitutes are part of slavery. As slavery is banned in the US, this act opened the path by restricting these immigrants from getting into the US for cheap income opportunities anymore (Social Science Research Network, "The Page Act of 1875: In the Name of Morality"). The same year there is another proposal to restrict the flow of Chinese immigrants due to rising tensions between Chinese and European labourers. As a result, the US government introduced the “Chinese Exclusion Act” in 1882, which was also seen as a racist act. The new law thus disallowed Chinese immigration for a decade and also prevents new citizenship to the Chinese people in America. The law restricts the flow of unqualified labourers from entering the country as the skilled workers have to provide proper certifications from the Chinese government prescribing their qualifications. This law came as a big blow to the Chinese immigrants from getting better jobs in the US. Though this law was meant only for a decade, it was further extended for a couple of more decades thus prevented the Chinese immigrants from seeking further opportunities (Howard, "Immigration Act of 1882"). After succeeding against the Chinese immigrants, it’s the turn of their Asian counterparts Japan to face restrictions. By the turn of 20th Century, Japanese population rose to around 1% of California’s population and it led racial discrimination against Japanese immigrants. As growing tensions reached its peak, the education board in California passed an order in 1906 that force Japanese students to study in racially segregated schools. It created anger among the Japanese community in the country and also among people back home. In order to end this discrimination, President Roosevelt made an agreement with Japanese government known as ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’. This agreement prevents Japanese citizens travelling to the US with an exception to the state of Hawaii. In return, the US government agreed to allow relatives of Japanese immigrants who are already settled in the US and also allow their children to study in public schools in California. This mutual agreement was passed during 1907 to 1908. Thus, the movement of Japanese immigrants are restricted for a while by this agreement. However, the Japanese citizens continued to migrate to the US by entering into the state of Hawaii and then moved into the US. Though it is not seen as a violation to the ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’, it led to a major change in the future legislations when a new act was passed after the First World War which completely barred all the Japanese immigrants entering the US thus bringing an end to the Asian immigration (North American Immigration, "Gentlemen’s Agreement"). During this period around 1910, the immigrants from neighbouring Mexico moved in large numbers following an industrial revolution in their country that lead to serious turmoil. With the ‘Exclusion Act’ and ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ played a major role in restricting the Chinese and Japanese immigrants whose services are mainly utilized in agriculture and construction sectors as well as railroad works, the employers find it difficult to progress due to labour shortage. As a result, they went on to employ the skilled workers from bordering Mexican cities on an annual contract basis especially for the railroad works. Thus, thousands of Mexicans from the border moved into the US for better jobs. Even here, the US government preferred to limit the entry of Mexican immigrants by passing a that attracted only those qualified labours when their services are required and forcibly return those migrants whose services weren't required (Schmal, "Mexican Immigration in the Early Years: Helping to Build America’s Railroads"). Similarly, the US government in 1911 passed an act to restrict the flow of Europeans especially from eastern and southern parts of Europe. According to the report by “Dillingham Commission,” the immigration law to restrict Europeans was a result of a direct threat from them to the beliefs of American culture and society, especially on the religious beliefs. It was well known that traditional Americans are comprised of Protestants where the European immigrants represent Catholic community which led to religious tensions. Hence, the findings of the commission proposed for reading and writing test for European immigrants. It also suggests for limiting the European immigrants to 3% annually as per the existing population of the European nationals in the US. By the year 1921, the commission’s findings are made into various acts thus restricting the European immigrants on a large scale (Alchin, “Dillingham Commission”). As millions kept fleeing their countries in search of better life in America, the population level of non-origin Americans kept rising. In the year 1907, an estimated 1.3 million people migrated to the US through the Ellis Island in New York. As a major countermeasure, the US Congress passed the “Immigration Act” in 1917 after it was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson. This act was seen as an injustice to immigrants as they are required to undergo literacy test in order to get opportunities. A major controversy about this act was that it created an “Asiatic Barred Zone” which focuses on Asia and other islands in the Pacific region thus disallowing the immigrants from these regions from entering into the US. Hence, the movement of Asians into the US was brought under control (History.com, "Immigration act passed over Wilson’s veto"). By the year 1919, after the US was involved in the First World War, the immigration level has reduced on a large scale after immigrants find it difficult to get jobs as Americans were given priority than the immigrants. By 1930, following the 'Great Depression', the flow of immigrants has almost come to an end due to fewer opportunities. As Americans find it difficult to get proper jobs and just managed to survive on low-income daily wages whereas the immigrants were left with nothing to survive.
Immigration and Government Responses in the US today
In today's America, the skilled professionals from Asia are on a rise. American corporates are employing these professionals on a large scale which led to a major loss of jobs for local Americans. Hence, the US government came up with laws that restrict professionals by imposing new policies on providing visas, making it mandatory to have English knowledge for major jobs and restricting immigrants from buying major lands in the country. These policy changes remind the similar situation that prevailed during 1875-1930. During that period, the government came up with legislations that allow the use of skilled immigrants when they are required and relieve them when there is no requirement. A similar situation now exists where the skilled professionals are given employment visas for a limited period of time until or unless their services are required further by the companies they are employed in. After implementing visa policies, the immigrants are currently required to have good English knowledge in order to get major jobs including the ones in government sectors. Though the policy has been proposed and not been made into a law, it has a major significance in restricting the immigrants in getting major jobs including government jobs. This situation was similar to the one that prevailed in 1917 when the US congress introduced a law that required literacy test for Asian immigrants for getting job opportunities. The government also restricts the flow of immigrants from bordering countries as they pose serious threats in the illegal supply of arms, drugs and other materials. This current situation was almost similar to the one that prevailed in 1910. During that time, millions of Mexicans fled their country following the Mexican Industrial revolution. They moved to the US without proper documentation which created major worries to the government. As this is clearly seen as illegal immigration, the government passed the law to retain only the skilled workers and deport unskilled workers whose services didn’t require further (Council on Foreign Relations, "The U.S. Immigration Debate"). The move by the US governments, then and now, ensured that there are no threats related to security as the presence of these immigrants are well documented and their movements within the country are well monitored. Thus, the fears of illegal movement on bordering areas are restricted and kept well in check. Hence a clear signal has been given to the immigrants in the US today that they will be assured of job safety based on their skill sets provided they abide by the laws that ensure safety and security to the people.
My view on the immigration issue
The current US immigration restrictions are justified. The justification is purely based on the facts that have been displayed in this paper. In order to summarize the facts, the first major action plan from the US government to restrict immigration took place in the year 1875 by restricting the prostitutes and immigrants with criminal backgrounds. It followed up by the action plan against Asian immigrants especially the Chinese immigrants on a large scale. By bringing in new legislations in the next few decades, the chances of illegal immigrants taking advantage of growth opportunities in the country is prevented completely. By the time, the ‘Great Depression’ happened, the arrival of immigrants reduced on its own as opportunities dried out mostly for immigrants. Similarly, the new immigration policies are in place which shouldn’t be seen as an unfair target on immigrants but focussed firmly on creating jobs for local Americans first. The government policy changes on visa and enforcing the English language further ensure that there is no place for immigrants who don’t want to grow in their lives. Moreover, the strict policy of the government to focus only on skilled workers for a limited period of time ensures that the safety of people is not compromised. As history clearly suggest the social setup and harmony was maintained through the strictest actions of US governments during 1875-1930 by passing many laws related to immigration. These laws during that time ensured job safety and security for Americans and also avoided an ethnic war like situation during that period due to immigration. Ever since 9/11 happened in the US, the action plans by the successful US governments are fair and acceptable when it comes to the situation of giving proper treatment to the immigrants. Overall, the situations during 1875-1930 and now has many similarities as we have known by now. The actions of governments might look unjustified on both occasions but on the larger interest of the nation it proved to be correct.
“Dillingham Commission” Alchin, Linda. 2015. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"Gentlemen’s Agreement". North American Immigration. 2015. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"Immigration Act of 1882". Howard, Dean. 2012. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"Immigration act passed over Wilson’s veto". History.com. 2015. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"Immigrant Latina Domestic Workers and Sexual Harassment". Vellos, Diana. 1997. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"Mexican Immigration in the Early Years: Helping to Build America’s Railroads". Schmal, John P. 2015. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"The Page Act of 1875: In the Name of Morality". Social Science Research Network. 2010. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.
"The U.S. Immigration Debate". Council on Foreign Relations. 2015. Web. Accessed on 14 July 2015.