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Immigration Policy and the Golden Door, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1606

Essay

American is a melting pot of numerous ethnicities and nationalities. It will always be a nation that has opened up its doors to immigrants, and will likely do so for the next generation. The term “Golden Door” was inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, coined from the poem of Emna Lazarus, the borders of United States has been a bone of contention throughout American history. There is an estimated 20 million illegal immigrants in the United States. To say that the dominant part of individuals in the United States have a tie with an ethnic foundation from an alternate nation would be a gross understatement. The immigration policy has changed several times over the course of history in reflection of the attitudes and trends of the political system in the United States. An author who has written extensively on the history of immigration, Roger Daniels in his book, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882, he provides a chronological account of the how the Immigration policy in America has changed since the 19th and 20th century. More importantly Daniels reiterates what many in America have, a dualistic attitude that revels in the past of immigration integration, but reject the notion of immigration in the present.

Looking at the first part of Daniels book, “The Golden Doors Open”, he begins with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As Daniels puts it, “it was conceived in ignorance, was falsely presented to the public, and had consequences undreamt of by its creators” (Daniels 3) immigration has long been a serious issues that has been shrouded in controversy in creating the correct public policy in regulating the issue. During the Civil War, the government welcomed immigrants because they would help in fighting with both the Union and the Confederacy, particularly in small units, that at the time ended the furor against immigrants. (Daniels 11) However, many politicians were against immigrants as a political action was largely formed against immigrants coming into the country. The Know-Nothings, secret members of the Protestant organization took oaths that stated, “to resist the insidious policy of the Church of Rome, and all other foreign influences against the institutions of our country, by placing in all offices in the gift of the people, whether by election or by appointment,  none but native-born Protestant citizens.” (Daniels 10) The faction grew in a few years to over 2 million people, and helped push several anti-immigrant statutes. Many were denied to vote, lengthened the years people could get naturalization, and bar them holding any public offices. The movement was largely supported by their religion, but as they tried to move towards the presidency election the group and the agenda collapsed.

The attitudes during the Civil War era changed when the country needed them the most. However the issues that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act was problematic from the start. During the 1850s Chinese begin to immigrate toward the American West and California in large numbers. Many came from all over seeking gold, with the intention to return home with gold they found. After the Union-Central Pacific Railroad, many Chinese immigrants helped in building the railroads, which became a pivotal moment in pushing the anti-Chinese political agenda. Many radicals believed that the Chinese would be invaded by the Asian army, or what others called the yellow Peril. (Daniels 13) Those in the south fantasized that the Chinese would bring in a new form of slavery, and many objected to the ideal of providing naturalization to Chinese immigrants. The treaty of 1880 gave United States the right to limit, suspend, or regulate the residence and the comings of Chinese laborers, and the Congress passed the bill to suspend the immigration of Chinese immigrants for twenty years. (Daniels 19) It is how Daniels defined it, “the Exclusion Act is clearly the pivot on which all American immigration policy turned, the hinge on which Emma Lazarus’s “Golden Door” began to swing toward a closed petition.” (Daniels 20) Until 1943, it initiated a pivotal area in which increased the restrictions of immigration to all kinds, until it was repealed. Americans had no direct issue with the Chinese laborers helping to build the railroads, but when it affected their economy, it became an issue.

The political attitude shifted toward many believing that immigrants were coming to the United States temporarily to take advantage of the industrial economy. Many “nativists” did not agree with the factions of immigrants continuing to come to America. Such groups, the Immigration Restriction League, founded by Harvard graduates in 1894, goals was  in preserving the country by not allowing any other races of people that were considered foreigners to infiltrate the Anglo-Saxon society of the United States.  (Daniels 31) They believed in keeping America to people of Scandinavian, German, and Slav descent, instead of immigrants. Many in the league push for literacy tests for naturalization or voting, and others wanted to restrict immigration wanted to close the borders to protect the country from invasion. There way of educating the public was through journal and newspaper articles, meetings, pamphlets, books, and other ways to sound the alarm over the flood of immigrations that posed danger to the country. The group tried to introduce a bill to Congress in which would restrict immigrants through the means of numerical limitation in which would reduce the number of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, and increase immigration from Western and Northern Europe. Through their political allies they introduce their agenda into Congress. It wasn’t until the events of World War I and the Red Scare did people’s attention divert from anti-immigration initiatives. However the post-war depression impacted the economy has the unemployment rate decreased, and it was used in whipping up the furor of immigrants taking over jobs that could go to the ex-servicemen. Many foreigners were pouring into the United States, and many were upset at the hordes of Europeans, that it called for political action. Or in the case, deportations delirium of 1921. (Daniels 47) So much so that Congress passed the 1921 Immigration Act, otherwise known as the Emergency Quote Actin which many wanted the law to be permanent system of immigration control. It added numerical limits to immigrants coming from Europe, and only people who had similar cultures of America could get in such as Northern Europe.

What the law didn’t account for was the influx number of immigrants that would come from Central America. During the 1900s to the 1920s there were mass immigration to the United States as Mexico deteriorated from war, poverty, and other issues. However, Mexicans faced discrimination, prejudice, and social movements from those that opposed the Mexican immigrants. The issue of Mexican immigration divided many of the restrictionists, in which the Mexican immigration became a permanent issue that was a defeat for the group. (Daniels 63) Many believed that the immigrants were unclean, illiterate, and low-grade Indians, however others felt they caused no trouble, and should be Americanized. When the depression hit, many Americans took their frustration out on the Mexican immigrants, as they were treated harshly, they were arrested, deported, and faced other socio-political realities in which they were denied some of the benefits that left them homeless and in poverty. They were being denied jobs as laborers because of the growing hostility, and divided the Mexican Americans from the immigrants that were denied benefits and programs. The attitudes towards immigration changed in which many believed that the immigrants were taking over the jobs, financial relief, and not deserving of the programs that were supposed to help the American people.

Lyndon B. Johnson finally put an end to the quota system, as many in the Democratic Party saw it the political system as a deliberate discrimination, and it “contradicts the founding principles of this nation” and is “inconsistent with our beliefs in the rights of man.” (Daniels 129) The Republican Party also took a turn as they felt that immigration helped in the economic growth, and should abandon the outdated laws. While Kennedy did not do anything on the immigration front, Lyndon did in 1965. The consequences however, it led to a mass increase of immigration to the United States. Many petitioned for their relatives to come to the United States, as entire families established themselves into the country. The law while trying to eradicate the old laws, subsequently created more problems with the influx of refugees and immigrants coming to America, with the open door policy.

While throughout the decades to until September 11, 2001, there was a contentious debate between the immigration and anti-immigration movement. As Daniels put it a mass majority of immigrants came to the US to work, or join their families. They came casually across the border. As Daniel’s illustrated they came in first class travels, and other comfortable means in which at the time was not an issue in getting across the border. (Daniels 261) However, after 9/11 the attitudes towards immigration radically changed. Many immigrants that were from Islamic countries were falsely prosecuted, arrested, and persecuted. Many were detained, and many were departed although not one was charged with connection to terrorist activities or 9/11. The polices soon became similar to that of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and placing restrictions on immigrations trying to cross into the borders. The latest immigration policy is in reflection the current attitudes of the US political system. While the attitudes were dualistic in turning an eye to immigrant labor, in times of crisis their policies reflected the growing furor over closing the golden doors.

Works Cited

Daniels, Roger. Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants since 1882. Canada; Hill and Wang. 2004. Book

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