Immigration Reform: History of Policies in the United StatesDecember 19th, 2009 | Posted by in immigration news
Immigration reform, in its broadest terms, refers to changes in the immigration policies of a country. The term is often used in the debate over immigration to refer to the limiting or tightening of immigration policies. The United States has a long history of limiting immigration during particular times or restricting certain groups from entering the country legally.
North America’s first inhabitants are believed to have come from Asia, via the land bridge over the Bering Sea. When the land bridge closed over 10,000 years ago, the individuals developed into Native American groups. European immigrants began arriving in the 1600s. The first naturalization law happened in 1790, extending citizenship to “free white persons” of “good moral character.”
Over the next few centuries, settlers in North America, most from a European background, imported African slaves to the United States. Although some came as indentured servants in the beginning, this soon changed to a purely forced immigration. Congress outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808 and slavery would end with the Civil War. Although African Americans were granted citizenship in the 1800s, they continued to face obstacles to basic rights like voting.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited Chinese immigration due to racist fears in the west, also known as the “Yellow Peril.” Chinese laborers already in the country, brought here for work on the railroad, were allowed to enter and leave the country for several years before even stricter limitations were placed on them. The policies would eventually be repealed in the 1940s.
In the early 1900s, the government negotiated with the Japanese government to limit immigration from Japan in what is known as the “Gentlemen’s Agreement.” Some Japanese men entered the United States after this via Hawaii on work contracts. The demand for female Japanese immigrants grew although Japan stopped issuing passports to Hawaii for single Japanese women.
In 1921, Congress established the Emergency Quota Act which limited immigration based on the percentage of individuals with particular nationalities already in the United States. The quotas were refigured in 1952 and for the first time, racial distinctions were dropped from immigration laws. A new immigration law in 1965 stopped the system of national origin quotas.
In the 1980s, laws were established to punish employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants, although the laws were not enforced widely. Within the next few years, the move was toward family reunification, allowing legal immigrants to bring their families into the country.
Immigration reform remains a hot issue in the twenty first century. Political candidates debate and propose various changes to the existing laws. While some favor stricter regulations and harsher punishments for illegal immigrants, others favor more lenient laws. With so many divergent views on the issue, immigration reform is likely to remain a hotly debated topic for some time in the United States.
Author: Frank Vanderlugt
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