If you live in California, it's easy to yawn about this -- so yeah, what else is new? But obviously these changing realities are what drives much of the terror that riles the crazier white corners of the land.
- The new United States' very first law in this area, the Naturalization Act of 1790, "excluded non-white people from eligibility to naturalize. " Our white forbears wanted more workers, but not those people, however defined over the decades. This prohibition was not removed until the Reconstruction era 1870 naturalization act allowed "eligibility to individuals of African nativity or descent."
- In the late 19th century, the white people of the west sought and got Chinese (and other East Asian) Exclusion Acts. Tough workers from Asia were a wonderful tool for building the transcontinental railroad, but they weren't having any more of those people. In 1903, federal immigration law also banned "anarchists, beggars, and importers of prostitutes." Restrictions of various sorts on Asian immigration lasted until well into World War II and beyond. They were only removed for Chinese when we found ourselves promoting our benevolent variant of imperialism as an alternative to Japan's. Competition with Communism led to further openings to Asia in the 1950s.
- The Immigration Act of 1924 set a hard cap of 165,000 annual immigration visas, and used national-origin quotas to confine this to persons of English-speaking or other northern European origins. The restrictionists had got their way, notably in ending mass migration from southern and eastern Europe. Pew doesn't say this -- and correlation does not equal causation -- but The Great Migration of African Americans from the south to take up factory work in northern cities might never have been possible without the 1924 immigration restrictions. Industrialists needed somebody in those jobs.
- The 1965 revision changed all this. Pew opts for the safe explanation, attributing its radical opening to mass worldwide immigration to multiple factors without pulling out a dominant thread.
And so, in the Sixties, the United States once again affirmed itself a "a nation of immigrants" without much sense of the implications. (I bet the capitalists knew where we going, but it took the rest of us, and the new Americans, awhile to catch up.)
- Meanwhile, throughout the country's history, Mexican and Latino immigration had been a constant. For Mexicans, the border crossed them rather than they crossed the border. When the Southwest needed labor, the Mexicans served. They weren't included in naturalization systems and quotas. When the bosses were done with them, they sometimes literally packed them in trains and sent them back. But in the new era of (more) civil rights, some began to exercise citizenship. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act sought to regularize the legal status of millions of people in legal limbo; roughly 2.7 million people acquired legal status. They and their children have gradually taken up their role as citizens in the states where immigration is largest: California, Florida, New York and Texas.
Pew makes a couple of points about contemporary legal immigrants that I found new:
Obviously, if you have any interest in immigration issues -- and who can not? -- Pew's entire report is worth exploring. it is highly accessible, full of graphic enhancements, and waiting for a click. Give it a look.