In writing the Declaration Of Independence Thomas Jefferson used a lot of passionate flowery rhetoric that Americans dearly love to call forth as proof of the superiority of our political institutions. Chief among the collection is the ringing phrase All men are created equal The funny thing is that 13 years later when the founding fathers got around to putting together the nuts and bolts of the new nation and its government, those notions managed to fall entirely by the wayside.
The people who held power in the 13 former colonies that came together in Philadelphia to draw up a constitution were all descended from immigrants from the British Isles. In drawing up this constitution they deliberately excluded two groups of people who were living in the new nation entirely from its polity. For the aboriginal indigenous people known as American Indians they created the fiction of separate "nations" that would execute "treaties" with the US government. This approached functioned to exclude them from the legal rights granted to citizens of the US.
There were also present a sizable number of people who were descended from Africans who had involuntarily immigrated to North America as chattel slaves. The constitutional convention basically took the approach of kicking the can of slavery down the road. To placate the southern states they allowed them to count slaves as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of political apportionment. Of course the slaves were given none of the rights of citizens. Having created a nation of and for white men, they looked upon their work and were pleased.
Once the constitution was ratified the first congress of the United States convened. One of its first acts was to pass:
Naturalization Act of 1790
The original United States Naturalization Law of March 26, 1790 (1 Stat. 103) provided the first rules to be followed by the United States in the granting of national citizenship. This law limited naturalization to aliens who were "free white persons" and thus left out indentured servants, slaves, free blacks, and later Asians, as well as women. This was the only statute that ever purported to grant the status of natural born citizen.
A white folks country is what they had and they meant to keep it that way.
Most of us in the present day would describe that as thoroughly racist behavior. Of course racism was not a word that was in use then, but that didn't change the reality. The notions of race really didn't get fully developed until the Social Darwinism of the 19th C. However, Europeans and their American relations of the 18th C were fully convinced that they were constitutionally superior to all other people on the earth. That's racism.
The US continued to import new slaves from Africa until 1804. After that the growth of the slave population was mostly by natural increase. The bulk of the immigration in the early years of the republic was from Western Europe, no problem.
With the discovery of gold in California the west began to open up. There was an influx of prospectors from all over the world. Some of those arrivals were from China. They <gasp> weren't white. Those that persisted in prospecting for gold were shoved onto the most unpromising claims. Many of them wound up doing menial work for the white miners. As railroads were built to open up the west, Chinese coolies were extensively used for the difficult and often dangerous work.
There is a rich an interesting history of the conflicts that developed between the Chinese immigrants and the Americans who had migrated from the eastern United States. Riots and violence were a regularly recurring feature. A generation of populist politicians built their careers by stirring up hysteria against the YELLOW PERIL. Finally agitation reached a level sufficient to persuade congress to pass the
Chinese Exclusion Act
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed into law by Chester A. Arthur on May 8, 1882, following revisions made in 1880 to the Burlingame Treaty of 1868. Those revisions allowed the U.S. to suspend immigration, and Congress subsequently acted quickly to implement the suspension of Chinese immigration, a ban that was intended to last 10 years.
By 1860 the politicians had run out of tricks to keep kicking the can of slavery down the road. The nation erupted into civil war. At the end of an incredibly bloody conflict the slaves were freed. An attempt was made at reconstruction, but when that got in the way of the booming industrial growth it was quickly abandoned and the freed slaves were left in a condition that was difficult to distinguish from their former circumstances.
The economy of the northeastern corner of the country took off at an astronomical pace. It had an insatiable hunger for labor. European immigrants began to flow across the Atlantic in vast waves. This time they were coming increasingly from southern and eastern Europe. The resident descendants of the western Europeans wondered, are these people really white? However many of them were willing to work cheap in sweat shop conditions and coal mines, so not too many questions were asked.
Over the course of the next of the next 50 years large concentrations of non-WASP developed in the major American cities. They began to organize themselves and acquire political power. The reaction to this frightening development on the part of the countries more respectable folk became known as nativism. Catholics, Jews and people speaking anything other than English were the favored targets. It was probably not until after world war II that the descendants of those targets became integrated on a fully equal footing into American society.
Japanese immigrants began arriving on the west coast following the Chinese Exclusion Act. They found productive niches in agriculture and fishing. As their numbers and economic success became a threat to the white nativists conflict developed. In 1907 the US government entered into a Gentlemans Agreement with the government of Japan to end further Japanese immigration to the US. Asian immigrants were denied US citizenship on the basis of the origional immigration act. Their children born in the US however had the right to become citizens. In the early years of the 20th C several western sates passed laws making it illegal for non-citizens ineligible for citizenship to own land. This created the bizarre situation of family property being held in the name of their citizen children.
When the US entered world war I about one in four US residents were not native born. Tensions between the new arrivals and the nativists was chronically high. Following the war this resulted in an effort to shut down immigration. This was codified in the
Immigration Act of 1924
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, Asian Exclusion Act (43 Statutes-at-Large 153), was a United States federal law that limited the number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890, down from the 3% cap set by the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, according to the Census of 1890. It excluded immigration of Asians. It superseded the 1921 Emergency Quota Act. The law was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans who were immigrating in large numbers starting in the 1890s, as well as prohibiting the immigration of East Asians and Asian Indians.
This resulted in a greatly reduced number of total new immigrants and attempted to tilt the balance of those admitted back toward Western Europe where the real white folks came from.
The great depression of the 1930s increased the general level of hostility to immigration. Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution were often unable to gain entry and many of them wound up in the concentration camps. In the west the same political atmosphere gave rise to the
The Mexican Repatriation refers to a forced migration that took place between 1929 and 1939, when as many as one million people of Mexican descent were forced or pressured to leave the US. (The term "Repatriation," though commonly used, is inaccurate, since approximately 60% of those driven out were U.S. citizens.) The event, carried out by American authorities, took place without due process. The Immigration and Naturalization Service targeted Mexicans because of "the proximity of the Mexican border, the physical distinctiveness of mestizos, and easily identifiable barrios."
The arrival of world war II brought the massive forced internment of Japanese Americans. This was without doubt one of the most shamefully racist chapters of American history. Much excellent scholarship about it has been done it in recent years.
World war II dramatically reversed the situation in the US labor market. The defense industries provided employment for most Americans who were not in the military. The Japanese Americans were tucked away behind barbed wire. Somebody had to feed all these people. The US suddenly found itself faced with a Mexican shortage. To deal with the need for agricultural labor the US government initiated the
The Bracero Program (from the Spanish word brazo, meaning "arm") was a series of laws and diplomatic agreements, initiated by an August 1942 exchange of diplomatic notes between the United States and Mexico, for the importation of temporary contract laborers from Mexico to the United States. After the expiration of the initial agreement in 1947, the program was continued in agriculture under a variety of laws and administrative agreements until its formal end in 1964.
The continuation of this program after the war was the beginning of the present long running political battle over documented and undocumented entry of migrant workers.
So there you have a brief survey of US immigration law and policy since the nation's founding. Most immigration has been a matter of people coming here to do work that the existing residents didn't want to do or to do it cheaper than the existing residents were willing to do it. In times of economic prosperity the public has generally been willing to tolerate the influx of new workers. However, when recessions inevitably come along, these workers provide convenient scapegoats for economic insecurity. White Americans have always wanted to view people who weren't like them as a disposable commodity.
There will of course be people who object to this diary. However, my view is that the United States of America has been a racist project since the first European colonists arrives at the beginning of the 17th C and proceeded to shove the indigenous inhabitants out of the way. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1790 established an explicitly racist policy. That perspective continues to animate US immigration policy to this day.