History of Documented Immigration Policy: the Qualitative Restrictions Phase (1850s to 1920s)
In the mid-1800s, the United States began a phase of qualitative restrictions. There was a labor shortage during the 1840s, and many Chinese men and families had immigrated to fill this gap. During the recession that followed, stigma against the Chinese grew. Western states complained that wages were lowering due to Chinese immigration. Immigration policy during this time aimed to exclude “undesirable” immigrants based on country of origin (notably China), skills, and criminal background.
- 1868 14th Amendment: This amendment granted citizenship rights to all people born in the United States. Not all immigrants were considered equally eligible, however; aliens of African descent were eligible for naturalization, while Asians were not (US English Foundation, 2016).
- The Act of 1882: This act is considered the first federal immigration act, which barred (1) convicts; (2) prostitutes; (3) lunatics; (4) idiots; and (5) those likely to become public charges (dependent for support) from immigrating.
- 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act: Immigration of all Chinese laborers was banned. Current Chinese immigrants were denied naturalization, and undocumented immigrants could now be deported (Fix & Passel, 1994). The ban was not repealed until 1943 (US English Foundation, 2016).
- 1881: This Act added the (1) diseased; (2) paupers,” and “polygamists” to the list of people excluded from immigrating to the United States.
- 1903: And this act added (1) epileptics; (2) insane; (3) beggars; and (4) anarchists.
- 1906 Naturalization Act: Naturalization required the ability to speak and understand English (US English Foundation, 2016). This was implemented in an effort to discourage “inferior” immigrants from applying (Weissbrodt & Danielson, 2011).
- 1917 Immigration Act or Asiatic Barred Zone Act: Congress barred immigrants from most of Asia (US English Foundation, 2016). They also added a literacy test for naturalization and banned immigrants with “perceived mental inferiority”, which included homosexuality (Dunton, 2012).
History of Documented Immigration Policy: the Quantitative Restrictions Phase (1920s to 1950s)
In the early 1900s, the United States began a phase of quantitative immigration restrictions. The United States was again in a recession, and citizens feared that immigrants could reduce employment opportunities. Immigration policy now instituted quotas to restrict immigration.
- 1921 Quota law: Each national origin was given a quota limit. For example, immigrants from each European country could not exceed 3% of the national census of people from that country currently living in the United States. Quotas favored western and northern Europeans, and most Asian countries continued to be excluded (US English Foundation, 2016).
- 1924 Immigration and Naturalization Act, also known as Johnson-Reed Act: This restricted the annual quota to 2% for each country, substantially reducing total immigration. The system favored Southern and Eastern European immigrants, and immigrants from most Asian countries were prohibited (US English Foundation, 2016).
- 1952 McCarran-Walter Act: This act, and the amendments below, remains the basic body of immigration law. It opened immigration for many countries, establishing quotas for all countries (US English Foundation, 2016). It also established a quota for immigrants whose skills were needed in the labor force (Fix & Passel, 1994). The act also implemented a four admission preferences: (1) unmarried adult sons and daughters of United States citizens; (2) spouses and unmarried sons and daughters of United States citizens; (3) professionals, scientists, and artists of exceptional ability; and (4) married adult sons and daughters of United States citizens.
History of Documented Immigration Policy: the Inclusive Phase (1950s to Present)
President Kennedy denounced the national origins quota system (“Immigrant policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn the world, and our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.”). The civil rights movement gave further additional power to a more inclusionary policy system. Immigration policy began to eliminate racial, national, and ethnic biases (Fix & Passel, 1994).
- 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act or Immigration and Nationality Act and 1978 Amendments. In this act, the national ethnicity quotas were repealed. Instead, a cap was set for each hemisphere. Priority was given to family reunification and employment skills. This shifted away from a priority on European Immigration (Fix & Passel, 2004), and led to a substantial increase in documented immigration (Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2005). This act also expanded the original four admission preferences to seven, adding: (5) siblings of United States citizens; (6) workers, skilled and unskilled, in occupations for which labor was in short supply in the United States; and (7) refugees from Communist-dominated countries or those affected by natural disasters.
- 1990 Immigration Act: This act increased the ceiling for employment-based immigration and eased the limits on family-based immigration (US English Foundation, 2016). It was created as a compromise between exclusionary and inclusionary policies (see undocumented immigration section below), but ultimately led to a 40% increase in total admissions (Fix & Passel, 1994). It also created a Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, known as the “Green Card Lottery,” increasing the focus on diversity in admissions. Each year, the Attorney General issues visas through this program to regions that sent few immigrants to the United States.
- 2000 Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act: This act temporarily revived a section of the Immigration Act, allowing qualified immigrants to obtain permanent residency, even if they entered without documents.
- 2001 Patriot Act: This act allowed for the indefinite detention of immigrants
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: The Dream Act, proposed in the Senate in 2001, would allow for conditional permanent residency to immigrants who arrived in the US as minors and have long-standing US residency. While this bill has not been signed into law, the Obama administration has created renewable two-year work permits for those who meet these standards.
History of Undocumented Immigration Policy
Before the mid-1900s, there were few policies that regulated the identification and deportation of undocumented immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1891 introduced undocumented immigration policy by establishing the Bureau of immigration, responsible for deportation of undocumented immigrants. In 1940, the Alien Registration Act allowed for all previously undocumented immigrants to obtain legal recognition. All residents who were not US citizens were required to register with the government. They were given a receipt card (AR-3) as proof of compliance. After World War II, this became part of the immigration procedure. Immigrants were now given a visitors form, temporary foreign laborer card, or a permanent resident card (“green card”; US English Foundation, 2016).
Policies became much more stringent beginning in the mid-1900s. Immigration rates dropped during the Great Depression resulting in a labor shortage. The government established the Bracero program in 1942 to actively recruit temporary agricultural laborers from Mexico. Over 4 million Mexican laborers were recruited over the next twenty years (Mandeel, 2014). Through this program, Mexican immigrants began to establish homes and social networks in the United States, and in turn, helped friends and family to come to the United States both legally and illegally.
There was controversy over the Bracero program. As a result, the INS implemented “Operation Wetback” that targeted and deported Mexican immigrants between 1954 and 1964. When the Bracero program ended in 1964, there was an influx in undocumented immigration (Mandeel, 2014; Nadadur, 2009). Legislation after this point has aimed to reduce undocumented immigration.
- 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act: This act was implemented in response to criticism of the United States being unable to control the flow of undocumented immigrants. The act made it illegal to hire undocumented workers, and created sanctions. It required that states verify immigration status of applicants for welfare (Fix & Passel, 1994). It expanded border enforcement (Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2005; Fix & Passel, 1994). These provisions were meant to reduce enticements to immigrate without documentation, and to enforce immigration policy. However, it also granted amnesty to all people living without documents prior to 1982, and to their immediate families in other countries (US English Foundation, 2016). This led to the legalization of more than one percent of the United States population (Fix & Passel, 1994). In order to reduce financial burdens of this declaration of amnesty, the act also provided funds for states to provide health care, public assistance, and English education (Meissner, Meyers, Papademetriou & Fix, 2006), but barred most previously undocumented immigrants from receiving federal public welfare assistance for five years (Weissbrodt & Danielson, 2011).
- 1996 Undocumented Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act: This act aimed to reduce undocumented immigration. It reduced benefits for legal immigrants, such as food stamps and welfare. It increased border control and expedited deportation of undocumented immigrants and increased required documentation for employment (US English Foundation, 2016).
- 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act: This act expedited the removal of foreigners convicted of felonies, or who do not have proper documentation. The felony bar remains today and is an important determinant of immigrants being deported, even if they arrived in the United States legally.
- 2000 Life Act and Section 245(i): This allowed undocumented immigrants present in the United States to adjust their status to permanent resident, if they had family or employers to sponsor them (US English Foundation, 2016).
- 2001 Patriot Act: The sociopolitical climate post-September 11, 2001 drastically changed immigrant policies in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed in 2002 and absorbed Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). This act created two other agencies: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). This act also enhanced immigration enforcement, and barred immigrants with potential terrorist links (US English Foundation, 2016).
- 2005: The House of Representatives passed a bill that increased enforcement at the borders, focusing on national security rather than family or economic influences (Meissner, Meyers, Papademetriou & Fix, 2006).
- 2005 REAL ID Act: This act required that before states issue a driver’s license or identification care, they must verify the applicant’s legal status.
- 2006: The Senate passed a bill that expanded legal immigration, in order to decrease undocumented immigration (Meissner, Meyers, Papademetriou & Fix, 2006).