Coming To America

Hey there reader, I hope you’re doing great.  I started another book, Coming to America by Roger Daniels.  He explained the history of immigration and ethnicity in America.  

Immigrants come for various reasons: usually they were “pulled” toward a new land for economic reasons but sometimes they were “pushed” out of their native country for punitive reasons.  Immigration was usually a young man’s adventure: 2 out of 3 immigrants were young males.  And remigration presents a problem to demographers: the Census avoids counting people twice.

Colonial Era Immigration Patterns

The first immigrants to arrive in North America were the Native Americans of course, but unfortunately they were moved to reservations by English colonists.  Indentured servants came to North America by committing to work for their sponsors, who paid for their travel expenses, for contracts of 4 to 7 years.  50,000 indentured servants came from Europe to Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia before the 17th century.

But sometimes indentured servants ran away and the high costs of capturing them led to the importation of African slaves: it was easier to identify runaway slaves than runaway indentured servants or prisoners.

The US census determined ethnic origins based on spoken language.  For example, immigrants from Austria, Poland, Prussia and Switzerland were considered German if they spoke German.  Immigrants from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales were considered English, their ability to speak English was advantageous.

19th Century Immigration Patterns

The Irish and German were the most common ethnicities to immigrate to the US after the English during the colonial era.

The Irish immigrated for several reasons; the Great Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849, industrial jobs in England, Canada and the US and the California Gold Rush of 1848.  Many Irish immigrants walked from Canada to the US and for the most part, Irish immigrants lived in cities in the northeastern US.  The ability to speak English made communication and assimilation less of a burden to overcome for Irish immigrants. Irish immigrants and their offspring focused on politics and voted for the Democratic Party.  They organized unions and were mostly Catholic: many Irish can be found in the Catholic priesthood today.

German immigrants came to the US from Austria, Poland, Prussia and Switzerland. They moved to cities and rural areas in the midwest, they farmed and developed German speaking communities.  German immigrants brought their trade-craft of the old country to the new world by brewing beer, making cheeses and printing newspapers.  German immigrants were mostly Catholic or Jewish, they and emphasized industriousness and productivity.  Jewish immigrants from Germany and the Irish had the lowest remigration rates in the US from 1812 to 1924.

A great number of workers were displaced by farm machinery in the plains of central and southern Italy and immigrated to the US following after the Civil War.  Italian immigrants found work in American cities using a padrone, similar to a labor foreman.  The vast majority of Italian immigrants were Catholic, of course.

Daniels debunked several myths about immigration through out this book.  For example, America was never a melting pot.  It would be better to compare American immigration to a mosaic: cultural distinctions remain for several generations within the general culture.

He also presented several immigration theories which seem logical; like it’s easier to be poor in a more equal, developing country than it is to be poor in a poor country: jobs and infrastructure in developing countries make work and life more livable.  Also, it’s easier to live a prosperous life in a poorer country after one immigrated, worked and returned to their native country.  And finally, new immigrant groups replaced old immigrant neighborhoods.  For example, Germantown could become Little Italy after a generation.

Nativist Backlash

Daniels wrote anti-immigrant backlash was always part of American history.  The Naturalization Act of 1790 allowed an immigrant to apply for citizenship if they were a “free white person, being of good character, and living in the United States for two years” after they took an oath of allegiance.  The Naturalization Act of 1795 required a 5 year residency period for immigrants which is still enforced.  However, the Alien And Sedition Acts of 1798 increased the residency period to 14 years and allowed the President to imprison and deport aliens “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” but these laws weren’t enforced by the Jefferson administration.

The Protestant Know Nothings opposed Catholic Irish and German immigration during the 19th century.  In 1856, the Know Nothings wanted “Repeal of all Naturalization Laws, None but Americans for office, War to the hilt, on political Romanism, More stringent & effective Emigration Laws, The amplest protection to Protestant Interests, The sending back of all foreign paupers, Eternal enmity to all those who attempt to carry out the principles of a foreign Church or State and Finally,-American Laws, and American legislation; and death to all foreign influences, whether in high places or low!”

A battery of anti-immigrant, nativist laws were passed during and after the Civil War;

  • The Anti-Coolie Act of 1862 banned the immigration of people from China.  The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended naturalization eligibility to “aliens being free white persons, and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent” but didn’t extend naturalization to Chinese immigrants.  The Chinese Exclusion Act excluded Chinese immigrants for the subsequent 10 year period and ordered all Chinese laborers to be deported if they arrived after November 17, 1880.  The Geary Act of 1892 extended Chinese exclusion for another 10 years and required Chinese immigrants to carry identification papers.  The Scott Act of 1902 extended Chinese exclusion indefinitely.
  • The Immigration Act of 1882 placed a tax of 50 cents tax on all sojourners at US ports.  Officials inspected passengers and if they appeared to be convicts, lunatics, idiots or unable to take care of themselves, they were sent back to their native country.  The Immigration Act of 1891 declared idiots, insane persons and paupers could not become American citizens.  Immigrants with contagious diseases and anyone convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, polygamy and anyone who didn’t pay for their own travel-fare were also prohibited from entry.
  • The Immigration Act of 1917 placed an $8 tax on each immigrant older than 16 years, required them to pass a literacy test and restricted “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics, poor, criminals, beggars, any person suffering attacks of insanity, those with tuberculosis, and those who have any form of dangerous contagious disease, aliens who have a physical disability that will restrict them from earning a living in the United States…, polygamists and anarchists, those who were against the organized government or those who advocated the unlawful destruction of property and those who advocated the unlawful assault of killing of any officer.” Prostitutes were also prohibited from entry.

Anti-German sentiment spread during and after World War 1.  The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 set quotas for each country of origin based on the Census of 1910.  The Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas to limit annual immigration from specific countries, slowing the flow of immigrants by 71 percent over the next 20 years.  Asian immigrants were completely excluded from the Immigration Act of 1924, the same year Native Americans were made US citizens.

Strange but true, undocumented or illegal immigration didn’t exist before the Chinese Exclusion Act: no permission was necessary to enter the US before 1882.  The Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed with the Magnuson Act of 1943 which also established quotas for Chinese immigration and allowed ethnic Chinese people to become naturalized citizens.  Immigration from Asia increased from 3 percent of all immigrants during the 1940s to 6 percent during the 1950s, 13 percent during the 1960s, 34 percent during the 1970s and 48 percent during the 1980s after the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.

The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 allowed for immigrants from Communist countries to migrate to the US, some of which were recruited by the CIA to help defeat the Communists during the Cold War.  The quota system of the Immigration Act of 1924 was finally abolished and replaced with a system focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with the Immigration Act of 1965.

Native born Latino residents of California and Texas, also known as Californios and Tejanos, have long histories which predate US immigration laws.

Ronald Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform And Control Act in 1986, sold to the public as a “get tough on immigration” law with tighter security on the southern border stiff penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers.  But the law also made any undocumented worker who entered the US before 1982 eligible for amnesty.  Nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants were naturalized and the penalties for employers who hired undocumented workers were struck from the law.

Post Modern Global Immigration Impact

Nations faced new challenges after WW2, such as longer life expectancies, later marriage ages, lower fertility rates and lower growth rates all of which effected aggregate demand.  As urban industrial jobs were sent overseas, unions lost power and restaurant, retail, healthcare, hospitality and technology jobs became more common.  Immigration contributed to cities transforming from local or national influence to global cities after WW2.

The first generation of immigrants generally cost governments more than they contribute in taxes, with most of the costs of educating the children of immigrant families falling on state and local governments.  But for those governments, total annual costs for first-generation immigrants are about $57 billion and by the second generation those immigrant families become a benefit to government coffers, adding about $30 billion a year.  Immigrant families contribute about $223 billion a year to government finances by the third generation.

Immigration is a key part of ensuring government programs continue to serve the public: for every $13 an immigrant contributes to Social Security, they receive $1 in return.

Daniels wrote illegal immigration was “Hispanicized” by nativists in 1996.  What the immigrant opposition failed recognize is how many immigrants from countries other than Mexico come to the US and overstay their visas.

As you can see reader, I learned a lot from this book.  I enjoyed reading and writing about it and I encourage everyone with an interest in people to read it: we’re all immigrants. %22Food_will_win_the_war._You_came_here_seeking_Freedom._You_must_now_help_to_preserve_it._WHEAT_is_needed_for_the_allies_-_NARA_-_512499


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I want to write about new experiences, the people I meet and the things I learn. I moved from Tempe, AZ to Arlington, VA with my dog 5 years ago. We love it here.

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