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Tension of Immigration in the Period of 1880-1925

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Immigration to the United States of America started approximately three hundred years ago and continues until now. People from all parts of the world flocked to this country in search of money, jobs and freedom. America has always been a land full of opportunities for immigrants. However, the biggest wave of immigration was experienced by this country during the period of 1880-1925. What was the reason of such migration and how did the government and native population react to it? What laws were implemented to protect the country and slow down the process of people’s movement to the U.S.A? In this paper we will analyze the tensions surrounding the issue of immigration and government’s response to them.

Immigrants from all over the world were actually people, who ardently believed in the concept of American dream and trusted “get rich quicker” schemes that were popular in this country. They flooded America fueled by economic forces of industrialization and urbanization. It was estimated that between the years 1880 and 1925 approximately 25 million people leaved different countries of the world for the search of luck in the U.S.A. Immigrants were mainly from Asia, Eastern and Central Europe. In the document A, we may observe a picture of immigrants flocking to the U.S.A.  Signs show that immigrants find shelter and asylum in this country. The U.S.A also provides freedom from taxes, the monarchy and compulsory military service, and that is why it so tempting for the immigrants. Thus, in this picture we may see a positive approach to immigration before the beginning of an anti-immigrant movement. Document B is another proof of positive attitude towards immigration that prevailed before the 1880s. It is mentioned that some immigrants were transitory and after earning a certain sum of money returned to their native land. So, they could not be a threat to the Americans, because they stayed in the country not for a long period of time. These immigrants were involved in cheap unskilled labor, which the natives refused to do; that is why their work was economically advantageous for the country.

Why did the tensions connected to the issue of immigration started developing?

The main reason of their appearance lied in the fact that immigrants took jobs away from the Americans. For example, Chinese worked for lower wages than Americans that is why it was more profitable for the owner to employ immigrants. Unsatisfied natives complained that immigrants took their work and this led to conflicts. According to the document D, immigrants took the niche of African Americans on the job market. They were particularly valuable laborers characterized by loyalty and devotion to the whites; that is why they were to be given jobs instead of immigrants. Another issue at tensions’ core was Americans’ superior attitude towards the newcomers. A lot of them believed that there is something inherently wrong or different with Asian or South European immigrants that prevented them from becoming real Americans, no matter how hard they try. According to the document G, people in the U.S.A believed in Anglo-Saxon superiority and wanted to stop unchecked immigration that threatened American society and morality.

A lot of “the old generation” Americans also considered that immigrants bring communism with them, especially after the Russian Revolution of 1917. This historical event caused many people to become xenophobic and created an anti-immigrant atmosphere in the country. The newcomers were immediately associated with Red Scare, riots, strikes, crime, alcohol, assassinations, and anarchism. For instance, immigrants from Southern Italy had bad public image in America, and were considered to be habitual criminals, who brought organized crime like the mafia to the country.

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People in the U.S.A frequently expressed an opinion that immigrants do not understand the American ideals. They only take parts of the culture but distort it and canot grasp its essence or central values. In this way immigrants presumably create “evolution in reverse” – a situation, in which lower and inferior culture replaces the superior one. Because of this reason many Americans claimed that English should be made an official language of the U.S.A. They considered it to be the glue that may hold people together; that is why immigrants were to learn it (Min, 2002). Min in his book Mass migration to the United States: classical and contemporary periods points out that, generally, Americans of “old generation” were afraid of 1880-1925 immigration because of two reasons. The first one lied in the fact that new immigration was bringing in too many people with cultures and values that differed from and conflicted with the American mainstream. According to the second reason, such plethora of diversity will create a disaster in the form of cultural strife and fragmentation that may weaken or destroy one of the greatest civilizations (2002).

The once wide-open policy

The tensions that started developing in the U.S.A forced the government to respond and narrow down the once wide-open policy. The first law that marked the beginning of immigration’s limitation was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prohibited the entrance of Chinese people to the United States of America. It was passed because of tensions’ accumulation between the Chinese, who worked for lower wages, and Americans, who lost their jobs because of these immigrants. The law’s passage triggered the formation of parties that struggled for people’s rights. The next step of the government was the passage of Immigration Act in 1891. It marked the creation of Federal Immigration Facility and Bureaus of Immigration and Naturalization. After this governmental action Americans were frequently associated with eugenics, because they wanted to ban dysgenic members of some races entering their country and diluting what they saw as superior American racial stock through procreation. Since the passage of Immigration Act, foreigners were interviewed and underwent medical exams on Ellis Island and later on Angel Island to determine whether they should be admitted to America. Immigrants had to pass medical inspection, because at that time most of the U.S. psychiatrists agreed that the great wave of immigration posed an urgent public health danger. Some argued that immigrants contributed more than their proportional share of admissions to country’s prisons, asylums, hospitals, reformatories, and training facilities for feebleminded (Dowbiggin, 1997).

According to the document C, at National Peoples’ Party platform in 1892 a demand was expressed concerning restriction of undesirable immigration. It was also resolved that immigration policies fail to protect workers and allow criminals to immigrate. This was one of the first calls to limit immigration one year before the panic of 1893. Another important governmental step to limit immigration was Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907. According to the document E, it presupposed cooperation of Japanese and American governments in order to restrict the migration of laborers. It marked a change of American policy from dictating to countries to cooperation with them.

The Immigration Act of 1917 banned immigration from Asia and required immigrants over age sixteen to be given literacy test in their own language. The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 aimed at change of immigration source back to Northwestern Europe. It limited total number of immigrants to 3 percent of 1210 foreign-born population from that country. This restriction was mainly applied to people from Eastern hemisphere and established numeric ceiling of immigration 358 000 people per year (Farley, 2005). This immigration law is clearly shown in the picture in the document H, where Uncle Sam gradually diminishes the flow of immigrants from Europe. “3 % gate” is a phrase-reference to above described Emergency Quota Act of 1921. The Immigration Act of 1924, or as it was entitled National Origins Quota Act, limited total number of immigrants from given country to 2 percent of 1890 foreign-born population from that country. This restriction established numeric ceiling of immigration 164 000 immigrants per year (Farley, 2005).

To conclude with, tensions connected to immigration to the U.S.A in the years 1880-1925 were obviously caused by nativism and economic conditions at the core; and American government did everything to protect citizens of the country by means of adopting new laws.

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