STEPHEN YALE-LOEHR: Immigration has been an issue in the United States since the founding of our country. Many of the same arguments we hear today-- immigrants don't speak English. They don't assimilate. There are too many immigrants in this country-- have been prevalent throughout US history.
Although immigration was not formally restricted until the late 1800's, we've had controls on immigration from a qualitative perspective since the late 1700's. The late 1700's brought the Alien and Sedition Acts. That law, which is still on the books, allows the president to deport any alien that he deems dangerous to the United States. The late 1700's also saw the rise of an anti-French movement, based on a fear of the French Revolution being exported to the United States.
In the 1850's, the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic Know-Nothing political movement grew out of the concern about too many Irish immigrants coming to the United States. It also was concerned because of the Civil War and the impact on its society. So our national unity was dissolving at a time which fueled anti-immigration sentiment.
The 1880's represented a period of strong anti-immigrant sentiment, marked by violence and discrimination. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which restricted immigration from China.
After the Red Scare of World War I, we had the Palmer Raids, which resulted after a series of bombings on Wall Street in Washington, DC. They resulted in the deportation of thousands of aliens, often with little or no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing and with no due process.
During World War II, we witnessed the travesty of Japanese immigrants and US citizens of Japanese ancestry being interned in camps along the Western part of the United States.
Now, in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, many Americans have begun to believe that immigration is not very good for our country and that we need to restrict immigration to prevent more terrorists from entering our country.
Let's look at some of the historic immigration measures that we've considered during the years, particularly at those that affect immigrant workers. In 1917, Congress passed legislation that virtually banned all immigration from Asia.
In 1924, Congress passed national origin limits on immigration. The 1924 law limited immigration from Europe to just 150,000 per year. And it set up quotas based on the percentage of foreign populations already in the United States, rather than on future demand. This law was designed to preserve the racial and ethnic status quo of the United States. This law stayed on the books until 1965.
The Bracero Program began in 1942. It resulted because of labor shortages that we had during World War II. And so we imported Mexican agriculture workers into the United States. This was important to us at the time. But the conditions under which they worked really constituted legalized slavery. And so in 1964, we ended the Bracero Program. There are proposals in Congress, however, that would bring back a modified Bracero Program to the United States. And we'll consider those in more depth in Part 4 of this Cyber Tower Study Room.
The next important legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was passed to control unauthorized immigration to the United States. There are three parts to IRCA. First was employer sanctions to penalize employers who hired unauthorized workers. Second was an amnesty program that legalized people who were already here in the United States. And third was an enforcement program to try to make sure that people could not get into the United States as easily as before. Almost three million people were legalized under the IRCA amnesty provisions.
The 1986 law did make sure that we had a decrease in the number of undocumented people in the United States, but only temporarily. Because of lax enforcement and because of counterfeit documents, it was fairly easy for workers to be able to come in the United States to get work in the United States. The US Census Bureau now estimates that between eight and nine million foreign-born people are here illegally in the United States.
In 1996, Congress passed two important laws affecting immigration. The Welfare Reform Bill greatly restricted the ability of legal and illegal immigrants to obtain public benefits. And the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, also known as IRAIRA, cracked down generally on illegal immigration by imposing greater penalties on people who entered the United States, and making it easier to remove them from the United States.
Over here, we have some links to other sites that can give you more information about the history of immigration to the United States. Now, on to Part 3, talking about facts and figures about immigration.
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Immigration is a key controversy in the United States:
Does immigration help or hurt the U.S. economy?
Do immigrants take jobs from U.S. native born workers or create new jobs?
Should we restrict immigration or allow more people to immigrate?
What should we do about the estimated 8-9 million undocumented noncitizens now living in the United States?
This CyberTower room will familiarize you with the key historical, policy and legal issues to allow you to engage intelligently in this debate.
The stakes involved are high and often presented as mutually exclusive entities; jobs for natives vs. non-natives; the value of cultural diversity vs. the pressure for assimilation; the debate over whether immigration helps or hurts the United States.
This video is part 2 of 6 in the Us versus Them series.