Legislation and Administration Addressing the Immigration Problem

There was no immigration legislation by the National Government until the year 1882. Before that time the regulation of immigration and the inspection of incoming immigrants was in the hands of the different States.

The history of legislation relative to immigration by both the State and Federal Governments may be roughly divided into four periods:

  1. From colonial times until 1835;
  2. The “Native American" and "Know-Nothing" period, 1835-1860;
  3. End of State control, 1861-1882;
  4. Period of national control, 1882 to the present time.

During the period, first mentioned immigration was taken as a matter of course. The only legislation enacted, and practically all that was proposed, was the law of 1819 for the regulation of the steerage passengers at sea. This law also for the first time provided that statistics relative to immigration to the United States be recorded.

Index to Essays on Immigration Laws and Legislation

  1. The "Native American" and "Know-Nothing" Movements
    The second period, from 1835 to 1860, is sharply defined by the so-called "Native American" and "Know-Nothing" movements were largely based on opposition to the immigration of Roman Catholics.
  2. State Legislation of Immigration Abandoned
    Although the national Government did not assume control of immigration until 1882, Congress in 1864 passed a law to encourage immigration. This law, which was repealed in 1868, represents the only attempt of the Government to promote immigration by direct legislation, altho the States have frequently made such attempts.
  3. State Control of Immigration Declared Unconstitutional
    The United States Supreme Court held that the New York act was not a regulation of commerce, but police; and, being so, it was in exercise of a power which rightfully belonged to the State.
  4. Control of Immigration by the Federal Government
    The above quoted case was decided by the Supreme Court, March 20, 1876, and on July 6 following, Senator Conkling and Representative Cox of New York introduced bills for the national regulation of immigration.
  5. The Immigration Law of 1882
    In his message of December 6, 1881, President Arthur called attention to the subject of immigration control and recommended supervisory legislation. On August 3, 1882, the first general immigration law was approved.
  6. The Investigations of 1893 Into Immigration Law
    Notwithstanding the new law, however, the question of immigration continued to receive attention in Congress, and was extensively agitated throughout the country, a strong movement for restriction being developed, owing to the industrial depression, 18g0-18g6, and the general curtailment of employment.
  7. The Immigration Law of 1907
    Later this provision of law was utilized for the purpose of excluding Japanese and Korean laborers from the United States. This bill was approved February 20. 1907. and is the present law upon the subject of immigration.
  8. Legislation for the Suppression of the White-slave Traffic
    The agitation of the white-slave traffic in Congress also resulted in the enactment of a law prohibiting the importation of persons from one State to another for the purposes of prostitution, and punishing severely those engaged in the traffic.
  9. Chinese Immigration Laws and Treaties
    The first treaty in which emigration from China to the United States was considered was the Burlingame treaty, proclaimed July 28, 1868. Sections 5 and 6 of that treaty state the position of the United States respecting the rights of Chinese in this country.
  10. The Chinese Exclusion Law of 1902
    On the 16th of January, 1902, Senator Mitchell, of Oregon, introduced a bill to prohibit the coming of Chinese into the United States, and regulating their residence within her territories.
  11. The Chinese Exclusion Law of 1904
    Upon the refusal of China to continue the treaty of 1894 after 1904. on April 27, 1904, Congress again reenacted, extending and continuing without modification, limitation, or condition, all laws then in force in so far as they were not inconsistent with treaty obligations.
  12. Legislation Relative to Japanese Laborers
    During 1906 the question of Japanese immigration became acute, and the Pacific States demanded exclusion legislation for the Japanese of the same sort as existed for the Chinese. This was finally settled in the passport provision inserted in the immigration law of February 20, 1907
  13. The Administration of the Immigration Law
    The general administration and supervision of the immigration service has been placed by Congress in the hands of the Commissioner-General of Immigration. His official status is that of a bureau chief in the Department of Commerce and Labor. Final authority is, of course, vested in the Secretary of the Department.
  14. Difficulties of Administration of Immigration Law
    The enormous difficulties of a just, humane, and still strict enforcement of the law appear when one considers that at the port of New York sometimes 5,000 immigrants are admitted in one day; that it is impossible, in consequence, to give much time to each doubtful case; and that the cases themselves are often of extreme complexity, involving judgment of health, of character, of purpose, of future promise.

Excerpts from “The Immigration Problem” by Jeremiah W. Jenks, Ph.D., LL.D. and W. Jett Lauck, A.B., New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1912

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