Let’s talk immigration.
The question is, “Why can’t these newcomers enter the country legally, like our ancestors did?”
The answer: The newcomers would love to come here the way our ancestors did.
In the beginning, when immigrants arrived here, say from England, Holland, Sweden, Spain or France you had to register with the government.
You had to register, and you were legal. It was damn near impossible to be illegal.
They didn’t need to ask if they could come or where they could live. They had to get here and then register. There was nothing to keep them out.
Of course that was back when it took a month or two to get here aboard wooden ships so the incoming hoards were a trickle compared to what happened next.
In the early 1800s steamships started pouring the huddled masses on our shores and those already living here got a little anxious. In poured the Irish, running from British oppression and a famine.
You’ll never guess what made the natives restless enough to change the laws. In 1882, that anxiety led to a law that ended unrestricted immigration.
That’s pretty good. We decided to have a systematic way in which people could arrive in the United States.
No, we didn’t.
What we did was say, “We don’t want the Chinese.” Why? Because they look too different and would have too much trouble being assimilated.
The Chinese Exclusion Act excluded Chinese. They were not allowed in, and while those already here could stay, they couldn’t become citizens. Even their kids born here to Chinese parents weren’t granted citizenship.
So any of our people who came to this country before 1917 didn’t need any papers, no tests, no proof of background, no proof of profession, no waiting period, no nothing. They had to get here and register, and of course not be Chinese.
Then everything changed in 1917.
Well, not everything. The Chinese exclusion was extended to the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” so that nobody from China, Japan, India, and most Arab countries could enter the U.S. legally. That law also barred a long list of undesirables, and required immigrants over 16 to be literate.
So it didn’t change much at all. You still had only to get here, not be Chinese or look “funny,” be 16 and be literate, and of course register.
Immigration law really changed in 1921 and 1924, with quotas that limited the annual number of immigrants allowed from each country. For example, where about 200,000 Italians had been coming to America each year before 1924, after that the number dropped to about 4,000 annually.
European imigration was pretty much free. Before 1921 it would be a difficult thing to be here, to be from Europe and be illegal. It was unheard of.
No quotas at all had been set for immigration from Mexico and South America since it was so difficult to get here anyways. There were no roads.
The only people who were deported south were done so because of violations of registration or literacy requirements.
So pretty much all the way to 1965 immigration rules in the U.S. weren’t much more than fit into the quota of that year, be 16, be literate, be here, and register.
In 1965 the old quota system was replaced with new limits designed to equalize immigration from around the world.
Asian immigration increased, and limits on immigration from Mexico and South America were imposed for the first time.
Today, we have some regulations.
There are quotas and lotteries, and nearly incomprehensible rules about what relatives, professions, and refugees we will let in. With more hoops to jump through, there are more ways to be denied entry into the U.S, and more ways to be illegal.
Since 1965, seven amnesties have legalized illegal immigrants. The first and biggest, in 1986, under President Reagan, legalized 2.7 million people. The last, in 2000, under President Clinton, covered 900,000.
So when you ask why these newcomers don’t come here legally the way our ancestors did, I answer, “They would love to.”
Most of our ancestors never would have made it in with the restrictive rules we now have. So when we pompously say, “Sure we are a nation of immigrants, but they have to come here legally or they are criminals,” look in your own closet. According to today’s rules we are all the offspring of those we want to deport.