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Immigration Law Changes....

B&W photo of immigrants getting off boat at Ellis island

Immigration Law Changes....

As I’ve continued my research on immigration history for our classroom study on immigration, I’ve come notice an interesting phenomenon within immigration law. In an article detailing the history of Indian exclusion written by law professor, Sherally Munshi, Munshi reflects that immigration was once recognized as merely a human “right to movement”. This contrasts greatly with popular views on immigration today, as it is now one of the most highly- controversial political issues of our time, so it’s strange to think that the act was not always viewed in this way. The reality of the matter is immigration was not a politicized issue until first-world countries decided to start policing who could enter their country and who couldn’t. Take a look at U.S immigration history to see for yourself: 

The earliest case of mass immigration to the U.S was the journey of millions of European immigrants through Ellis Island during the late 19th century. The immigration process through Ellis Island was quite short and relatively simple, only consisting of a medical examination for the new arrival and a usually brief legal interrogation; the entire process usually able to be completed easily within a day or less without complications. Almost all of the Europeans who passed through the immigration station during this time period were welcomed in with open arms, with only about 1% of the immigrants getting sent back to their home countries due to concerns of spreadable illness or suspicion of criminal activity. This period of mass (easily accessible) immigration lasted from Ellis Island’s opening in 1892 until about 1910 when more restrictions to the immigration system were beginning to be designed due to the approach of World War I as well as the beginning of the formation of many laws restricting what those who could enter were allowed to do, such as: 

  • The Alien Land Law: Passed in 1920, this policy prevented immigrants who were not eligible to eventually become citizens from purchasing land for agriculture in California. While not explicitly stated, this policy was essentially designed to lessen agricultural opportunities for Asian immigrants, due to natives’ unease towards the success of Japanese immigrants in the farming industry. 
  • Foreign Miner’s Tax: Passed in 1852, this law was also passed in California due to native complaints about the large amount of Chinese immigrants working in the state. The law called for all miners not born in the United States to pay a “monthly license fee.” The law was clearly discriminatory however, and not just a government attempt to gather more tax money as it was disguised to be, since the mining industry was made up almost entirely of Chinese workers, so they were really the only ones paying the extra tax. 
  • The Bracero Program: Under this program, many migrant workers were allowed to reside in the country for work and then would return to their home country when theier labor was no longer needed. Many, however, used the program as an opportunity to try to stay permanently. This led to President Eisenhower’s development of “Operation Wetback”, in which approximately 1 million immigrant workers were deported. The deportations were executed in a highly unethical manner, however, and many workers died due to the brutal heat they were dropped off in and then forced to walk many miles back home. This resulted in the very strange dynamic that still pervades today; American employers claim to need this cheap labor from migrant workers, yet immigration policy only continues to get stricter and stricter, which makes it even more difficult for workers to enter in the first place. 

These are only a few examples of the often unfair, highly restrictive immigration laws passed after immigration was no longer considered a right by first-world countries, but rather more of a business venture. By reading further between the lines, one could even come to conclude that these policies may not have been for economic purpose at all, but often to cater to old American policy-makers' biases, for most of these restrictive policies were designed with the underlying motive to restrict the opportunities afforded to ethnic minorities in the U.S by clearly racist policy-makers. 


McCorkle, W. D. (2018). Using history to inform the modern immigration debate in the United States. Journal of International Social Studies, 8(1), 149–167. Retrieved from 

Bankston, C. L., & Hidalgo, D. A. (2006). Immigration in U.S. History. Pasadena, Calif: Salem Press. Retrieved from 

The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation. (2006). Ellis Island years. Ellis Island. Retrieved from: