The origins history of United States Immigration Policy

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Historically, the US is one of the most attractive countries for immigrants. The US remains the only highly developed country in the world in which the population continues to grow, at a rather high rate: 2 million people a year due to natural growth and 1 million due to immigration.

From the very first day of its existence, the US was a country of migrants, and immigration policy history of America knows the periods when for half a century more people entered the country than lived on its territory.

Perhaps that is why the US Constitution does not provide for any restrictions on immigration, and the first history of immigration laws governing in the US the stay of foreigners in its territory appeared only at the beginning of the XIX century. They were imperfect and periodically changed in the direction of tightening, dealing with both illegal and legal migrants. So already today there are restrictions on issuing immigrant visas to residents of Asia, Africa, citizens of the former socialist camp.

Moreover, obtaining a non-immigrant visa for many citizens has become quite problematic and every year everything becomes more complicated. Nevertheless, the US immigration attractiveness was and still is quite high.

Every year, the US accepts over half a million of legal migrants.

Illegal migrants in USA

As many as the same people are trying to settle in the US by other ways far from the law. Hence one of the main problems of the US- illegal immigration, which are founders of many problems:

  • increase in expenditures from the budget;
  • increase in the growth of crime in the country;
  • creation of unhealthy competition in the labor market;
  • reduction of salary;
  • rising unemployment among many citizens and legal migrants in the US.

pic.1 Illegal migrants in USA

Throughout the history of US Immigration policy, there have been declines and an increase in the dynamics of immigration, but it did not stop and was constant.

The US migration history can be divided into two parts. The first is the policy of “free immigration” or “open borders”, when the US was open to everyone without any serious restrictions and demands.

The second part is longer and continues to the present.

It consists in restricting the entry of foreign citizens into the territory of the US. This part of the US migration history can be called restrictive.
The US of America owes its origin and dynamic history to immigrants. Therefore, the issues of regulating immigration processes are always in the focus of attention of the American public.

How “American dream” appeared

The US immigration policy arose after the publishing in 1776 of the Declaration of Independence. Over more than 200 years of history, its destination, tasks and methods have changed in accordance with the interests of the development of the economic system, the foreign policy of the US and attitudes towards immigrants in American society.

The initial stage of US history was characterized by the absence of any restrictions on the intensity and structure of immigration flows. The only exception was the law on hostile aliens, publish in 1798. But already in 1800 President Jefferson canceled this law.

The next federal law regulating immigration processes was canceled in 1864. It was aimed at encouraging the influx of immigrants to meet the need for labor, exacerbated by the outbreak of the Civil War and the subsequent decrease in the influx of new immigrants. The same law gave the US president authority in appointing an immigration commissioner.
The US is a country founded and built by immigrants. This is a unique, amazing place where people from all over the world came for getting new opportunities, to start a new life.

“The US attitude to immigration and immigrants reflects the citizens’ belief in the American dream. We always believed that any person, starting from the beginning, can rise very high, as much as his talents and energy allow. Neither race, nor place of birth affects it, ” — Robert Kennedy said, as if forgetting the historical development of US immigration policy, the attitude of American citizens to people coming from other countries, the immigration laws history that the US Congress took to limit the number of immigrants, to downgrade their social status and role in society.

Immigrants from various countries throughout the three centuries of US Immigration policy history have experienced harassment from both the Americans and the US government. But, our view, the most affected were immigrants from China. Their path to one of the largest and most influential communities of the US today was tragic, full of obstacles and humiliations.

Immigration to the US is due to a number of reasons. In the extensive specialized literature, among others, the following are mentioned: the existence of social networks that facilitate migration, the lack of jobs in the homeland of immigrants, the need for the American economy in cheap labor.

In addition, immigration, primarily Mexican, is the result of the policy of economic expansion pursued by the US. As a result of increased trade and liberalization of legislation, the links between Mexico and the border states have become much closer. The expansion of the US economic presence led to the fact that millions of Mexicans who were not affected by economic restructuring, wanted to move to the US.

The social and economic consequences of such demographic changes are documented and may be unexpected for the general public. Thus, studies have shown that the very participation of immigrants in the country’s economy leads to an increase in tax revenues at the federal and local levels, as well as an increase in consumer spending. In addition, immigrants create jobs for Americans and, apparently, do not cause an increase in unemployment. Nevertheless, foreign workers are underpaid and subjected to exploitation.

They are brought to the country, and then, if unemployment begins to grow, they are sent home, turning into scapegoats during periods of economic crises.
Proclaiming freedom and democracy as the determining factors of national identity, the founding fathers of the US formulated comprehensive principles based on very specific conditions. As M. Lind noted, having freed himself from the dominion of the British crown at the end of the 18th century, the country was a product of British culture and could be called the English America; and even when in the nineteenth century large-scale immigration from the Old World turned the US into European America, it did not change the nature of American society, formally going back to European political ideals.

By the middle of the XIX century. European countries were not divided societies, while the US maintained slavery and allowed unprecedented ethnic segregation. The almost unsolvable nature of the problems caused by this circumstance was pointed out by G. Myrdal. N. Glazer says that multiculturalism is the price that America has to pay for its inability or unwillingness to incorporate African Americans in the same principles and to the same extent that it has already incorporated many other groups.

pic.2 Religion in USA

The success of the “melting pot”, which turned the first waves of immigrants into “full-fledged” Americans, gave birth to another illusion. Since the uniqueness of American society is determined, unlike practically all other societies, by the fact that it is based on ideas, rather than on national culture or ethnic solidarity, American politicians and sociologists have found it possible to believe that immigrants did not want to preserve other languages and cultures. but to be Americanized as quickly as possible. This assumption was superfluous, since most Europeans who came to the US didn’t need to be “Americanized” at all, as long as they already shared the values of democracy and freedom on which the American “nation” was based.

Modern immigration does not serve more the purposes of forming a single community – and this, in our view, is its qualitative difference from previous stages in the history of the West.

American multiculturalism actually implies that anyone who believes in the superiority of Western civilization and culture, who considers Christianity to be the only true religion, seems a heretic, and dangerous; the representatives of any people and adherents of any religion, determining their identity, somehow distinguish themselves from the mass of other people, putting their values ​​in something higher, and ideals – more perfect, and the element of superiority is inevitable, albeit in a latent form , is contained in any national or religious ideology. Modern America is transformed into a structured society that loses its ability to preserve its own identity. It follows that she has no right to speak and act on behalf of the whole Western world.

How West influenced on development and implementation of modern immigration policies

First, the large-scale penetration of immigrants into the Western world was due to a fairly short historical period, which allowed analysts to view this process as homogeneous, not to distinguish between its individual stages. We have to admit that Western sociologists ignored even the obvious fact that the migrations of the XVIII and XIX centuries were not actually migrations to the Western world because of its borders, but represented the movement of the population between Europe and America, perceived as the product of Europe itself.

Therefore, the consideration of current processes from the same positions as the migration phenomena of past centuries were considered to be illegal, it does not allow us to reveal the most important features of immigration processes, due to their multi-ethnic and multicultural character.

Secondly, the negative attitude toward immigration, which was shared by most European philosophers of the 18th and 19th centuries, who considered the nation-state to be a natural political form of organization of society, is now being revised for purely ideological rather than rational reasons. The ideology of multiculturalism looks like a kind of apology for Western civilization in front of other nations for its unique position in the modern world.

This, however, radically contradicts the basic principles of liberal theory and individualism, on which the rise of the Western world was based. Continuing to preach the desire for personal success and their pride at the individual level, Western theorists refuse to recognize the importance of these factors at the level of nations and peoples.

The modern changes in history of Immigration laws in the US

Revolutionary changes in migration legislation aimed at removing regional and racial restrictions began in the 1960s, as part of a general liberalization and struggle for civil rights. The Immigration Reform Act (1965) increased the annual immigration limit and eliminated regional and ethnic quotas, but the number of people coming from the same country was limited to 20,000 people.

Priority was now given to the reunification of families and the stimulation of the influx of highly skilled workers. Despite the ethnic, cultural and religious affinity of the first immigrants, xenophobic and group prejudices were often manifested in those conditions. And this despite the fact that Americans are a nation of immigrants. A new approach and the elimination of discriminatory quotas resulted in a rapid change in the regional and ethnic structure of immigration flows: the proportion of Europeans from more than 90% in the period until 1965 decreased to 10% twenty years later. As a result, most immigrants now come to the US from developing countries.
Currently, half of the born abroad residents of the US came from Latin America, a quarter – from Asia.

pic.3 Immigration in USA

Nowadays, immigration become a mechanism for rapidly changing the ethnic structure of the American population.
Suffice it to mention that the number of so-called “hispaniсs” (Hispanic, immigrants from countries dominated by the Spanish language, regardless of their national and racial origin) increased from 500,000 in 1900 to more than 50 million for nowadays.

The migration system was further developed with the creating by Congress of the Act on Immigration Reform and Control (1986). Unlike previous documents, this act was focused, first of all, on the solution of the problem of illegal labor immigration, which reached a colossal scale.

In fact, it was a compromise, aimed simultaneously at legalizing many immigrants already in the US, and creating obstacles to illegal immigration in the future. Those illegals who could prove that they were permanently living in the US from January 1, 1982 or earlier, could receive amnesty and legalize with the prospect of obtaining the right to permanent residence.

Despite this, many illegal immigrants didn’t try to change their status, because they could not document the length of their present in the US. In addition, they feared that even if successful, some members of their families could still be deported.

As a result, out of approximately 6 million illegal migrants who were at that time in the US, 2.7 million were legalized.

Since that time, employers who knowingly hired illegal migrants could be fined, and in the case of repeated violations even sentenced to imprisonment.

The procedure for issuing work permits has radically changed. Now it was necessary to receive it before the beginning of the labor activity of the foreign worker. At the same time, the refusal to hire legal migrants because of their national, religious or racial backgrounds was considered illegal and could also entail fines and lawsuits.

It is curious that this act was signed by Ronald Reagan, the conservative president, who nevertheless considered it necessary to withdraw illegal migrants from the “gray zone” and ensure that the US economy is fueled by manpower. Reagan, who served as governor of the border California for eight years, understood perfectly well that it was impossible to solve the problem of illegal immigration with prohibitive measure.

A similar reform was carried out in 1990 with the publishing of a new Immigration Act by Congress. The immigration quotas were again increased, especially with honor to family members, in order to reduce illegal immigration and strengthen control by law enforcement.

By the beginning of the XXI century, the number of illegal migrants in the US was, according to different estimates (depending on the methodology of calculation and political predilections of the authors of estimates), from 5 to 20 million people. The most common is the figure of 11-12 million, which is approximately 4% of the population of the country and about 30% of the total number of immigrants.

In conclusion, it should be noted that immigration policy is constantly changing. Politicians are not well aware of the tasks they face. A frequent change of attitudes leads to the fact that none of them are fully realized; The eternal haste leads to inadequate actions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.