Four years ago, illegal immigration was a huge topic during the presidential election season. This time around, apart from actions against illegal immigrants in states like Arizona, Georgia, and my state of Alabama, we have heard little about it. But, I wonder if it is time to just declare amnesty for the illegal aliens that are already in the country and put them on the fast track to citizenship if they have been here for more than a few years? We are obviously not going to deport them. So, what should we do? Would we not all be better off if we made them legal and enabled them to pay taxes and openly contribute to the social and civic welfare of our nation and come out of the shadows? For those who do not think that this is a conservative idea, Ronald Reagan did it in 1986 and legalized the status of 1.7 million people in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Actually, the American government has provided amnesty for illegal aliens on many occasions throughout our country's history. So, why not now?
I was talking with one of our church members the other day, John Wible, who was the chief legal counsel for the Alabama Department of Public Health and is now volunteer staff for our church. John goes around the state and gives presentations and delivers papers on various topics related to public health and local and state government. We were talking about this issue the other day and he told me about a presentation that he gave on the history of immigration to the US and what the government has done in the past to accomodate it. I was not aware that Reagan had pushed for amnesty, nor did I realize that we engaged in forced deportations of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans in the mid-1950's in what was called, Operation Wetback. I asked if he would mind sending me a reduced version of it to print here. As always, my thoughts turn to the Church and how Christians should see this issue. But, first, let's look at John's history and perhaps I'll write another post about the implications of this history combined with Biblical ethics and calls for justice.
A Brief History of Immigration in the United States
By John R. Wible, 2012
(Citations and footnotes deleted but available in a longer version)
Historically, American immigration history can be viewed in four periods:
- the colonial period,
- the mid-nineteenth century,
- the turn of the twentieth century, and
Each period brought distinct national groups, races and ethnicities to the United States.
During the seventeenth century, approximately 175,000 Englishmen migrated to Colonial America. Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America during the 17th and 18th centuries arrived as indentured servants.
The mid-nineteenth century saw mainly an influx from northern Europe; the early twentieth-century mainly from Southern and Eastern Europe; post-1965 mostly from Latin America and Asia.
Historians estimate that fewer than one million immigrants—perhaps as few as 400,000—crossed the Atlantic during the 17th and 18th centuries. A 1790 Act limited naturalization to "free white persons"; it was expanded to include African Americans in the 1860s and Asians in the 1950s. In the early years of the United States, immigration was fewer than 8,000 people a year, including French refugees from the slave revolt in Haiti. After 1820, immigration gradually increased. From 1836 to 1914, over 30 million Europeans migrated to the United States.
The death rate on these transatlantic voyages was high, during which one in seven travelers died. In 1875, the nation passed its first immigration law.
The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 persons entered the country, most through Ellis Island processing center. By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were living in the United States. In 1921, the Congress passed the Emergency Quota Act, also known as the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, the Per Centum Law, and the Johnson Quota Act. It was followed by the Immigration Act of 1924. The 1924 Act was aimed at further restricting the Southern and Eastern Europeans, especially Jews, Italians, and Slavs, and Asians (principally Chinese) who had begun to enter the country in large numbers beginning in the 1890s. Interestingly enough, most of the European refugees fleeing the Nazis during World War II were barred from coming to the United States.
Immigration patterns of the 1930s were dominated by the Great Depression, which hit the U.S. hard and lasted over ten years, not really ending until the outbreak of World War II. In the final prosperous year before the Great Crash, 1929, there were 279,678 immigrants recorded. This dropped dramatically to the point where in 1933, only 23,068 came to the U.S. In the early 1930s, more people emigrated from the United States than immigrated to it.
During this period, the U.S. government sponsored a Mexican Repatriation program which was intended to encourage people to voluntarily move to Mexico, but thousands were deported against their will. Altogether about 400,000 Mexicans were repatriated. The event, carried out by American authorities, took place without due process. Some 35,000 were deported, among many hundreds of thousands of other immigrants who were deported during this period. The Immigration and Naturalization Service targeted Mexicans because of "the proximity of the Mexican border, the physical distinctiveness of Mestizos, and easily identifiable barrios." In the post-war era, in the heart of the McCarthy “Red Scare” xenophobic period, the Justice Department launched Operation Wetback, under which 1,075,168 Mexicans were deported in 1954.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, abolished the system of national-origin quotas. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations, which changed the ethnic make-up of the United States. While European immigrants accounted for nearly 60% of the total foreign population in 1970, they accounted for only 15% in 2000. Immigration doubled between 1965 and 1970, and again between 1970 and 1990. In 1990, President George H. W. Bush (Bush 43) signed the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration to the United States by 40%.
Appointed by President Clinton, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended reducing legal immigration from about 800,000 people per year to approximately 550,000. While an influx of new residents from different cultures presents some challenges, "the United States has always been energized by its immigrant populations," said President Clinton in 1998. "America has constantly drawn strength and spirit from wave after wave of immigrants [...] They have proved to be the most restless, the most adventurous, the most innovative, the most industrious of people."
An analysis of census data found that nearly eight million immigrants entered the United States from 2000 to 2005, more than in any other five-year period in the nation's history; an estimated 3.7 million of them, nearly half, entered illegally. Since 1986 Congress has passed seven amnesties for illegal immigrants. In 1986 president Ronald Reagan signed immigration reform that gave amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants in the country. Hispanic immigrants were among the first victims of the late-2000s recession, but since the recession's end in June 2009; immigrants posted a net gain of 656,000 jobs. 1.1 million Immigrants were granted legal residence in 2009.
The immigration laws in the United States have experienced uneven progress. During colonial times independent colonies created their immigration laws. While it is true that the very first attempt to naturalize foreigners was through the Naturalization Act of 1790, many years later the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed to stop the immigration of Chinese people. The Immigration Act of 1924 put a quota on how many immigrants are permitted, based on nationality. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 led to the creation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the INS or as they say in the vernacular, “The Inmigración.”
The five major departments of the federal government involved in the immigration process are the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Of the five, the Department of Homeland Security, which replaced the INS, enforces immigration laws and bestows benefits on aliens.
It is subdivided into three distinct departments: US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP.)
Every year, the Federal government conducts a Diversity Visa Lottery. The lottery grants citizens of other countries legal entry into the United States; however only citizens of countries "with low rates of immigration to the United States" are allowed to apply.
Presently there are two different types of US visas: one for people seeking to live in the US; termed Immigrant Visas, and the other for people coming for limited durations termed Non-Immigrant Visas. The former visa has "per country-caps", and the latter does not. Most non-immigrant visas are for work purposes, and usually require an offer of employment from a US business. Other categories include student, family and tourist visas.
The United States allows more than 1 million aliens to become Legal Permanent Residents every year, which is more than any other country in the world.
Immigration law became a serious political issue in the United States particularly after 9/11 – and nowhere more so recently than in the State of Alabama.