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The United States of America has been branded as the land of immigrants. This is because immigration is one of the greatest success stories of the Unite States. The United States has found great strength in the manner in which it handles its immigration policy. According to Borjas, “America’s openness to and respect for immigrants has long been a foundation of its economic and military strength, and a vital tool in its diplomatic arsenal.” This attractive land is home to the most diverse groups in the planet. The history of this openness takes a step back to the period before 1882, an era characterized by mass Chinese Immigration into the United States. The Chinese immigrants are estimated to have entered the United States as early as the 18th century, effectively making them the first among the rest of the Asian community to enter into the United States. In the mid 1800s, at the height of the Gold Rush in California, the number of Chinese immigrants into the United States appeared to soar even more. Most literatures argue that there are various reasons that led to the immigration into the United States. However, various studies have endeavored to explain the concept of immigration to the United States while stressing on various factors and reasons for shifts in policy over the decades.
The evolving Immigration Policy
Before 1882, entry into the United States was unrestricted and people from all nationalities and background were permitted into the United States’ borders. In fact, people got off ships from distant lands and were immediately assimilated into the American mainstream society. Whereas the free entry policy went on for long, concerns emerged over the identities of the immigrants. This was more so given the fact that most immigrants at the time were unskilled and practiced the catholic denomination. The emergence of the Know-Nothing political party in the 1850s precipitated the nativist feeling. The party entrenched restrictions on voting rights of immigrants, but did not favor restrictions on entry.
Chinese immigration and Exclusion policies (1882-1949)
Between 1882 and 1943, Chinese immigrants into the United States met stiff resistance from the United States government, depicted as attempts to reduce Chinese entry into the United States. This policy from the federal government emanated from concerns that were being raised over large numbers of Chinese immigrants (a majority of whom were in the United States illegally) in search for cheap labor and specifically, in helping build the transcontinental railway line. The Chinese immigrants posed competition to United States’ workers for jobs and resulted in a growing nativism which culminated in a build-up of pressure and ultimately, restrictive action. In May 1882, Congress passed a law that sought to suspend Chinese laborers migrating into the United States for a minimum period of 10 years. Accordingly, Chinese immigrants were no longer welcome to travel abroad, stay, or return into the United States. In addition, the process of naturalization of the Chinese immigrants was suspended. However, Congress established the Section 6 of the Chinese immigration law that exempted students, teachers, travelers, and merchants. This class of Chinese could be admitted into the United States after they had successfully presented the United States authorities with a certificate drafted by their home government in China.
The 1892 Geary Act is yet another important exclusionary legislation that sought to prohibit the immigrants of persons from China into the United States. Although this particular Act enabled laborers from China to go back to China and return to the United States, the fact is that that the provisions of the Act were, nevertheless, exceedingly restrictive in comparison with the previous immigration laws. For example, sections of this Act directed that Chinese individuals be legally registered, and possess a certificate to demonstrate status of legal entry. Inability to demonstrate these translated to deportation and a possible imprisonment (Patterson, 153). The Chinese Exclusion Act was lifted through the intervention of President Franklin Roosevelt during the Second World War, a time when the United States and China were enjoying cordial relations. December 1943 saw further uplifting of restrictions imposed on Chinese immigrants. The introduction of the Literacy Act of 1971 and the Quota Act and National Origins Act of 1920 sought to grant entry to the skilled and limit the entry of immigrants from one region respectively.
Immigration and the Nationality Act of 1965
This Act has been hailed as the greatest change in the United States immigration policy (Cohn, 1). The law not only abandoned the quotas adopted in 1920 by the Quota Act and National Origins Act, it proposed sweeping changes in the immigration policy. One significant change was the preferences given to the relatives of the natives and naturalized immigrants. Furthermore, workers equipped with skills that were short in supply within the United States received special preferences. According to Cohn (69), “the 1965 law kept an overall quota on total immigration for Eastern Hemisphere countries, originally set at 170,000, and no more than 20,000 individuals were allowed to immigrate to the United States from any single country.” Despite attracting the attention of critics, nevertheless, they hailed at as a shift from the discriminatory immigration policies against the immigrants from Asia. Immigrants from Asia received equal treatment as other immigrants from Europe.
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The Current United States Immigration Policy
Evolution within this policy indicates that the United States has had to grapple with a number of challenges in its domestic and foreign policy issues. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, terrorism, and global health issues have called for an examination of the existing laws on immigration. This has precipitated the need for the adoption of a realist theory in handling immigration issues. Critics argue that the mishandling of the immigration policy places the United States at crossroads with its very foundation. The concepts of defensive realism adopted by the United States in its immigration policy are perceived to be more specific of the classical theory. Classical theory denotes that in instances of international anarchy, states are compelled to increases their level of security and other states react in the same manner. The aspect of defensive realism is described as more specific of the classical theory in which states seek for more security measures in case of an act of aggression.
Realism thus given the assumption of rational behavior, and with cross-issue or cross-national variance in state preferences excluded from analysis, observed differences in state strategies and goals can only reflect an assessment of what can be achieved within the constraints set by the external political situation. Realists understand these external constraints in terms of the distribution of military and economic power, or, in the case of "modified structural Realism," in terms of international institutions, the level of uncertainty, and the cost of bargaining and similar concern.
The above discussions indicate that different factors have heavily influenced American immigration policy. From the first Chinese immigrants into North America around 1788 to the present, legislations and laws, to the current immigration policy, is an vindication of America’s journey towards fair treatment of immigrants from all parts of the globe.
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