From 1880 to 1930 the immigrant population in the United States doubled. A third of these immigrants were Irish while another third were German. In American history this is known as the “Great Wave”. The racism that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was not reserved for Chinese only. American citizens were equal opportunity racists. They didn’t really like the idea of any more foreigners at all becoming their neighbors. These huge numbers of immigrants inflamed American society to openly express their hostility with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1882.
Hot on the heels of the Chinese Exclusion Act that was signed into law May 6, 1882, the Immigration Act was signed into law just three months later, August 3, 1882. The Forty-Seventh Congress of the United States, Session I, Chapter 376, 1882, specifically entitled the act “An act to regulate Immigration”, created the following changes to current immigration policies which allowed free, white male immigrants, felons convicted of political crimes, all descendants of slaves, and both genders of Chinese immigrants, citizenship eligibility and prohibited from immigration prostitutes and Chinese laborers:
- Fifty cent tax was levied on every immigrant upon arrival at a U.S. port for the purpose of creating a fund to defray the national expense of regulating immigration
- Secretary of Treasury was authorized to execute provisions of the act, including support and relief of immigrants who arrive in need
- Every immigrant is to receive a physical examination and will not be allowed entry if found to be a lunatic, convict, idiot or unable to care for themselves
- Secretary of Treasury was authorized to create agencies and contract with private companies to aid enforcement of the act
- Immigrants determined to be convicts (other than political crimes) are to be deported to their country of origin
It sounds like a rather benign piece of legislation. However, when you consider the fact that many of the Irish immigrants were financially destitute as they immigrated to escape starvation from the Great Potato Famine, it is easy to see they would qualify for denial of entry due to being unable to care for themselves. At this time in history many Germans were motivated to immigrate to the New World because of civil unrest at home that resulted in a serious unemployment problem. They, too, would then most likely arrive to a U.S. entry point with little or no money, putting them into the “unable to care for themselves” category as well. This law was not so benign and general as it then seems at first glance.
Once again the gringa has learned what the public school classroom would not teach her. America was really not the hope for the oppressed masses throughout the world that it attempted to portray itself as. The sonnet, “The New Colossus”, written by poet Emma Lazarus, featured on the Statue of Liberty plaque, contains the following words,
“Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome;…
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,”
Unfortunately, the United States is guilty of false advertising. None of that is true, except, maybe the exile part. Convicted felons of political crimes were welcome. But, the poor? Huddled masses of the oppressed desiring freedom? Immigrants considered “wretched refuse” in their native country? The homeless? Heck no, America didn’t want any of them. The image the United States projected was a lie. The only desirable immigrant was one who was intelligent and financially stable, and preferably not Catholic, like those damn Irish.
http://blogs.census.gov, ‘The “Second Great Wave” of Immigration: Growth of the Foreign-Born Population Since 1970‘, posted February 26, 2014, written by: Elizabeth M. Grieco
http://www.ushistory.org, “Irish and German Immigration”
http://library.uwb.edu, “1882 Immigration Act”
http://www.legallanguage.com, “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)
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