1917: The Year I Would Have Been Banned From The U.S.


Chapter 29 of the Second Session of the Sixty-Fourth Congress of the United States of America, February 5, 1917, passed “An Act To regulate the immigration of aliens to, and the residence of aliens in, the United States” (also called the “Asian Barred Zone” if you want to do some research yourself). If I had been alive and not a U.S. citizen at the time this legislation took effect, I would have been among the immigrant hopefuls who would have been banned from entry. I would have been a “defective” person on the “prohibited” list, an “undesirable”.  That’s what this piece of law was all about. The United States was expanding its category of people to discriminate against. Rather than list all the legal rigmarole that are the basic nuts and bolts of the wherefores and heretofores, the gringa will get to the heart of the matter. I will focus on the sections that express the minds and wills of the white majority of the United States in 1917.

Section one defines the term “alien” as any person not a native-born or naturalized citizen of the U.S., but specifically excludes the Native Americans of North America and the Native Islanders of U.S. territories. At this time the Philippine Islands and Hawaii were U.S. territories. Once the term alien was defined, the U.S. could then make it clear who was, and who was not, invited to the party. The following were to be banned from entry into the United States:

  • Idiots (good thing all those legislators got here before 1917)
  • Imbeciles
  • Feeble-minded
  • Epileptics (that would be me)
  • Insane persons
  • Anyone who had a single attack of insanity at any point in their life (that rules out pretty much everyone I know here in the barrio where shit gets real from time to time)
  • Persons with a “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” (At first I thought that must mean psychopaths, until I looked up the definition of those words according to that time period. “Constitutional” means a condition you are born with. “Psychopathic” means regarding the realm of the mind or emotions. “Inferiority” means sub-standard in function, adaptability and self-progress. So, persons who were born with a mind, or set of emotions, that was below average were prohibited.)
  • Alcoholics
  • Paupers
  • Professional beggars
  • Vagrants
  • Persons sick with a contagious disease
  • Persons with a mental or physical defect that would affect the ability to earn a living
  • Convicted felons of moral crimes
  • Polygamists (again, the Mormons)
  • Anarchists
  • Prostitutes
  • Contract laborers
  • Persons likely to become a public charge
  • Persons who had their passage paid for by another party
  • Stowaways
  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Asians not originating from a U.S. territory
  • Prior deported persons
  • Illiterates, unless returning residents or immigrating to escape religious persecution

The classifications of some of these people, such as, idiots, imbeciles, beggars, epileptics, feeble-minded, physically defective, etc., became the basis for a following trend in American municipalities to pass what were commonly called “ugly laws”. Not only did the white majority in America want a “white” America, they also wanted a “pretty to look at” America. It remains ironic that these same classes of people who were prohibited from entering the country would often pass by the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, an icon of hope, bearing a plaque which read:

“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-tossed to me,

What a big, fat, American lie. And America’s been lying to everyone since the day the Puritans first set foot on the shores of Plymouth. The immigrants here in my barrio, however, are nobody’s fools. What I find incredibly interesting is that most of my immigrant neighbors are better educated on the true history of America than most native born Americans. Where they got a stiff dose of startling truth in mandatory world studies of their country of origin’s education systems, we native Americans get brainwashed with the propaganda machine our country created to make us good little American boys and girls, isolated from the rest of the world, and puffed up with a sense of superiority. Being a gringa in the barrio is a humbling experience. Especially when I realize that many of my immigrant neighbors were not on my country’s reject list like I, myself, would have been.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/39%20stat%20874.pdf

http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2850&context=jclc

https://books.google.com/books?id=pXW69O5po3AC&pg=PA165&lpg#v=onepage&q&f=false

Photo credit:  en.wikisource.org

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gringaofthebarrio

A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

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