Migration Control in the North Atlantic World: The Evolution of State Practices in Europe and the United States from the French Revolution to the Inter-War Period

By Andreas Fahrmeir; Olivier Faron et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 17
Races at the Gate
Racial Distinctions in Immigration Policy
A Comparison between France and the
United States

Patrick Weil

The United States of America is a country where, throughout its history, the vast majority of citizens have been immigrants or descendants of immigrants. France is a ‘country of immigration’ where large numbers of foreigners have settled as permanent residents, but where (as in all European Union countries today) there is a dominant sense that the immigrants have joined a core, majority, population that has existed since time immemorial. Despite this difference, French and American immigration policies can be compared. France is the oldest country of immigration in Europe, which has received a significant number of immigrants since the middle of the nineteenth century and, like the U.S., faced a ‘nationalisation’ of immigration control at the end of nineteenth century. In fact, as this volume demonstrates, immigration control existed in Europe and United States throughout the nineteenth century. At points of entry into the U.S., severe state laws against convicts, paupers, aliens with contagious diseases and free black men were enforced (Neuman 1996: 19–43). But the main mechanisms of control remained social and economic, automatically imposed by the cost of transport and facilitated by the fact that boats and harbours were essentially the only way to enter U.S. territory. At the end of the nineteenth century, in response to the rapid increase of flows favoured by the decrease of transportation costs, the federal government took direct responsibility for immigration control.

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