Historical Impact of Race and Ethnicity upon Immigration in the United States: Theoretical Perspectives and the Application to Contemporary Latinos

By Alexander, Rudolph, Jr. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Historical Impact of Race and Ethnicity upon Immigration in the United States: Theoretical Perspectives and the Application to Contemporary Latinos


Alexander, Rudolph, Jr., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


I. Introduction

Since humans first appeared on the earth in large numbers, immigration (1) by them from one place to another place has occurred. (2) Biologists confirm that human beings emerged first in Africa and began to migrate from Africa about 60,000 years ago. (3) While Native Americans are referred to as the First Nation people in the United States, Native Americans were reported to have migrated to America from Asia, crossing a land bridge into Alaska and then down into America. (4) Historians have documented the lives and movement of persons during the First Millennium BC (5) and 2200 BC in Mesopotamia and Egypt. (6) As governments of countries grew and developed, they often passed laws and codes restricting entrance into their countries. Subsequent laws, such as the laws within the nascent America, were generally passed while immigration was being encouraged at one point. For instance, America invited immigrants in the 1700s, although it passed An Act to Establish a Uniform Rule of Naturalization in 1790 (7) and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. (8) The U. S. Constitution, formulated in 1787, referenced immigration in Article 1, Section 9, (9) and forbade Congress from prohibiting immigration until 1808, (10) indicating that the United States wanted immigration for about 20 years. As a consequence, waves of immigrants from Ireland and Germany came to the United States in the 1800s. (11)

The movement of groups of people into a new place often produced conflict, (12) and the intensity of this conflict often was determined by the race and ethnicity of newcomers. (13) For instance, several laws were passed in the 1800s in the United States to control the entrance of persons from China. Revealing differences in how race was viewed, a federal judge in 1882, who was deciding a case involving an Asian, commented on "our worthy resident aliens from Europe--gentlemen of Irish and German nativity." (14) This comment seemed to differentiate Asians from persons of Irish and German descent, implying that Asians were unworthy and the Irish and Germans were worthy. Barry W. Higman asserted that in the late 19th century, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and Australia pursued immigration policies based centrally upon race. (15) The number of Germans, Irish, and Italians in the 1800s created concerns among some Americans, and Congress created the first immigration statute in 1875, barring the admission of convicts and prostitutes. (16) This same 1875 law, however, specifically targeted Chinese, and Congress passed more restrictive legislation, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, in 1882. (17) The legal literature confirms that the principal targets were Asians, and the federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court, decided a number of cases involving immigration and persons of Asian descent. (18) During this period, there were little or no case laws pertaining to immigration and White Europeans like there were for Asians. However, in the 1920s, cases were decided on who was White and who was not White and their eligibility for naturalization.

In the 21st century, immigration continues to be a highly sensitive topic in the United States, and the focus again is upon race and ethnicity. While the focus is primarily upon illegal immigrants as opposed to legal immigrants, the underlying issue is ethnicity. Legal residents are those persons who were granted lawful permanent residence, asylee status, refugees, and granted a temporary stay for work or school, whereas illegal or unauthorized residents are those persons who are foreign born, non citizen who entered the United States without inspection or were temporary admitted but stayed longer than granted by their visas. (19) Today, the illegal residents that cause the most concern are Latinos in the United States. (20)

In 1979, John Tanton created an organization called the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which has its genesis in a race and eugenics ideology and stresses how immigration from Mexico and Latin America is going to destroy the United States.

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