U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History

By Michael Lemay; Elliott Robert Barkan | Go to book overview

Part I
The Era of Unrestricted Entry and Unrestricted Admission--Colonial Period to 1880

Colonial immigration laws were designed primarily to promote immigration, reflecting the colonies' desire to encourage more people to settle in the new land. They did, however, enact several laws to regulate and restrict immigration in some aspects. They set precedents that were followed in subsequent national legislation. Colonial Americans, who viewed strangers as legitimate objects of suspicion, cautiously allowed settlers but were wary of those of religious difference (i.e., Catholics/ Jesuits) or those who might become public charges. The influx of Germans and Quakers in the early 1700s led to specific provincial immigration laws. Documents 1 and 2 exemplify the approach first taken by the colonies--to require masters of ships to provide lists of the settlers and to provide a bond in case such persons became public charges. The first document, enacted nine years after the two Massachusetts Bay colonies unified into one province, demonstrates their economic concerns. Lame, impotent, or infirm persons were prohibited from entering without providing security that the town into which they settled would not be charged with their support.

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