The Archaeology of ‘Remote Control’
Aristide R. Zolberg
Gerald Neuman has persuasively demonstrated that, ‘Contrary to popular myth, the borders of the United States were not legally open prior to the federalization of immigration law in the late nineteenth century’ (Neuman 1996: viii).
But when and how did the ‘myth’ become into being? And how widely was it believed? Referring to the state and local enactments that form the basis of his analysis, Neuman himself concedes at the outset that historians ‘have not been wholly unaware of the existence of these laws’. Many of these, as well as enactments to prevent the immigration of convicts, felons, lunatics, and others deemed undesirable, were prominently featured in two comprehensive collections of historical and contemporary immigration materials edited by Edith Abbott in 1924 and 1926, at a time when the protracted struggle to reduce immigration culminated in a series of unprecedented restrictionist victories (Abbott 1924; Abbott 1926). As is often the case, each of the opposing camps in the struggle over contemporary issues sought to demonstrate that ‘history’ was on its side. In short, defenders of the ‘liberal’ status quo — as of 1920, with regard to Europe, this meant immigration limited by ‘qualitative’ requirements alone — argued that the American tradition, as established by the Founders, was clearly ‘immigrationist’.1 A major response was elaborated by Roy Garis (1927). With regard to the ‘lost century’, Garis included not only state and local enactments, but also national legislation, notably the more demanding naturalization laws adopted by the Federalists in the 1790s and a lengthy series of ‘passenger’ acts that limited the number of persons that could be carried on incoming ships. Beyond this, he also surveyed numerous unsuccessful attempts to enact restrictive national laws. There is no gainsaying that, despite their