Struggles over Immigrants' Language: Literacy Tests in the United States, 1917-1966

By Young-in Oh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3:
Power Politics in Implementing
Immigration Policy: Congress and
the Bureau Of Immigration

In many studies, scholars of immigration history have pointed out that the federal immigration agency functioned with considerable freedom compared to other government agencies. In her study of the treatment Chinese immigrants received from the federal courts and the federal immigration agency; for example, historian Lucy E. Salyer indicates the operations of the immigration agency were less influenced by general administrative procedures and the detailed scrutiny of the courts than were other government agencies.1 The Bureau of Immigration and each immigration station clearly acted unchecked for the most part in applying discretion to immigration laws since the very beginning of the twentieth century.2 Most scholars recognized the Bureau was overwhelmed by a heavy workload resulting from an extensive scope of responsibilities, but they still accused the immigration agency of inefficient and dehumanizing administration.

The reason why the Bureau of Immigration became what Salyer terms an “outlaw” has often been clarified. Nevertheless, the interrelationship between Congress and the immigration administration or administrators that shared responsibility for applying immigration policy has often been overlooked. Scholars generally turn instead to external factors in explaining the unprecedented power of the immigration agency. Historian William Preston shows how difficult it was for an individual immigrant to stand up against the autonomous judgments of the immigration agency. Preston argues that most immigrants had no choice but to accept the plenary administration’s judgments because, in most cases, immigrants were “despised,

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