Laws Harsh as Tigers: Chinese Immigrants and the Shaping of Modern Immigration Law

By Lucy E. Salyer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Drawing the Sieve Tighter THE RISE OF NATIVISM AND ADMINISTRATIVE POWER

Nativism made its first inroads into federal immigration policy with the enactment of the Chinese exclusion policy in the 1880s and the Immigration Act of 1891, as detailed in Chapter 1. Between 1891 and 1924, the nativist movement gained momentum, though often in fits and starts. The movement cast an increasingly wider net to sweep out Asian and "new immigrants" from southern and eastern Europe who appeared to undermine the nation's economic and social stability. Nativists revealed a growing concern that the "aliens in our midst" did not fit -- racially, culturally, or politically -- into the American community.1 They sought new policies that would eliminate the misfits from American society. Nativism reached its peak with the passage of the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924, which successfully barred the entry of the "undesirable" immigrants.

As the struggle between Chinese and administrators that led to the Ju Toy decision had demonstrated, the passage of restrictive immigration policies was not sufficient to achieve nativists' objectives. They also needed to pay close attention to how those policies were enforced. Particularly important to the effective enforcement of restrictive laws, given the success that Chinese had achieved in the courts before Ju Toy, the bureau had to remain free from traditional legal constraints. Thus the move toward tighter restrictions was accompanied by the expansion of the Bureau of Immigration's unhampered discretion to administer the Chinese and immigration laws without the stultifying requirements of judicial notions of due process. Just as nativists finally in 1924 got the legislation they had long sought, they also had by that point an agency with broad powers to effect their restrictionist policies.

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