U.S. Immigration Law
In this chapter I focus on the history of the legislation that has shaped immigration to the United States. To place this legislative past into context, I also review the history of the volume and characteristics of the immigrant flow into the nation. I attempt to explain why U.S. immigration law evolved as it did, focusing on the history of the policy disputes behind the laws. In this review I carefully examine the values purported to be at stake with respect to immigrant flows and the validity of the social science findings supporters and opponents of certain immigration policies utilized to back their views.
To guide the reader into an understanding of the chronological relationship between the volume and type of immigration and immigration policy, I present three tables. The first, Table 4.1, relates the foreign-born population of the United States at each census date to the total population. The second, Table 4.2, relates the number of legal immigrants during a particular decade to the estimated population of the United States at the middle of that decade. The third, Table 4.3, provides the percentage distribution by area of origin of the legal immigrants during each decade.
From 1789 to 1874--for close to ninety years--the federal government had no laws directly restricting immigration. Nevertheless, during this period laws were placed into effect that directly or indirectly served to reduce the immigrant flow into the United States. The Constitution, ratified in 1789, did allow Congress to prohibit the importation of slaves beginning in 1808; moreover, in 1807 Congress enacted legislation that made the slave trade illegal as of 1808. The prohibition of the importation of slaves did not prohibit immigration per se; it simply restricted the legal status of immigrants to that of free persons. No doubt the 1808 law did indirectly and drastically reduce the volume of immigration to the United States from Africa. Moreover, even though no direct restrictions on immigration were enacted into federal law during this period, some state governments did restrict the immigration of paupers. Finally,