Immigration American Style
I begin this post by indicating that I am a 12th generation white American
with traceable roots back to John Alden and Pricilla Mullins who were among the 102 passengers plus a crew of 25 to 30 that departed from Plymouth, England on September 6th, 1620 on a ship called the Mayflower. I will document more of the story in a future post entitled, "An American Story" at a later date.
Members of my family (both maternal and paternal) were part of the settling of America from that first landing in late November, 1620 thru the beginnings of settlements on the east coast, Plymouth, Braintree, MA. where a Grandmother, Ruth Bass had a sister named Hannah Bass who was the Grandmother of John Adams our second President (my distant cousin) and great grandmother to John Quincy Adams, our 6th President (also my distant cousin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia to Michigan and Indiana and beyond during the 1600's, 1700's, 1800's, 1900's and into the current century. They were explorers, farmers, merchants, salesmen, business owners, politicians, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons and soldiers who fought and lived or fought and died in many of our nation's wars including the French and Indian War in the 1750's, the Revolutionary War for Independence, the Civil War, both World Wars and Korea. I write the following from a family history that spans the life of America.
I also write it with a goal of being as objective as I can with respect to the subject of immigration policy in America. This post is not meant to disparage America or her people but rather to look back into history's mirror at some stark truths and with the hope of providing a perspective to encourage this and future generations who might review and renew the ideals expressed at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence and perhaps even spur a reduction in the hate and bitterness that currently resides in the hearts and minds of too many fellow Americans.
It is June 26th, 2012 and many American citizens and non-citizens are asking the proverbial question; "What next?". The Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 3 vote to strike down key provisions of the Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070, while leaving in place another key provision that authorizes Arizona law enforcement officers to question anyone they stop for other alleged violations with respect to their immigration status. It appears that the court's ruling, favoring the overall Federal authority over individual State authority with respect to immigration policies and enforcement while still leaving the status question in play to be tested after the law officially takes effect. The decision, of course, provided room for both sides of this issue to claim at least a partial victory (that's the politics of today). The ruling, while a blow to those who promote the basic concept that looking "different" or being "different" (from the white model) is inherently suspicious, may at least slow down the frenzy of legislation activity taking place in several States in recent years.
Yesterday's decision by the Supreme Court affects the letter of the law but not the attitude that created the law, which appeared to be part frustration and part a deep discrimination that resides in the hearts of far too many people. No law has the ability to change hearts and minds.
So what next?
On one level, the Supreme Court decision could certainly be considered a blow to States Rights advocates who continue to mistakenly misread the U. S. Constitution and a validation of the authority granted to the Federal Government in a document known as the United States Constitution (which by the way was created precisely to establish a central authority over many laws and activities that affect all Americans). Contrary to the claims of many regarding the Constitution about the motives for and powers granted within it, the Constitution was created after 7 years of operational failure under the Articles of Confederation which basically allowed individual States to function as almost separate nations and not as a truly "United" States of America. Article 1, Section 8 gave Congress (and Congress alone) the power "to establish an uniform rule of naturalization". It is the only place in the original text that deals with the subject.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 (just a year after the new Constitution was ratified) granted naturalized citizenship ONLY to "free white persons" of "good moral character". The very FIRST Federal legislation EXCLUDED American Indians, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks and later Asians. Citizenship was inherited exclusively through the Father, and a person was not recognized as a citizen if the Father had never been a resident in the U.S. even if the mother had been. The "good moral character" clause, of course, created the foundation for a subjective review based on beliefs in place at any given time.
The 1790 Law remained pretty unchanged (except for an extension of the residency requirement to 5 years and later 14 years) for almost 75 years until passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868 (following the Civil War) that granted citizenship to people born in the United States, regardless of their parents race, citizenship or place of birth, but it excluded untaxed Indians. The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended the citizenship ban to exclude "aliens of African Nativity and to persons of African descent" which muted a perceived promise that gaining freedom after the civil war seemed to offer. It was an additional 28 years before in 1898 a Supreme Court decision granted citizenship to American children born of Chinese parents. Were all "Asian" children considered Chinese at that time? It took until 1924 to finally include all Native Americans (regardless of their tax status or whether or not they belonged to a federally recognized tribe). A further Naturalization Act (28 years later) in 1952 prohibited (at least on paper) racial and gender discrimination in the naturalization process.
Some naturalization Acts passed into law by the Federal Government appeared to have been politically motivated as well as discriminatory. The Naturalization Act of 1798 increased the residency requirement from 5 to 14 years and was seen as an attempt to reduce the number of potential voters opposed to the Federalist political Party (which included John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and by proxy, George Washington among the esteemed "Founding Fathers"). During this period, most immigrants, specifically Irish and French, supported Thomas Jefferson (anti-Federalist) and among the budding Democratic-Republican Party that also included James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams. Apparently the Irish and the French were not considered "white" enough.
After the 14th Amendment passage and the Act of 1870, the next example of discrimination came with the Page Act of 1875, and was the first Federal Immigration law. It prohibited the entry of immigrants considered "undesirable". The law classified "undesirable" as any individual from Asia who was coming to America to be a contract laborer, and Asian women who would engage in prostitution, and people considered convicts in their home country. How a determination was made about an Asian woman being a prostitute before she actually was one remains an open question. The Act was introduced to "end the danger of cheap Chinese labor and immoral Chinese women". The law was essentially racist and passed as a protection to whites who certainly also provided cheap labor and white women, some of whom were certainly prostitutes right along with other nationalities.
In 1882, Congress went even further and passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which suspended all Chinese immigration. The ban was intended to be in effect for 10 years, but stayed in effect for 61 years! Then in 1943 (when China was recognized as an allied nation to the U.S. during World War II) the Magnuson Act that allowed Chinese immigration and allowed some Chinese immigrants already living in the U.S. to become naturalized citizens. The real motivation may have been motivated by the need for military support and the need for more workers during the war. Even this Act contained restrictions as it kept in place the ban against ownership of property and businesses by ethnic Chinese. In many States, Chinese Americans (including U.S. citizens) were denied property ownership rights until the Magnuson Act was fully repealed in 1965. The Act also established a very low quota level for Chinese immigrants allowed into the country each year.
The "National Origins Formula" (part of the Immigration Act of 1924) and the other immigration laws passed during the first 176 years of U.S. history, including the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 were based, at least in part, on a core discrimination directed at various ethnic groups that were, and are, NOT WHITE. Depending on our economic and political situation at any given time, the United States Congress (at the Federal level) has passed and enacted legislation that has targeted and impacted most ethnic groups from all parts of the globe.
The main target (if we're being honest) of the most recent examples of immigration laws (among individual States) has been people of Hispanic/Latino heritage, but it is not the first time. The Bracero program initiated in 1942 was a series of laws and agreements between the U.S. and Mexico for the importation of temporary contract laborers, mainly to provide workers during World War II, but it continued after the war in the agriculture industry until the formal end in 1964. Prior to the Bracero programs, more than 500,000 Mexican Americans were deported or pressured to leave during the Great Depression in the 1930's.
In the 1950's, before the end of the Bracero program, the issue of too many Mexican immigrants reached a tipping point. In 1954, Operation Wetback took effect. The purpose was to remove illegal immigrants, specifically those of Mexican descent. More than 1,000 border agents, along with State and local police from all the southern border States were deployed in the operation. Some of the tactics included going house to house in Mexican American neighborhoods and citizenship checks during standard traffic stops! Sound familiar?
History does repeat itself.
In all, 1,075,168 Mexicans or undocumented people were deported in 1954, at a time when the "guest worker system" under the Bracero program was in full swing. It must have been a very confusing time for those immigrants.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the National Origins Formula that was in effect for more than 40 years, which based quotas on a small % (3) of the current level of residents already in the country. The 1965 Act created a performance system that focused on immigrant skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents. There were still numerical quotas, and per country of origin quotas. The law as it stood then excluded Asians and Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern ones. It was an embarrassment and yet another display of core discrimination written into many of our Federal statutes. By opening the immigration pool, the 1965 Act allowed for a major change in the ethnic makeup of America. Prior to the 1965 Act, our population growth was only about 10% driven by legal immigration. By the 1990's, the growth was more than one third immigration driven and by 2000, 30% of the U.S. population were ethnic and racial minorities, with 11.1% foreign born versus only 4.7$ in 1970. I'm sure a stunning and upsetting development to the ardent supporters of a "white" America.
The next great Federal action was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which had the following key provisions;
1) required employers to attest to their employees immigration status
2) made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit indocumented immigrants.
3) granted amnesty to certain seasonal agricultural illegal immigrants.
4) granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who entered the U.S. before January 1, 1982 and have resided in the U.S. since.
The flaws of the 1986 Act have become apparent during the past 26 years. The requirement for employee verification has never been an efficient system as most employers either balked at the added expense or had no fast and reliable method of verification or simply ignored it. Worse, funding has not been made available to provide agents to monitor employers for compliance. The clause about it being illegal for an employer to knowingly higher or recruit unauthorized immigrants was basically just words on the paper because employers can easily assert that they "didn't know" or many turned to using contract workers to rid themselves of the direct requirement. Don't ask, don't tell is very much alive in American business. The amnesty provisions just basically cleared the rolls at that time but without consistent funding and manpower to enforce the key enforcement provisions of the Act, it was a virtual certainty that the issue of illegal immigrants would surface again and again and it certainly has done that.
The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the number of legal immigrants allowed each year. It also created a lottery program for assigning a number of random visas (why the gimmick?). This Act also allowed exceptions to the English testing process required for naturalization specified in the Immigration Act of 1906. The English provision had been in effect for 84 years! The 1990 Act increased the number of legal immigrants to 700,000 per year from 500,000. An ongoing problem was and continues to be funding for personnel to process the continual backlog of applications which has caused an unbearable time period for gaining legal entry and has contributed, in part, to the number of people desperate enough to violate our laws by entering the country without proper approval.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 changed the penalty sections for illegals that are caught. The time period illegals are to remain out of the U.S. (if caught) after deportation increased to between 3 and 10 years. The Act lowered standards for immediate deportation. Section 287(g) of the Act created a program that permits the U.S. Attorney General to enter into agreements with State and local law enforcement agencies that allowed designated officers (under the direction of Federal immigration officials) to perform certain law enforcement functions related to immigration statute and policies currently in effect. By the end of 2006, only 5 States (California, Arizona, Alabama, Florida and North Carolina) had become part of the program.
This program is and has been in effect in Arizona (scene of the latest immigration firestorm) for some years now. Are the complaints about the lack of Federal assistance valid or just politics? Are there enough Federal agents in place and has the funding been provided by Congress? A key provision of the Arizona SB1070 law does not seem to appear in the current Federal Immigration laws and since the only authorized involvement by State and local law enforcement is to be under the direction of the Federal authorities it certainly appears that Arizona and others States have over stepped their authority. Individual States do not have the authority under the Constitution to randomly enact legislation that is in conflict with Federal law. The other question is if illegal immigration is a critical national program why aren't more States (especially New Mexico and Texas) part of this program. Of course, politics and posturing has entered this program now. Just in the past few days, President Obama has apparently ordered at least a suspension of the 287(g) program. It appears this was done to counter any assertion by Arizona (or other State) law enforcement that any actions they now engage in with respect to immigration are not authorized and it appears to be an attempt to prevent Arizona from claiming that their actions are part of the Federal/State program. This is a mistake. The President may envision a legal gain or even a political one, but at the same time has opened himself up to attacks for lessening the enforcement ability relating to illegal immigrants and of course he will be attacked for not reviewing the matter with Congress even though he is not technically required to do so and involvement in the 287(g) program is not required and is technically at the discretion of the U.S. Attorney General. Will Federal immigration officials assigned to Arizona or anywhere else now simply ignore calls from State or Local agencies that would inform them of a suspected illegal immigrant in their custody? I hope not because it would do nothing but make the situation even worse than it is now.
The Real ID Act, enacted May 11th, 2005, modified U.S. Federal Law pertaining to security, authentication and issuance standards for State driver's licenses and ID cards. As of April, 2008, ALL 50 States had either applied for extensions or gotten them without request. By October, 2009, 25 States had approved resolutions NOT to participate in the program.
In March, 2007, it was announced that enforcement of the Act would be postponed for 2 years and would not go into effect until December, 2009 (4 years after the initial passege of the Act). On January 11, 2008, the deadline for compliance was extended again until 2011. Was the original passage in 2005 simply a pacifying measure to quiet critics of the Federal response to the issue of identification? Questions about Federal authority to control ID policies in the individual States are ongoing. A read of the provisions of the Act appears to address key concerns the advocates for illegal immigration control have demanded yet Congress and most, if not all, of the individual States have been stonewalling or delaying actual implementation for more than 7 years! Opponents of the Real ID Act include unlikely allies like the ACLU, the Gun Owners of America, Christian Advocacy groups like the ACLJ, and the AFL-CIO. Passage of the bill was only possible because it was attached as a rider to H.R. 1268 which dealt with emergency funding for the Iraq conflict and Tsunami relief. This was (and is) a common practice to force pieces of legislation through Congress that wouldn't otherwise be enacted.
It appears that the implementation and enforcement of the Real ID Act could go a long way toward solving some of the States concerns (through a Federal Act) regarding proper and legal ID. The ID's could also be used to resolve some of the Voter ID issues that have been manufactured in some States recently. The REAL ID Act does not specifically "mandate" that everyone obtain an approved Real ID (we wouldn't want a mandate to possibly solve a big part of the immigrant ID issue would we?), nor does the Act specifically address the cost or funding for implementation or enforcement. This is yet another example of the Federal Government (Congress) attempting to resolve a national problem (while the individual States would still maintain control over the actual issuance process and maintenance of their data bases) and yet the States (many of whom continue to complain about the lack of Federal action) are using all possible measure to resist and reject it. This makes no sense except to conclude that the "game" isn't really about the solution but rather about keeping the issue alive as a political football because it is a powerful fund raising tool for the major political parties.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for the building of 700 miles of physical barriers along the Mexico-United States border. The law also authorized more vehicle barriers, checkpoints, and lighting as well as authorizing the Department of Homeland Security to increase the use of advanced technology such as cameras, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles.
It appeared that this Act was a solid attempt at addressing a cornerstone issue necessary before any meaningful success can be realized with respect to controlling the flow of immigrants and satisfy the ongoing complaints about the lack of effective border security.
Except, like so many other programs, it became about the money (isn't everything) and the politics (always the politics). Congress approved a meager 1.2 billion to fund the construction of the fence, which was only about 20% of the amount critics believed would be required. Of course, the lack of proper funding has severely hindered completion. In January, 2008, a measure was introduced in Congress, the Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008 which called for an additional 700 miles of fencing. That Bill died in committee and never even got a vote! A May, 2010 attempt by Senator Jim DeMint with a "Finish the Fence" Amendment also failed to pass.
We either want a solution or we don't! Critics or States or members of Congress cannot continue to complain (and use the lack of progress as a campaign issue) while at the same time fail to approve the necessary funding!
There have been at least 8 pieces of legislation that have been proposed in Congress since the Secure Fence Act of 2006 related to various immigration issues (all sponsored by Democrat legislators). 5 have died in committee and 3 from 2011 have been referred to committee with no indication of any pending action or success.
Given the extreme partisanship of our current Congress, it is highly unlike that ANY legislation proposed by either Party with respect to immigration issues (or any other issue) will have a chance of passage or even reach a floor vote. Actual funding for laws already in effect appear destined for the same fate. THIS should be unacceptable to all of us.
Since the creation of our United States Constitution in 1787, which itself formed some basis for discrimination by basically recognizing only "free white men" to the exclusion of whites that were not "free" or any other race and of course slaves (who were considered only 3/5ths of an actual person for Congressional representation purposes). Only white property or business owners could vote in the early years under the "new and improved" Constitution. There have been no less than 23 Acts of Congress passed since the inception of the current Constitution (only the 14th Amendment in 1868 directly altered the Constitution). After reviewing the list of laws and rules put in place during the past 222 years since 1790, it has become very clear (at least to this writer) that virtually all the Congressional actions that have been made have been at their core a persistent expression of the ideology subtlety put forth by our esteemed Founding Fathers and writers of the documents used to bind this nation, and that was (and still is to some degree) that White Men are the privileged ethnic group and somehow entitled to the exclusion of all others to be placed at the top of mountain and that all others were (and in the minds of many still) simply "less than". It is not difficult to envision the lofty group of landowners, businessmen, lawyers and scholars (all white men) that gathered to create the foundations of this budding nation that the assumption of white superiority was absolute and not in the least offensive to most of those in attendance. It seemed the natural order of things. This philosophy gained a solid foundation in both Government and everyday life and sadly, is still a sentiment that has continuing support. The proof of this is contained is the series of Acts noted previously as it took centuries for our laws to come close to finally including most peoples into a position of acceptance. Our history is filled with examples of deep discrimination that has been grudgingly relinquished due to the massive change in domestic population and the realities of the nation and the world in the 21st century.
Also a very important factor in play with a good many of the 23 different immigration laws that have been enacted since 1790 has been the protection and furtherance of business interests or political interests, which can be shown along with a few changes motivated by times of war or other conflicts. Politics, money and pure discrimination have been at the forefront as opposed to any real attempt to live up to the lofty words contained at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence which says; "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". These words were not, of course, in the text of either the Articles of Confederation or our current United States Constitution so strict Constitutionalists can assert that there are equality provisions actually contained in the original document. The core document does not address requirements for citizenship or voting privileges and the only mention in the main text is contained in Article 1, Section 8 that gives Congress the power to "Establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization throughout the United States". Even the Bill of Rights (only added to the main Constitution that had been submitted to the States for ratification without them, brought dissent from a few States that threatened the ratification success chances) did not contain specific rights or protections covering non-white "citizens". The reference in the Bill of Rights to "people" can easily be presumed to refer to (as emboldened in the main text and with policies adopted after it took effect) only the worthy white folks as opposed to referencing any and all human inhabitants regardless of their ethnicity. The accomplishments of our early leaders should not be dismissed as they were truly epic and the United States has grown and remained largely functional for more than two centuries which when viewed through history's prism has been remarkable in spite of the unfulfilled promises of equality evident in our immigration policy legacy.
In summary, I would suggest that the current rash of legislative actions by many individual States to independently control immigration within their State borders (which is clearly not within the authority granted to them in our Constitution) is a continuing attempt to reject the ultimate authority of our Federal Government as part of the struggle for States rights that has persisted for centuries. Certain specific authorities were allocated to the Federal Government and ratified by the States back in 1789. AND (if we are being honest) is also yet another attack (although not specifically named in our more modern forms of legislation) on the minority group that happens to be of Hispanic descent. When compared to many of the more specific and blatantly discriminatory Immigration Acts enacted during our nation's history, the current wave could actually be considered somewhat benign. This is not to suggest that recent efforts are at all inline with our "perceived ideals" or aren't discriminatory in their own right because those realities are true. Our modern legislators have become more subtle in that individual ethnic groups are not singled out now, as the very first Naturalization Act of 1790 did, or the Page Act of 1875 did, or the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 did or the Immigration Act of 1917 did, which added to the of undesirables banned from entering the country to include "homosexuals", "idiots", "feeble minded persons", "criminals", "epileptics", "alcoholics", "professional beggars", "polygamists" and "anarchists". That Act also banned all immigrants over the age of 16 who were illiterate and added a ban on all immigrants from much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Yes, we have a very checkered and frankly, a fairly shameful history of attempting to control the national gene pool at the Federal level, throughout the history and development of the United States. The motives, whether influenced by economic or political pressure or just pure discrimination by the white elite, are footnotes to the actual results. The facts are what they are and we (as a nation) must all bear some level of responsibility for the decisions and results brought about by the actions of our Government as stated in the opening sentence of our Constitution which states; "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America". We need a new commitment to those ideals.
Since the original Founders and leaders that followed could not possibly have anticipated or possessed the knowledge or even imagination to envision the complexities that this nation and the world have revealed more than two centuries into the future, they could be relieved of some level of omission, but they should have, with all due respect, displayed a much more enlightened approach to acceptance of all peoples into the grand experiment that was, and still is, the United States of America.
Again, What next?
At some point, our partisan leaders are going to have to put the politics and quest for power and control aside long enough to actually come up with a workable plan to correct any ills contained in our current immigration policies. Funding must be made available to improve the administrative process and finish physical security measures. A real plan must include a method of handling the undocumented people currently in country that doesn't involve a mass swat team style invasion into millions of homes across America in an attempt to physically remove people. A real plan must provide a system of relief to those people brought into the country by their parents as children, then raised and educated here, who know no other home but America. Our ideals as a nation demand it and the population diversity expansion in the United States also demands it. This is no longer a sparsely populated "white" nation and that must be accepted by those still clinging to that concept. Actual change to the hearts and minds of many is still an elusive task, but America should be the beacon of freedom and fairness and a safe haven for the oppressed that was originally conceived but has been fading and we, in the here and now (as well as future generations) have the ability to be that Nation that is truly worthy of admiration and respect.
It is "Time to Think Again!!"