Policy point-counterpoint: should illegal immigrants and their children receive federal and state social services.

Author:Sanders, Robert M.

The United States has been built primarily by immigrants, most seeking a better life for themselves and their families though some type of industrious behavior. Until the late nineteenth century, anyone could emigrate to the U.S., and thousands did to escape poverty, persecution, or war. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, the federal government tried to control this population growth through various legislative acts. Traditionally, Western and Northern European nations received the lion's share of the benefits of such regulation. Non-whites were the targets of the earliest immigration policies. Chinese nationals, for example, were excluded from entering the U.S. for sixty years following the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This legislation resulted from lawmakers' attempts to prevent the entry of Chinese and Japanese prostitutes and criminals into the U.S. as well as complaints from Westerners that Asian workers were taking most of the railroad and mining jobs at lower wages. Almost two decades later, President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated a "gentlemen's agreement" with Japan to suspend immigration from that country in return for nonsegregated education for Japanese children in California. (1)

Influenced by the resurgence of nativism stemming from anti-Catholic, anti-radical, and Anglo-Saxon nationalism sentiments, Congress, during the 1920s, enacted three laws to preserve the "character" of the nation. The Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 sought to curtail immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe as well as from Asia. Immigration from a specific country was limited to three percent for each nationality of the foreign-born population living in the United States as reported in the 1910 Federal Census. An overall maximum quota of 357,000 would be imposed annually. Congress hoped that this would shield the country from "undesirables," particularly anarchists from Russia's Bolshevik Revolution. In an effort to restrict immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe further, Congress enacted the National Origins Act of 1924 which lowered the quota to two percent for each nationality of the foreign-born population living in the U.S. according to the 1890 Federal Census. Since fewer Eastern and Southern Europeans resided in the country at that time, this law clearly tried to reduce the number of those immigrants while allowing for more immigration from Britain, Ireland, and Northern Europe. The law also stipulated that...

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