Friday, January 7, 2011: 9:30 AM
Boylston Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
This paper examines immigration control by northern states of the United States and their endeavor to establish national immigration legislation during the 1870s. Since the 1840s, Massachusetts and New York had practiced various immigration controls primarily against undesirable classes of European immigrants, such as collection of entry fees upon arrival, entry restriction of pauper and mentally ill immigrants, and deportation back to their countries of origin or other American states. In 1876, the United States Supreme Court ruled that immigration control by individual states was unconstitutional. Provoked by the Supreme Court decision, immigration officials in Massachusetts and New York launched a collective campaign to secure federal legislation to check the flow of undesirable immigration. Their efforts resulted in the Immigration Act of 1882, which prohibited the landing of foreigners who would become a public charge and required their return to the countries of departure. This paper first explores immigration control activities by Massachusetts and New York, and then traces their efforts toward the federal legislation by looking at the correspondence among the officials of these states and congressional debate over the legislation.
In American immigration historiography, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act has drawn disproportionate attention as the beginning of American national immigration restriction. By shedding light on state-level immigration control before Chinese Exclusion and on a lesser-known immigration act of 1882, this paper highlights crucial continuity and transition in American immigration policy from states to the federal government. Also, while the growth of Asian immigration since the mid nineteenth century has been often examined as if it was the sole cause for the creation of federal immigration restriction, this paper demonstrates how immigration from the other side of the Atlantic contributed to it, thus expanding our understanding of subsequent immigration policies in the United States.