Belonging, Removal, and Statelessness in the 19th-Century Irish Atlantic

Friday, January 4, 2019: 2:10 PM
Wilson Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Hidetaka Hirota, Waseda University
This paper challenges the conventional view of American nativism merely as a manifestation of militant nationalism against undesirable immigrants. Historians have examined how nativism served as a vehicle for the nation building of the United States by regulating the quality of newcomers who would join American society. In doing so, historians have taken a decidedly domestic approach to the study of nativism, focusing on anti-immigrant sentiment and the development of restrictive immigration policy within the United States.

This paper by contrast demonstrates how restrictive immigration policy in nineteenth-century America unfolded in transnational ways in tandem with similar policies in the British Empire. The influx of impoverished Irish immigrants over the first half of the nineteenth century provoked the development of American policies for deporting destitute foreigners back to their places of origin. While the Irish poor were returned to Britain under this policy, they were further deported to Ireland under British removal laws, which allowed for the expulsion of Irish paupers in Britain. Irish officers, in turn, rejected the accommodation of these migrants from America and Britain on the grounds that they no longer belonged to Ireland, making them virtually stateless.

By analyzing the post-deportation lives of the expelled Irish in Britain and Ireland, this paper reveals how American deportation policy was not simply a measure for nation building to eliminate undesirable elements from American society. Rather, it operated as part of a broader transnational legal culture of excluding non-producing members from societies and marginalizing the transient Irish poor in the north Atlantic world. By analyzing how both the United States and Britain expelled the Irish poor despite their long presence in the community as well as Irish officials’ rejection of the migrants who returned home, this paper also seeks to participate in the discussion of the conference theme, “Loyalties.”

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