African Americans and immigrants

Significance: The unique circumstances arising from the manner in which the vast majority of African Americans came to the Western Hemisphere and the question of whether African Americans should be considered an immigrant group in the strict sense of the term have contributed substantially to the overarching debate over the role of race in American society. Adding to whatever racial tensions might have arisen among African Americans and certain immigrant groups, resentment has been manifested in some quarters over perceived preferment of newcomers over the long-established African American population.

African Americans and immigrants

Harper’s Weekly illustration of the burning of New York City’s African American orphan asylum during the 1863 draft riots.

Over the general, long-term perspective on history, the relationship between African Americans and other immigrant groups to the United States has revolved around mutual suspicion and competition. This aura of suspicion and competition has been heavily overlain and exacerbated by the racial issues that had already been set in place during the early colonial era. During the early seventeenth century, the few Africans who were transported to colonial Virginia, Maryland, and New England colonies held the status of indentured servants. Chattel slavery similar to that already in place in Spanish and Portuguese America had yet to secure legal status in the North American colonies. However, events moved rapidly. Spurred by concerns about the long-term stability of the system of indentured servitude and questions of interracial marriage and sexual unions, the various English colonial governments put into place legalized systems of permanent, racially based chattel slavery.

Massachusetts was the first North American colony to institute slavery on the Latin American model. However, it was in Virginia in 1661 that the southern slavery model, which would persist to 1865, was set in place. By the end of the seventeenth century a legal and social code of separating the "black” and "white” races was firmly fixed. This system of racial separation endured, in its various permutations, into the late 1960’s. As it would prove, this was to be the general rule whether or not these "whites” were long-established, and mainly of English stock; or part of subsequent waves of immigration from Ireland, Scandinavia, or central, southern, or eastern Europe. When society was defined in racial terms, all white persons, regardless of their condition in society, could look upon themselves as "preferred” over all African Americans.

Great Draft Riot of 1863

Communities of free African Americans existed from early colonial times. However, because of the growing incompatibility of the chattel slavery system outside the South, they flourished to a far greater degree in the northern colonies and states, particularly in the more vibrant economic climate of northern urban centers. As a distinctly identifiable and socially denigrated minority, African Americans invariably competed with newly arrived white immigrants for the lowest-paying jobs. With substantial white immigrant communities in nearly every major center by the 1860’s and increasing numbers of African American slaves escaping into the North on the Underground Railroad, relations between black and white communities grew more tense.

The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) was resented by many white northerners as being waged to eliminate slavery. These people feared the prospect of a tidal wave of freed black slaves coming north from southern plantations to threaten the livelihood of poor whites. In 1863. the first military conscription in the United States brought this resentment to fever pitch, as lower-class whiles saw themselves as being compelled to participate in a struggle to free black slaves that would work against their own interests.

In New York City, this resentment sparked a series of events that culminated in a bloody draft riot. In July. 1863, a motley group white of protesters, among whom German and Irish immigrant laborers were prominent, rapidly degenerated into a mob and began a rampage of vandalism, arson, assault, and murder. Over a four-day period, they burned down an orphanage for black children and relentlessly brutalized African Americans, as many as two thousand of whom may have lied the city seeking safely.

Twentieth century developments

The great New York City draft riot, notorious and horrific in its scope as it was. set the tune for subsequent northern and midwestern riots against African Americans. This ongoing violence was partially fueled by the anxieties and feelings of insecurity on the part of white immigrant groups. Anti-African American sentiment among while immigrants grew after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, during the first three decades of the new century, a movement that became known as the Great Migration saw the movement of many thousands of African Americans from the South to the North, where the) sought employment in urban centers. The same years also saw a massive influx of European immigrants into the United States.

As Jim Crow segregation systems became more rigid throughout the South and economic conditions there generally worsened, African Americans sought comparative freedom and better employment opportunities in northern cities, in which they formed ethnic enclaves. New York City\'s Harlem and Boston\'s Roxbury became two of the largest and best known of such communities. As black southerners were moving north, large numbers of eastern and southern Europeans were entering the United States, enlarging or creating their own ethnic enclaves. They were also coming into competition—at times violently—with African Americans for jobs. Interactions between Jews and African Americans were more ambiguous because of the existence of small but vocal groups within both communities harboring attitudes of racial exclusivity and religious anti-Semitism.

The decade of the 1960’s witnessed both the ebbing of the old immigration patterns and the crest of the Civil Rights movement. Although African Americans made major political and economic strides as a result of the successes of the Civil Rights movement, their very success engendered a new consciousness among members of other minority groups, particularly Asian Americans. Through the ensuing decades, the numbers of Asian Americans were considerably augmented by refugees from military conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. However, the great rise in Latin American immigration would prove to have the greatest impact on African Americans.

"New Immigration” and African Americans

By the last decades of the twentieth century, American Latinos and Latin American immigrants—who are often collectively known as Hispanics—combined to overtake African Americans as the largest ethnic minority category in the United States. However, Latinos comprise people from many highly disparate nationalities, including Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups with roots in Central America, South American, and the Caribbean. To complicate their relationship with African Americans even further, many Latin groups contain strong black elements. Consequently, there has been measurable outreach between African Americans and Latinos. Some African American community and legislative leaders have joined with Hispanic leaders to support liberalized immigration policies. Many educational institutions, especially historically black colleges, have actively recruited students from Hispanic communities.

Despite increasing African American cooperation with Hispanics, the major American political parties have tended to treat Hispanics and African Americans as separate and distinct voting blocs. For example, the Republican Party heavily courted Hispanic voters during the 2000 and 2004 national elections, and a modest outreach initiative by the George W. Bush administration to enlist greater African American support was stymied by the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. What was perceived as a belated and inadequate response by the Bush administration was roundly criticized.

A question generating great differences of opinion has been what the impact of increasing Hispanic immigration—both legal and illegal—might have on already high unemployment rates within the African American community. Moreover, as African Americans have seen many Hispanics reach higher levels than most African Americans, black resentment has grown over the possibility that favoritism has been shown to the newer arrivals. However, there is no evidence that disparities between black and Hispanic incomes are any more than a perception. 

Raymond Pierre Hylton

Further Reading

Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Penguin, 2003. Though this book is mainly about Chinese Americans, it often offers comments on African Americans that present interesting juxtapositions of the historical interplay of African Americans with a large nonwhite immigrant group.

Katz, Loren William, ed. Anti-Negro Riots in the North, 1863. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Compilation of historical documents that illuminate the reasons why immigrants rioted.

Learner, Michael, and Cornel West. Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Two intellectuals, one Jewish, the other African American, discuss the long and paradoxical interplay between their marginalized communities.

Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. Useful for providing background information for and chronicling the advent of slavery and racism into the American social and legal fabric.

Morrison, Toni. What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Edited by Carolyn C. Denard. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. Contains the Nobel Prize-winning author’s 1993 essay "On the Backs of Blacks,” which presents a stark analysis of the dilemma of race as relating to nonblack immigrants and their attitudes toward and interactions with African Americans.

Swain, Carol Miller, ed. Debating Immigration. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Collection of essays on immigration, the most significant of which concerning racial issues are those by Swain and Jonathan Tilove.

See also: Abolitionist movement; Affirmative action; African immigrants; American Colonization Society; Civil Rights movement; Ethiopian immigrants; Garvey, Marcus; Liberia; Slave trade; Stereotyping; Universal Negro Improvement Association; West Indian immigrants.

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Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

These laws were the first example in the United States of repressive immigration legislation enacted amid fear of foreigners and war hysteria...

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Americanization programs

Definition: Amorphous movements that emerged in the second half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries in response to the influx of non-English-speaking immigrants

Significance: At the turn of the twentieth century, non-English-speaking immigrants flooded American shores, setting off a wave of nativistic fears. In order to combat rising nativism, reformers constructed a number of programs aimed at absorbing immigrants into American civic life.

Americanization programs

Patriotic poster issued during World War I to promote the idea of Americanization. (Library of Congress)

During the decades following the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865), demands for the creation of a national culture emerged in response to increasing concerns that new non-English-speaking immigrants, if left to their own devices, would erode the moral and economic fabric of the United States. The assassination of PresidentWilliam McKinley in 1901 by Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist son of a Polish immigrant, fueled fears of radicalism on the part of immigrants and galvanized the efforts of many Americans to assimilate immigrants in order to moderate their radicalism. Under the guise of combating neglect and exploitation, Progressives embraced the notion of Americanization and developed programs to promote immigrant acculturation.

Settlement House Movement

Emerging social science programs in universities during the early twentieth century played a key role in fostering immigrant integration into American society. Progressive reformers believed that immigrants could be converted into valued American citizens. Settlement house programs in large cities offered immigrants respites from the crowded, dirty tenements as well as places to learn. This and other initiatives, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), provided health services, vocational training, and civics and English classes.

Other efforts focused on motherhood as a key to assimilation. The domestic science movement published information and research on diet, nutrition, health and cleanliness. Programs sought to limit the sizes of families on the premise that unrestricted population growth ought to be abandoned in modern industrial societies. Many of these programs aimed at giving immigrant women tools to work outside their homes as housemaids, seamstresses, and laundresses.

Employer Programs

Many industrialists designed worker education programs to influence the behavior of their immigrant workers and to reduce the growing problem of labor turnover. For example, in 1913, Ford Motor Company instituted what it called its "Five Dollar a Day” program. To receive that level of wages, workers had to be certified by Ford’s sociological department that they were thrifty, sober, and diligent. The emerging theories of scientific management assisted industries by creating a structure of strict organization of production combined with pay incentives. Other companies opened libraries and offered classes aimed at fostering acceptance of American ways, as defined by the employers. Management argued that speaking English was fundamental to unifying the workforce and creating industrial prosperity. 

Company medical staffs taught oral and physical hygiene in both the workplace and the home. They also offered married women instruction on household finances and child care. One railroad company used a boxcar converted to reflect its image of the model American home to transport Americanization instructors. The state of California created a Commission of Immigration and Housing to investigate work and living conditions and to teach English and good health practices to immigrants. The state commission recruited religious leaders, social workers, and government bureaucrats to design and implement Americanization programs.

Education Programs


During the late nineteenth century, many efforts to Americanize adult immigrants did not provide the desired results. Employers and reformers recognized that they might reach immigrant parents more effectively through their children, reasoning that children were potentially easier to shape into responsible citizens. Accordingly, companies established kindergarten programs for the children of its immigrant workers, while progressives shifted their focus to creating a system of compulsory public education. Schools in urban settings became vehicles for maintaining social order and inculcating American values. The schools afforded vocational training and English-language classes, taught the value of good citizenship and respect for authority, and provided programs in health and grooming. By the 1890’s, most states with increasing immigrant populations had passed laws mandating compulsory schooling from the ages of eight to fourteen. Historian Richard Hofstadter noted that the intent of public education was to forge a nation, make it literate, and foster civic competence.

Patriotic Education Programs

Progressives were convinced of the need to mold immigrants into "100 percent Americans” and to create a national culture to promote loyalty to American civic ideals. Many patriotic expressions that Americans would embrace during the twenty-first century were developed in response to fears that non-English-speaking immigrants would erode the national identity. For example, the schoolhouse flag movement required public schools to fly the American flag and conduct daily flag-salute ceremonies. In 1891, Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance to promote national unity and civic patriotism by honoring the American flag.

Public education emphasized the importance of civic service and duty to country. Patriotic programs emphasized the sacrifices made by past citizens to preserve the union. Laws were passed requiring public schools to observe President Abraham Lincoln’s and President George Washington’s birthdays, and to participate in Memorial Day and Flag Day activities. The invention of the idea of Betsy Ross as maker of the first American flag, patriotic pageants, pictures of national heroes, and teaching of citizenship were all part of the public school Americanization programs.

Progressive teachers advanced ideas of civic patriotism, while Theodore Roosevelt and members of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) advanced programs of martial patriotism. Martial patriotism was infused with heroic images of soldiers, wars, and the honor of dying for one’s country. Stories of military adventures written for schoolchildren abounded. Symbols of soldiers and war cropped up in public parks, newspapers, and literature across the nation.

Linda Upham-Bornstein

Further Reading

Bodnar, John. The Transplanted. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. Major work on the experience of immigrants in transitioning to American capitalism.

Fitzpatrick, Ellen. Endless Crusade: Women Social Scientists and Progressive Reform. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Examination of the lives of four progressive women who played a crucial role in the establishment of settlement houses and social reform.

Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Significant scholarly study of the history of nativism in America.

O’Leary, Cecilia Elizabeth. To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999. Important work on the construction of American patriotic culture and the struggle to solidify a distinctly American identity.

Sánchez, George J. Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Examination of programs in California designed to assimilate Mexican immigrants.

See also: Anglo-conformity; Assimilation theories; Citizenship; Education; English-only and official English movements; History of immigration after 1891; Hull-House; Nativism; Progressivism; Settlement houses.

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Immigration has been an ongoing and important source of growth and development for the United States.

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Anti-Chinese movement

The Event: Era that saw widespread opposition to Chinese immigration at the local, state, and federal levels

Date: 1850’s-1940’s

Location: West Coast of the United States, primarily California

Significance: The Anti-Chinese movement developed out of anti-Chinese attitudes in the mining fields of California during the 1850’s to become a more widespread movement during the 1870’s. The movement was successful in helping to get the federal government to pass legislation restricting Chinese immigration that was enforced from the 1880’s until the 1940’s.

Anti-Chinese movement

Contemporary newspaper illustration of the anti-Chinese rioting in Denver, Colorado, in 1880. (Library of Congress)

When Chinese immigrants first arrived in the United States, they were accepted because they performed work considered undesirable by European Americans. However, as their numbers increased, strong resentment developed on theWest Coast, particularly in California. Chinese immigrants encountered prejudice and discrimination that were sometimes manifested in violence. Ultimately, the anti-Chinese movement helped foster federal legislation that severely restricted Chinese immigration for several decades.

California and the Early Movement

The discovery of gold in California in 1848 initiated the first significant wave of Chinese immigration to the United States. The state of California attempted to limit the ability of Chinese immigrants to assimilate. Miners of European descent were angered that the Chinese were gaining mining permits and finding gold that, in their minds, was rightfully theirs. The state government of California passed Foreign Miners’ License Tax laws in 1850 and 1852 that required all miners who were not U.S. citizens to pay three dollars per month in taxes (later increased to six dollars, and finally lowered to four dollars). Because Chinese workers were ineligible for U.S. citizenship, more of them had to pay this tax than members of any other immigrant group.

In 1851, John Bigler was elected governor of California on an anti-Chinese platform. Four years later, the state’s supreme court ruled that Chinese had the same limited rights as African Americans and Native Americans, meaning that they could not testify against white citizens in court. There was such a strong anti-Chinese feeling nationally that when a bill was introduced in Congress that would give Chinese Americans the right to vote, it was rejected. Many Americans who supported the anti- Chinese movement in the West regarded the Chinese as morally and intellectually inferior to all other minority groups in the region. These people consistently blamed the Chinese for the ills of the community.

As time passed, anti-Chinese sentiment gained support among the wider population. As the national economy suffered during the 1870’s, labor union leaders led the outcry against the Chinese for keeping wages low and taking potential jobs from white Americans. Labor leaders, along with politicians, used the charge that Chinese would work for lower wages as a way to win votes. Along with the economic issues, the movement focused on the cultural differences and stereotypes of the Chinese immigrants. Those opposed to Chinese immigration pointed to opium smoking, gambling, and prostitution as examples of the negative influences that Chinese immigrants had on American society. Furthermore, they looked down on the Chinese reluctance to assimilate and adopt the mainstream American way of life.

Chinese Exclusion and Violence

The anti-Chinese movement continued to grow during the 1880’s. With pressure from California, the federal government became involved as the movement gained national support. The federal government moved to stop Chinese immigration altogether. In the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China, the U.S. government had encouraged the immigration of Chinese nationals to the United States. Just over a decade later, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended all immigration of Chinese to the United States. This act was amended in 1884 to make it more difficult for Chinese laborers working in the United States who left the country to return.

After new Chinese immigration was mostly eliminated, the anti-Chinese movement turned its attention against Chinese who were already residing in the United States. There had been scattered incidents of violence in California against Chinese during the 1870’s, but the movement became more violent throughout the West during the mid-1880’s. This tension had been growing in both the mining fields and along the railroads—two sectors of the economy that employed large numbers of Chinese workers. In 1885, large-scale violence erupted in Rock Springs, Wyoming, where white vigilantes stormed through the Chinese community, killing many people and driving away many of the rest. Additional incidents later occurred in other Chinatowns throughout the Far West.

Stricter Enforcement

After violence on the West Coast, the United States strengthened its anti-Chinese stance. First, the government approved the expulsion of Chinese laborers who owned property in the United States or had wives living in the country. In 1888, Congress passed the Scott Act, which banned both the immigration and the return of Chinese laborers to the United States. This law had the impact of refusing reentry to tens of thousands of Chinese who had temporarily left the United States. The anti-Chinese movement was successful in renewing the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1892 and establishing a permanent ban in 1902. Because of the anti-Chinese movement, Chinese immigration remained outlawed until 1943.

David R. Buck

Further Reading

Gyory, Andrew. Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Good analyis of why the federal government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

McClain, Charles J. In Search of Equality: The Chinese Struggle Against Discrimination in Nineteenth- Century America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Focusing on the San Francisco Bay Area, McClain examines Chinese efforts to mobilize against discrimination in employment, housing, and education.

Miller, Stuart Creighton. The Unwelcome Immigrant: The American Image of the Chinese, 1785-1882. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Documents American anti-Chinese feeling from the arrival of the first Chinese in the late eighteenth century to 1882, the year in which the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Bibliographical references and index.

Sandmeyer, Elmer Clarence. The Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1991. Considered by some historians to be the best work on the subject of anti- Chinese discrimination in California. Bibliographical references.

See also: Angell Treaty of 1880; Burlingame Treaty of 1868; California; Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882; Chinese Exclusion Cases; Chinese immigrants; "Mongrelization”; Nativism; San Francisco; Stereotyping.

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Anti-Japanese movement

Japanese immigrants began arriving in small numbers during the 1890’s...

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Asiatic Barred Zone

Creation of the Asiatic Barred Zone by the U.S. government highlighted the country’s negative attitude toward Asian immigrants during the early twentieth century.

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Asiatic Exclusion League

The Asiatic Exclusion League concentrated on opposing Japanese immigration, but it was against the immigration of all Asians, including Koreans and Hindus fromIndia.

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Bellingham incident

The Event: Racially and economically motivated riot and expulsion directed against Sikh laborers

Date: September, 1907

Location: Bellingham, Washington

Significance: During the first decade of the twentieth century, Asian Indian immigrants, most of whom practiced the Sikh faith, working in the United States met organized discrimination and even violence.

Asian Indians began to leave India around 1900 to earn money for their families in India and for the independence movement of India against Great Britain. Most were men and identified as members of the Sikh faith. Between 1900 and 1905, several hundred immigrated to the United States and British Columbia, Canada. Since Sikhs often understood English and were hard workers, some Canadian employers began to promote Sikh immigration. In 1907, more than two thousand Asian Indian men arrived in Canada, most of them Sikhs. More than one thousand Asian Indians immigrated to the United States in 1907, hundreds of whom were Sikh laborers crossing the border from Canada. Just south of the border, the town of Bellingham in Washington State had about 250 Asian Indian immigrants, mostly Sikh, working in its lumber mills by September, 1907.

Prejudices against Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Filipino immigrants along theWest Coast were strong by 1907, and the Asian Indian workers in Bellingham became targets, too. Movements against Chinese immigrants during the nineteenth century were driven by white workers’ racism and fear of economic competition with the newcomers. These movements expanded into broad anti-Asian agitation during the twentieth century. In 1905 in San Francisco, the Asiatic Exclusion League formed to block Asian immigrants, particularly those from China and Japan. In Bellingham, the league had eight hundred members by 1907. While the radical Industrial Workers of the World criticized anti- Asian hostility, most unions supported it.OnLabor Day, September 2, 1907, hundreds of union advocates marched in Bellingham against the Sikh immigrants. Calling the Sikhs "Hindus” (falsely believing that Asian Indians all practiced the Hindu religion), marchers demanded that mill owners fire all "Hindus” immediately.

Sikh workers reported for work on September 3, but that night roving vigilantes targeted Sikh residences. The next evening, September 4, a mob of 150 men and boys formed and surged through Bellingham, assaulting some Sikhs and forcing others from bunkhouses and mills into the basement of Bellingham’s city hall.Upto five hundred participants eventually joined in the coercive roundup. Police officers cooperated, claiming that this calmed the vigilantes and reduced violence.

On September 5, with up to two hundred Sikhs held captive, Bellingham’s mayor claimed that the city could protect anyone who wished to stay in Bellingham. However, the obvious failure of the police to stop the previous night’s coercion convinced Sikh laborers not to trust the mayor. A Sikh spokesman stated that all "Hindus” would leave Bellingham by September 7. Approximately half went to Canada and half to California.

No attackers were brought to trial, and most white people in Bellingham apparently supported the expulsion, combining racism with economic fears to justify their approval. A few falsely claimed that Sikh men deserved expulsion because they insulted white women, but most argued that by accepting lower pay and inferior housing, immigrant Asian Indians undercut unions’ efforts to improve economic benefits for white laborers. Waves of anti-Sikh, anti-Asian Indian protests spread from Bellingham north to Alaska and Canada, and south to towns inWashington State and California. Asian Indian immigrants would not return to Bellingham for many decades after the 1907 expulsion. Immigration from India and other parts of Asia to the United States was stopped entirely during the 1920’s, but by the early twenty-first century Bellingham was a more welcoming home for Asian Indian immigrants and recognized the one hundredth anniversary of the Bellingham incident with apologies and commemorations against all anti-immigrant discrimination.

Beth Kraig

Further Reading

Allerfeldt, Kristofer. Race, Radicalism, Religion, and Restriction: Immigration in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1924. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003.

Jensen, Joan M. Passage from India: Asian Indian Immigrants in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988.

Lee, Erika. "Hemispheric Orientalism and the 1907 Pacific Coast Race Riots.” Amerasia Journal 33, no. 2 (2007): 19-47.

See also: Anti-Chinese movement; Anti-Japanese movement; Asian Indian immigrants; Asiatic Exclusion League; Economic consequences of immigration; Employment; Industrial Workers of the World; Labor unions; Washington State.

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Capitation taxes

During the 1850’s and 1860’s, the state of California singled out Chinese immigrants for capitation taxes, which were assessed on individual immigrants.

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Center for Immigration Studies

Through its many publications, public statements and links to conservative legislators, the Center for Immigration Studies has become an influential voice in the congressional debate over immigration policy.

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Chae Chan Ping v. United States

In addition to recognizing the sovereign power of Congress to exclude any groups fromimmigration, the decision in this case reaffirmed congressional discretion to abrogate or modify treaties.

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Chin Bak Kan v. United States

The decision demonstrated that the majority of the justices sympathized with the vigorous enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Acts and that they were not disposed to allow minor procedural defects to interfere with the deportation of persons entering the country illegally.

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Chinese Exclusion Cases

When making decisions that dealt with the various Chinese Exclusion Acts, the Supreme Court examined the language of the legislation and attempted to discern the intent of Congress.

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Dillingham Commission

The forty-one volumes of statistical material on immigration eventually published by the Dillingham Commission contained a wealth of information that provided support for limiting immigration, thereby helping lead to passage of the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924.

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English-only and official English movements

Although some Americans see these movements as patriotic or wellintended, other Americans perceive such efforts to be anti-immigrant or racist.

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Federation for American Immigration Reform

Recognized as the leading anti-immigration group in the United States, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) has received support from numerous celebrities and politicians and claims membership from both conservative and liberal party supporters, whose donations make possible the high visibility FAIR receives through its many advertising campaigns.

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Foreign miner taxes

In the absence of federal laws that discriminated against immigrants, the state of California sought to favor immigrants of European origin by enacting special taxes that targeted the state’s Mexican and Chinese miners.

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Geary Act of 1892

Enacted to reinforce and extend provisions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act prevented further immigration from China and required established Chinese residents of the United States to carry certificates of residence.

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Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996The Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act, or IIRIRA, was enacted to prevent the flow of undocumented aliens into the United States.

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Immigration Act of 1943

Immigration Act of 1943At the height of World War II, when the United States needed to promote goodwill with China, Congress repealed an 1882 federal immigration statute restricting all Chinese from entering the country and considerably eased the process of naturalization for those Chinese already residing in America.

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Intelligence testing

Definition: Use of psychometric standards concerning verbal and nonverbal abilities as part of legislation guiding decisions regarding authorized entry of foreigners into the United States

Significance: The nascent science of intelligence testing developed in confluence with growing support for more severe controls on the acceptance of foreign-born entrants to the United States. Proponents of this view were able to highlight some of the early studies of psychologists conducting intelligence testing research as part of their efforts to pass restrictive immigration legislation, even in the face of presidential vetoes.

Intelligence testing has a long, honored tradition in the United States. It originated in France, where psychologist Alfred Binet was the first researcher to categorize student performances on specific reasoning tasks in terms of what he called their "mental ages” between 1904 and 1908. When he judged that students’ mental ages were substantially lower than their chronological ages, he concluded that the test result argued for special remedial programs for the students. In 1912, the German psychologist William Stern defined "intelligence quotient,” or "IQ,” as a ratio of mental age divided by chronological age, multiplied by 100. What began in Europe as an earnest attempt to identify the needs of students with learning disabilities became a source of labeling with serious consequences in twentieth century America.

In 1910, the American psychologist Henry H. Goddard translated Binet’s work into English. Goddard invented the label "moron” for any adult with a mental age between eight and twelve and advocated that those with IQs below 70 should not be allowed to have children. This perspective fit in well with a budding eugenics movement in the United States that advocated genetic engineering to raise intelligence levels, while reducing poverty and criminality. Lewis Terman, a professor at Stanford University, adapted the Binet scale and its measured intelligence quotient into its most commonly used form. Like Goddard, however, he was heavily influenced by biological determinism and at least initially supported the idea that there were racial differences in human intelligence that reflected differing biological makeups. He recanted this view in 1937, but not before the stage was set for changes in important immigration legislation in the United States that reflected his earlier orientation toward the understanding of intelligence.

Intelligence Testing and Immigration Law

The psychological work with the closest influence on later immigration policy was performed by Robert Yerkes of Harvard University. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, he created the Army Mental Tests and oversaw their administration to 1.75 million Army draftees. Two versions of the tests, "Alpha” and "Beta,” provided written and pictorial modalities so that illiterate servicemen could be tested as well. Carl Brigham, a Princeton University psychologist, analyzed the data that were collected and concluded that nativeborn draftees had higher IQ scores than immigrants. Moreover, a "Nordic” (northern European) subgroup had higher scores than those from southern and eastern Europe.

Brigham’s work was attacked on methodological grounds, and he recanted his conclusions in 1930. However, he published his findings in 1923, the year before the federal Immigration Act of 1924 greatly restricted foreign entry to the United States. This act initially used the 1890 census as a basis for establishing strict quotas not to exceed 2 percent of those fromeach country included in the census. It greatly reduced the number of southeastern Europeans allowed into the country and had an impact that would be acutely felt during World War II, when entry was largely denied to European Jews seeking a safe haven from extermination in the Nazi Holocaust. Although detailed analyses of empirical work supporting immigration restrictions do not appear in the congressional hearings concerning this law, the acceptance of biological determinism and the discriminatory treatment of minorities may well have contributed to its passage.

Later Perspectives

Relatively soon after the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, the popularity of using racial theories of intelligence as guideposts to immigration law and policy waned. There was an increasing realization that test performances reflected familiarity with American culture and language more often than they did an assessment of native intelligence. Meanwhile, members of the psychology-research establishment became more ethnically diverse, and during the aftermath ofWorldWar II there was more of an interest in explaining prejudicial attitudes. This was accentuated by a eugenics-oriented policy carried to horrific extremity by the German Nazi regime in Europe.

While the current intelligence testing community is much more sensitive to issues of cultural bias and attempts to develop "culture-fair” or "culturefree” instruments, elements of biological determinism have persisted. The Human Genome Project, which some people have claimed has important implications for controlling psychological disorders related to crime and homelessness, is a prominent example.

In addition, the early twenty-first century U.S. "war on terrorism,” with its restriction of basic civil liberties, perpetuates an orientation toward selecting out undesirables in order to eliminate their perceived threat. Instead of classifying would-be immigrants as "feebleminded” on the basis of intelligence tests of questionable validity, there has developed a tendency to employ modern biometric technology that enforces even more restrictive policies to bolster homeland security.

Eric Yitzchak Metchik

Further Reading

Elliott, Stuart, Naomi Chudowsky, Barbara Plake, and Lorraine McDonnell. "Using the Standards to Evaluate the Redesign of the U.S. Naturalization Tests: Lessons for the Measurement Community.” Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice 25, no. 1 (Fall, 2006): 22-26. Methodological critique of attempts by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to revise naturalization tests. 

Perdew, Patrick R. "Developmental Education and Alfred Binet: The Original Purpose of Standardized Testing.” In 2001: A Developmental Odyssey, edited by Jeanne L. Higbee. Warrensburg, Mo.: National Association for Developmental Education, 2001. Comprehensive review of the historical evolution of intelligence testing in the United States, including its relationship to biological determinism and immigration law and practice. 

Resta, Robert G. "The Twisted Helix: An Essay on Genetic Counselors, Eugenics, and Social Responsibility.” Journal of Genetic Counseling 1, no. 3 (1992): 227-243. Examination of the historical implications of the eugenics movement and its most recent manifestations. 

Samelson, Franz. "From ‘Race Psychology’ to ‘Studies in Prejudice’: Some Observations on the Thematic Reversal in Social Psychology.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 14 (1978): 265-278. Analysis of historical reasons for change in social psychological research, from studies of alleged racial differences in intelligence to causal models explaining racial prejudice. 

Snyderman, Mark, and R. J. Herrnstein. "Intelligence Tests and the Immigration Act of 1924.” American Psychologist 38, no. 9 (1983): 986-995. Critical analysis of the alleged link between viewpoints of psychologists conducting intelligence research and the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 that greatly restricted immigration. 

See also: "Brain drain”; Eugenics movement; Higher education; Immigration Act of 1924; Immigration law; Language issues; Literacy tests; "Mongrelization”; Quota systems; Stereotyping.

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Land laws

Definition: Federal legislation pertaining to the transfer of public lands to private ownership

Significance: From the time that the United States was established as an independent nation in 1783, the U.S. Congress has passed land laws defining the procedures by which new territory can pass from public ownership to individual ownership. While agriculture was a major source of employment during the nineteenth century, the acquisition of land became a fundamental inducement to immigrants to come to the United States. Many were pushed off their lands in Europe as population rose dramatically during the late eighteenth and throughout the nineteenth century. Owning land individually became in the eyes of many immigrants the pathway to a secure future.

 Homesteaders crossing the Plains during the 1880’s, looking for land in the West

Homesteaders crossing the Plains during the 1880’s, looking for land in the West. (Getty Images)

When European immigrants first came to what became the United States, they brought with them a concept of land ownership fundamentally different from that held by the aboriginal Native American inhabitants. The concept of individual ownership, in Europe restricted by the surviving elements of feudal society, stood in sharp contrast to the concepts prevailing among the Indian tribes, which favored communal ownership with individual rights to use land temporarily. However, striving for land over which they had full control had propelled the first European discoveries in America. Although titles to New World lands were first vested in the monarchs whose subjects "discovered” them, as governments developed into their more modern forms, they found themselves constrained by shortages of funds during an era when possession, or control, of land was considered the primary measure of wealth. As governments sought to expand their territories, they began to use the granting of ownership to pieces of land as a means to collect revenue.


Some of the major grievances that eighteenth century North American colonists had about British rule concerned government restrictions on their freedom to settle and farm lands in the vast open spaces between the Atlantic seaboard colonies and the Mississippi River to the west. Great Britain, which had acquired control over those western lands when it defeated France in the French and Indian War (1756-1763), had tried to block settlement by individuals migrating from the colonies along the Atlantic Coast. In its Proclamation of 1763, the British government forbade new settlements in lands west of the Alleghenies that were reserved for use of Native Americans. Attempts by settlers from the coastal colonies to move into that western area became one of the bones of contention in the American Revolution (1775-1783). After the war, the United States gained title to the area in the 1783 peace treaty with Great Britain. Settling in the region then became a priority for the new nation.

Within the British North American colonies, which had ben populated overwhelmingly by immigrants from Great Britain, laws pertaining to land ownership were determined largely by the individual colonial governments. Although it was technically vested in the British monarch, land ownership was quickly devolved to those who managed the colony in America—either as a company such as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, or as individuals, who through wealth or connections, secured from the British monarchs grants of land in North America. These agents in turn passed over control either to large landowners or to new communities, as was the case in Massachusetts. The latter tended to pass subordinate control to new settlements with provisions for dividing the allotted lands to early settlers.

U.S. Lands Settled by 1890

U.S. Lands Settled by 1890

Land Laws of the United States

One of the earliest problems faced by the new Congress of the United States was how to organize the distribution of land west of the Alleghenies. In 1784, Congress appointed a committee, of which Thomas Jefferson was the leading member, to draw up a plan. The proposal the committee produced set forth the outlines of the plan that followed in the Land Ordinance of 1785. The plan required several things:

• resolution of Indian claims to the land through treaties with local tribes

• surveying of the land into rectangular townships six miles on a side, each township to be then subdivided into 36 sections, one mile square and comprising 640 acres

• reservation of some of the land for military bounties granted during the Revolution

• subsequent sale of the land to private individuals

This subdivision of the United States into units of thirty-six square miles was followed throughout the settlement of the west. When Congress was passing the Land Ordinance of 1785, it added some new wrinkles. It reserved one section of each township to be offered for sale for the schools of the future community; it ruled that the secretary of war could claim some of the sections for payment to veterans of the Revolutionary War; it provided that the townships would be distributed to the various states on whom would fall responsibility for selling the land by sections or as whole townships; and it required that sales should be conducted through public auctions after at least seven (later reduced to four) of the survey (range) lines had been run. By 1787, relatively few sales had actually occurred, so Congress then authorized the sale of large aggregates to wealthy individuals who were prepared to take on the task of finding settlers to work the lands.

Peopling of the West

Although settlers from the seaboard colonies poured into the new Ohio Territory, formal settlement was held up by the slow progress of the survey lines and by the need to secure treaties fromthe Indians then resident in Ohio. Several unsuccessful clashes with tribes that resisted the flood of settlers led, finally, to the conclusive victory of an American force at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. In the ensuing Treaty of Greenville, the Indian tribes then resident in northwest Ohio ceded all their Ohio lands to the United States. The conditions of the Land Ordinance continued to be fulfilled in future years as more victories over the Indian tribes and cession of their rights by treaty were met.

It is not known how many immigrants were attracted to the United States by the availability of public land because U.S. immigration records were not kept until 1821. However, there is little doubt that the prospect of securing large plots of land at minimal costs drew many immigrants from Europe. Initially most came from the British Isles, including Ireland, but as the nineteenth century wore on, many more came from continental Europe. Early sales of public lands were intended for citizens of the United States, but over the course of the nineteenth century sales were opened to immigrants who began the naturalization process, thereby affirming their intention to become American citizens. Although U.S. debts from the Revolution and theWar of 1812 had been paid off with the proceeds from land sales by the 1830’s, Congress continued to seek revenue from further sales.

The large number of land laws passed by Congress indicates that the federal government continued to view selling public lands as a major source of revenue. One obstacle to sales was quickly changed: the need to bid at a single, central auction place. As early as the year 1800, Congress designated several on-the-ground sites for land auctions in Ohio— Cincinnati, Chilicothe, Marietta, and Steubenville. Afterward, auctions were held near the sites of the land being sold. Special officials were appointed to handle the sales, and rules spelled out how payments were to be made to the U.S. Treasury. Initially, land was sold for one to two dollars per acre under four-year payment plans. In later years, the prices and payment systems were regularly changed. In 1820, Congress acknowledged that a great deal of land had been occupied by "squatters” and allowed them to "preempt” title to the lands they occupied by paying part of their costs in advance of the auctions.

Meanwhile, Congress often tied land grants to other government programs. For example, by the mid-nineteenth century, its policy of awarding lavish land grants to railroads was becoming notorious. Congress granted large tracts of land to the railroads in the hope that the railroads would pass the land along to settlers. In the 1862 Homestead Act, Congress gave both citizens and prospective citizens a "preemption” right, enabling them to settle on public lands and secure title to those lands after five years for payments of two dollars per acre. TheTimber Act of 1873 gave settlers up to ten years to claim title to the land they occupied if they planted substantial numbers of trees on the land. Homesteaders willing to develop desert lands in theWest that were unsuitable for agriculture could buy title to their lands for only twenty-five cents per acre.

By the 1890’s, Congress was beginning to recognize that public lands suitable for homesteading were becoming scarce, restricting purchasers to those who had not previously claimed land under the Pre-emption or Homestead Acts. It was still unclear to what extent the availability of public land was drawing foreign immigrants. During the early nineteenth century, the attraction of land was no doubt great, and immigration from Germany and Scandinavia undoubtedly was encouraged by the availability of cheap land.

Much of the public land was actually taken up by speculators who had no intention of settling it themselves; they planned to sell it to latecomers. News also got out that the costs of turning public land into useful farms could be high, which meant that immigrants with limited capital would have difficulty developing any land they could afford to purchase. Most immigrants who came to the United States to farm probably arrived during the first half of the nineteenth century; however, major settlement ofWisconsin and Minnesota did not begin until after the U.S. Civil War. Many Europeans who immigrated during the 1850’s and 1860’s settled in the Upper Midwest.

The goal that propelled many immigrants to come to the United States was the prospect of acquiring land for themselves. The federal land acts strengthened that resolve, by making vast tracts of land available at low cost to those prepared to settle and take up farming. Creating farms out of wild lands, however, was not an easy task, and many immigrants who tried failed. Consequently, many immigrants who left farms in Europe to farm in the United States wound up as industrial workers in cities.

Nancy M. Gordon

Further Reading

Dunham, Harold J. "Some Crucial Years of the Land Office, 1875-1890.” In The Public Lands: Studies in the History of the Public Domain, edited by Vernon Carstensen. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. Long the primary source of material on the public lands, the many useful articles remain relevant.

Freund, Rudolf. "Military Bounty Lands and the Origins of the Public Domain.” In The Public Lands: Studies in the History of the Public Domain, edited by Vernon Carstensen. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1968. Close study of the vexing problem that Congress faced in dealing with military bounty lands.

Rasmussen, R. Kent, ed. Agriculture in History. 3 vols. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2010. Collection of essays on specific historical events, including many relevant to U.S. land issues.

Rasmussen, Wayne D., ed. Agriculture in the United States: A Documentary History. 4 vols. New York: Random House, 1975. Reprints the land laws of the United States, mostly contained in volume 1.

Rohrbough, Malcolm J. The Land Office Business: The Settlement and Administration of American Public Lands, 1789-1837. London: Oxford University Press, 1968. Exhaustive account of how American public lands were sold to settlers.

See also: Alien land laws; Economic opportunities; Empresario land grants in Texas; European immigrants; History of immigration, 1783-1891; Homestead Act of 1862; National Road; Railroads; Settlement patterns; Westward expansion.

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