United States Immigration Policy
Our economic times, international relations, and terrorism have shaped our countries immigration policy. These issues have driven us to pass legislation opening and closing our borders in response to current events. Though not always at the forefront of concern, it has been a constant struggle that has affected the dynamics of our country. Arizona’s recent passing of tough immigration laws aimed at identifying and deporting illegal immigrants has again put immigration at the forefront of American politics. Additionally, it has raised the question of constitutionality and rekindled the flame of State v. Federal power. In order to trace the history of our countries immigration policies you must first understand the role the constitution, federal government, and individual states play in this very complex issue. The terms “immigration” and “constitutionality” have been linked in such a way that you might think the constitution lays the foundation. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The term immigration isn’t even referred to in the constitution. The constitution’s power in regards to immigration are derived from Article I, Section 8, clause 4 which states “Congress shall have the power to…establish a uniform rule of naturalization. Additionally, the 14th amendment states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” (The United States Constitution, 2004). By controlling the process by which aliens are able to become citizens of our country the federal government has very broad power in terms of immigration. These broad powers have on many occasions been tested by states and the Supreme Court has routinely sided with the federal government. This can be illustrated by Hines vs. Davidowitz in which the Supreme Court struck down Pennsylvania state law requiring aliens to carry a state issued identification card. The Supreme Court found that the state law created an obstacle in implementation of the federal law. Another example is in the case of Plyler vs. Doe in which the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law denying education to undocumented alien children, based on Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause (Supreme Court Cases, 2011). Though the Courts have continually ruled in the federal governments favor the states do still hold significant power in regards to immigration, particularly in how they enforce federal law.
Congress first made an attempt at tackling the immigration issue with the Naturalization Act of 1790. This act granted citizenship to free white persons, of good character, who had lived in the United States for a period of two years. Due to the massive influx of immigrants, Congress would amend the act in 1795 requiring persons to live in the United States for a period of 5 years before they could apply for citizenship. Over the next hundred years the United States would receive an influx of immigrants that could not have been imagined. Soon steps would be taken to limit the number of immigrants and more importantly the ethnicity of those immigrants.
The 1800’s saw rise in the number of immigrants entering the United States. Particularly those of Chinese decent who played a key role in the building of our railroads during this time. With the California gold rush in full swing the demand for railroads, bridging the east and west coast, was paramount. Thousands of Chinese immigrants entered the country and once the railroads had been completed many stayed in the west. Once the gold rush dwindled down the economy followed suit. Americans began to resent the competition the Chinese were presenting in the labor force. This played a key role in the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred the entry of Chinese immigrants for 10 years (Three Decades of Mass Intergration, 1995). Additional amendments to the act...
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