DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Understanding and Synthesizing Major Course Concepts


          The first law for national control of immigration was the Immigration Act of 1891.  This act established the Bureau of Immigration as part of the Treasury Department and gave it authority to administer all immigration laws. It expanded the list of inadmissible  immigrants to include those suffering from selected contagious diseases, felons, persons convicted of crimes or misdemeanors, polygamists and contract laborers. It also made it illegal to recruit or advertise for immigrants. (Can you imagine advertisements for immigrants? “Hate the country you were born in? Come to America where everything’s better! Call 1-800-LET-ME IN now!”) It also authorized the Bureau of Immigration to deport immigrants who snuck into the country illegally. (Source: Contemporary Ethic Geographies, pg. 35)

          Migration to America reached its peak between the years 1901 and 1925, when the US became home to 17.2 million immigrants, mostly of European descent. The immigrants that came here were mostly poor and unskilled Irish, Italian, Jews, and Blacks. They came here and got the jobs nobody else in America wanted to do—tedious factory work or field work; low-paying manual labor.

          The 1924 Immigration Act set quotas that limited annual immigration from particular countries. The legislation identified people who could enter as a “non-quota” immigrant, such as wives and unmarried children under 18 years of age of US citizens, religious or academic professionals and “bona-fide students under the age of 15. Those not in any of these categories were considered “quota immigrants” and were subject to annual numerical limitations.


          The 1965 U.S. Immigration and National Act abolished the quota system, replacing it with a “preference system” that focused on immigrants’ skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the United States. This encouraged more educated people and people of means to immigrate to the United States.

Reversing a four-decade trend begun in the 1930’s, Asians and Pacific Islanders now represent one of the largest groups of legal immigrants in the United States. Between 1931 and 1960, 58% of legal U.S. immigrants were from Europe, 21% from North America, 15% from Latin America and the smallest portion, 5% from Asia. 

          By 1980-1984, Europe represented only 12% of the total population of legal U.S. immigrants, while Latin American countries accounted for 35%, and Asian countries 48%. 

          From 1981 to 1996, there were nearly 14 million immigrants to the United States. The top sending nations were: Mexico, Philippines, Vietnam, China, Dominican Republic, India and Korea. (Source: Zhou, page 207)

          What is happening? Changes in the people who are immigrating here reflect changes that are happening in the world.  Today, Americans open factories and companies all over the planet, taking advantage of cheap labor in other countries around the globe. Food and other products can easily be shipped to the US, so there is no longer the high demand for cheap labor which was the norm in the start of the 20th century.  U.S. growth in “capital-intensive, high-tech industries” has created a shortage of skilled workers. American businesses believe that importing skilled labor is the quickest and easiest solution, rather than training American workers. (Source: Zhou, page 209) Many people resent this line of thought, and are angry that American jobs are going to foreigners.

          Currently five major population groups: Non-hispanic Whites, Non-hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, Asian & Pacific Islanders and American Indians are considered minorities, however, projections show that combined these five groups will make up more than half of the U.S. population by 2050.

          Although the situation in America today is far from perfect, as Lawrence Bobo wrote, “If one compares the racial attitudes prevalent in the 1940’s with those commonly observed today, it is easy to be optimistic.” (Source: Zhou, page 12.)  It is true, that today there are no more “Jim Crowe laws” and Barack Obama is president.  But although the target may have changed, the word “immigration” still leaves a bad taste in many Americans mouths. Now you hear more of “No more Mexicans! Close up the borders.” So you can see the problem.

          As stated in the foreword to America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences: “Race is not rocket science; it is harder than rocket science. Race demands an intellectual investment equal to the task. It also demands relentlessness in research and teaching that will overwhelm the human tendency to let our differences trigger the worst in our natures."


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.