A condensed history of U.S. immigration laws | In Focus

Betty Q. Hixson

“I just want people to follow the law, to go back to their native country and get in line.”

This argument against immigrants and refugees needs to be examined. (My source is a series of “Beau of the Fifth Column” YouTube videos spread over the last five years.) Let’s take a brief look at the immigration laws since our nation’s founding:

• Before 1776: The people who came to this country were not immigrants, they were colonizers who took over the land as part of European empires.

• 1776-1886: There were no federal immigration laws because of the 10th Amendment, which gave the power of immigration to the States.

• 1886 The Supreme Court case Yick Wo v. Hopkins established under the 14th Amendment that, “No state…shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of the law; nor deny to any person under its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws.” The case was about a group of Chinese laundry owners in San Francisco who were barred from cleaning people’s clothes solely because of their race and national origin.

• The state of California passed several laws that denied rights and citizenship to some Chinese immigrants that dated back to their arrival beginning in 1848 with the California Gold Rush. Chinese immigrants living in San Francisco were barred from testifying against whites. They were required to pay a “police” [poll] tax of $2.50/month/person. Chinese children were segregated from white school children. Intermarriage between whites and Asians was barred. California prohibited cities from hiring Chinese workers.

• The U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. This act forbade state and federal courts from granting citizenship to Asians. This act excluded Chinese until the 1920s when quotas for different nations were set up.

• During this entire time Latin American immigrants were not barred from entering the country. It was not until 1965 when a new immigration law was passed that put a quota on immigration for all of those south of the U.S. border.

In 1967, the Senate ratified the Convention on the Status of Refugees and Protocols by a two-thirds majority, which gives it the force of law. Here are some of the pertinent protocols from that document:

• Article 3: “The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin.” (Think of the banning of Muslims from several Middle Eastern nations during the Trump administration.)

• Article 22: “The Contracting States shall accord to refugees the same treatment as is accorded to nationals with respect to elementary education.” (Consider that undocumented immigrants pay for schools through property and sales taxes.)

• Article 23: “The Contracting States shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the same treatment with respect to public relief and assistance as is accorded to their nationals.” (It’s legal to give welfare to refugees.)

• Article 31: “The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened….”

• Article 34: “The Contracting States shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings and to reduce as far as possible the charges and costs of such proceedings.” (Think of the “Dreamers” and consider that the federal government is in violation of its own treaty obligations.)

• The argument over whether to call these refugees undocumented aliens or illegal immigrants, based on these U.S. treaty obligations, can now be settled—they are “undocumented aliens” because they are not illegal.

It is clear that American immigration laws were racist in the past. None of the immigration laws applied to Latinos until 1965 when their numbers were limited by a quota system. The statement by anti-immigrant individuals or groups: “I just want people to follow the law, to go back to their native country and get in line” is neither rational, historical, legal, nor compassionate.

Elfers will be teaching a Green River College Prime Time class on Jan. 25th. The course is entitled “Beyond America’s Borders Live Not a Lesser People: Are the Problems on Our Southern Border a Crisis or Normal?” For more information, head to https://www.greenriver.edu/students/academics/continuing-community-education/prime-time/.

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A condensed history of U.S. immigration laws | In Focus

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