Chapter 2: Immigration policies in the 20th century

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Chapter 2: Immigration policies in the 20th century

  1. Historical background

On the contrary to the last period, 20th century was a period full of political events leading to the huge waves of immigrants from all nations in the world. Therefore, policies in this period concentrated on the allowance to enter America. Naturalization and citizenship processed were less mentioned in this period because of the time limit.

According to Ward (n.d.), there was a huge wave of immigration in the U.S. from the mids-1840 to 1920. Immigrants came to America in this period helped to increase the nation’s population from 17.1 million in 1840 to 105.7 million in 1920. As listed in the image below, immigrants came from Northwestern, Southern, Eastern and Central Europe, West Indies, Middle and South America, Oceania as well as Asia. Hirschman & Mogford (n.d.) noted that it was the American Industrial Revolution in the period which motivated millions of immigrants to come for new jobs. World War I (1914-1918) also made 14.5 million of immigrant enter the U.S. to look for occupations and to avoid political pressure. Since the number of immigrants increased dramatically in the period, several new policies were implemented to remove disqualified immigrants from the country, which would be discussed further in the following part (U.S. Citizenship and Migration Services, n.d.).

Figure 1: Source Areas of Immigrants to the United States, 1820-1919 (Ward, n.d., p. 3)

American immigration turned to a whole new stage with the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945) between two sides: the Axis including Germany, Italy and Japan fighting against the Allies including the United States, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China. Due to the massive war, the number of immigrants allowed in the U.S. decreased sharply from 1.3 immigrants in 1907 to 50,000 in 1937 and 24,000 in 1943. Moreover, Japanese, German and Italian immigrants living in North America faced the change in Americans’ attitude towards them. However, German and Italian immigrants had been ‘deeply assimilated into American culture’; therefore, they did not receive bad treatments from the U.S. government. One million of Japanese immigrants referred as ‘enemy aliens’ after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. They were confined in internment camps and suffered hard life there. Meanwhile, Chinese immigrants received new special privileges as China was America’s ally in the war with the Magnuson Act of 1943. Asian immigrants in general and Mexican immigrants were permitted to enter the United States thanks to the contributions of their people in World War II (World War II and immigration, 2011).

The U.S. government gave permission for a large number of refugees in the 20th century. There were three main groups of refugees in this period namely Jews, Cubans and Vietnamese. From 1938-1941, thousands of Jews came to America thanks to German-Austrian quota and these people were the first Jews in the U.S. Due to the outbreak of World War II and especially the Holocaust, a lot of Jews had been killed and tortured in concentration camps. Therefore, the American Jewish community decided to demand the U.S. government to save Holocaust victims. Until 1952, 137,450 Jews had been admitted to the U.S. and settled for a new life (United States policy towards Jewish refugees, 1941-1952, n.d.).

Cuban immigration to the U.S. began from the late 19th century for trading activities of sugar, coffee and tobacco. Later in the early 20th century, America still maintained a good affair with Cuba and the country admitted a lot of political refugees to escape from the dictatorial regime of Fulgencio Batista. In 1959, the successful revolution led by Fidel Castro brought approximately one million to the U.S. However, since the new Cuban government became an ally with the Soviet Union, the number of immigrants decreased. The first highly-accepted Cuban refugees were 200,000 rich people and members of Batista regime coming to flee from the new government. From 1965 to 1973, 300,000 Cubans more succeeded in entering the U.S. and these first immigrants were greatly welcomed. Nevertheless, the third wave of 125,000 Cuban refugees faced difficulties because thousands of them were prisoners in Cuba. The U.S. confined these ‘undesirable elements’ in jail for years. Until 1980s to 1990s, many Cubans tried to enter the U.S. by using homemade vessels and the two countries came to an agreement that the U.S. would return any ship from Cuba (Library of Congress, n.d.).

Campi (2005) stated that in 1975, 130,000 Vietnamese refugees having ‘close ties’ with American government in the Vietnam War entered the U.S. These people were afraid that the new government in Vietnam would see them as risks, so they decided to find a way to settle in America. Firstly, they were delivered to centers for refugees in California, Arkansas, Florida, and Pennsylvania. Later on, Vietnamese immigrants were resettled in different regions of the country to avoid “ghettoism” (p. 1). The second wave of refugee started in 1978 with three million of immigrants (including Laotians and Cambodians). Most of immigrants arriving in America this period wanted to stay away from Chinese invasion in 1979 and to find a new political regime which was more suitable for them rather than staying in Vietnam.

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