The outcome of these regime characteristics was that the immigration issue broke down along ethnic lines. The shift of societal pressure from favoring immigration to opposing it, various nativists, labor, a few nationalist elites, and state and local governments organized to support a state-building effort to regulate and, later, to restrict immigration. Strengthened by the federalist framework, key court decisions that weakened state and local authorities, these societal pressures pushed for the federal government to take up a regulatory role.
Regardless of any implications immigration may have had for class politics, this process of political mobilization cannot be characterized merely as a class struggle. The dominant class, the industrial bourgeoisie, eventually lost as it favored open immigration generally. The working class divided on the issue on the basis of skilled and unskilled laborers. Nationalistic and racialist elites, including some leaders of skilled workers, professionals, farmers, and entrepreneurs, mobilized to impose on a reluctant federal government a body of law and a bureaucratic apparatus to regulate and restrict immigration.
The Immigration Act of 1875 that restricted prostitutes and convicts characterized the symbolic nature of early immigration legislation. The law lacked realistic enforcement mechanism and less effect. However, it did open the door to federal legislation in responding to complaints from immigrant-receiving communities regarding the declining quality of immigrants. In 1879, the Fifteen Passengers bill passed by the Congress attempted to regulate “coolie trade” through restricting the number of immigrants that shippers could carry.
In California, the bill followed two decades of state legislation that attempted to discourage Chinese immigration or encourage its repatriation. These laws had either failed or had been nullified by the federal courts. President Rutherford B. Hayes vetoed the bill, at the urging of the State Department, because it abrogated the Burlingham Treaty (Riggs 1950). Initially, the national government resisted the expansion of its capacity by opposing immigration restriction.
Opponents of Chinese immigration on the West Coast included laborers, led by the Knights of Labor, political entrepreneurs such as Dennis Kearney and his Workingmen’s Party in San Francisco, and local and state authorities (Ginger 1965). Labor felt that the Chinese competed unfairly for wages and objected to them on racial grounds. While Kearney’s Workingmen’s Party (mostly Irish) agitated for Chinese restriction, its radical rhetoric provoked anti-immigrant racism from local elites and employers. The party did not restrict its antagonism to the Chinese but also directed it at their employers (Higham 1981).
Violence played a considerable role in the opposition to the Chinese on the West Coast, including lynchings and riots (Sandmeyer 1939; Riggs 1950; Higham 1981). Local and state officials participated in anti-Chinese agitation (Sandmeyer 1939) and continued to press for federal relief after the veto of the Fifteen Passengers bill. Yielding to this direct and indirect pressure, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (22 Stat. 58) that suspended Chinese labor importation for ten years. In 1882, pressures were mounting from local authorities to do something to give them back the power of regulating immigration.
The federal court decision Henderson v. Mayor of New York in 1876 had taken away this power. Local welfare agencies, both public and private, were overburdened by immigrants who needed help, especially as immigration increased (Higham 1981). Business interests objected publicly to any restrictive actions as unnecessary, but Congress concurred to the demands of local agencies. The act of 1882 (22 Stat. 214) adopted wholesale the language of earlier statutes enacted by the states excluding convicts, lunatics, idiots, and persons likely to become public charges.
The list of excludables perfectly mirrors the clients of institutions run at public expense. As well, the financing for the act mirrored the formerly invalidated local legislation in its language and use of a head tax on immigrants. Restriction was grounded in federal law. The secretary of the treasury administered these restrictions, but the states were to enforce it (Masanz 1980, 7). This year was a defining moment in state formation for immigration policy. Neither the Chinese Exclusion Act nor the Immigration Act of 1882 created administrative agencies with a mandate to control immigration.
Neither represented a comprehensive nationalization of policy. Nevertheless, the federal government in both cases yielded to local pressures by enacting legislation that would, in principle, qualitatively regulate immigration. The federal government ironically restricted the Chinese as a direct result of its inability. It could not resist pressures from regional interests. The federal framework prevented the federal government from imposing sanctions through police action. The issue in immigration had become national, and for several decades it would not leave the national.
In both houses of Congress, these 1882 laws took much committee time during their drafting. State and local officials, nativists and private charities had turned to Congress to help them control the character of the people who would compose their communities. They provided the rhetoric of exclusion, as well as the language of the legislation. Moreover, the Republican Party took up immigration restriction as a national issue. The institutionalization of immigration politics at the national level was as important as the acts themselves.
In 1883, a severe economic depression began that lasted through 1886. Labor instability followed wage cuts and mass unemployment. As a source of both unemployment and instability, the crisis mobilized the nativist consensus against immigration. Nevertheless, it is important that the rhetoric of nativism was then couched in terms of the threat that immigrants caused to the moral character of the nation. One of the most well-known proponents of the perception that immigration was leading to moral decline was Josiah Strong, who published Our Country in 1885.
Strong and other Protestant reformers of the period, the proponents of the Social Gospel, gave immigration restriction a moral and religious rhetoric. Despite the fact that the objection to immigration was racialist in effect, the advocates of restriction were championing not ethnic discrimination but public determination of the moral character of the community. Moralists joined laborers who were mobilizing in favor of restriction at this time (Higham 1981, 39-48). State and local governments meanwhile continued to pass legislation directed toward harassing newcomers.
The pressure from labor, against the backdrop of a protracted depression, led Congress to pass the contract labor laws of 1885 and 1887. These laws resulted from labor agitation and coincided with the peak of the Knights of Labor’s influence. These were the first measures restricting immigration to the selfsupporting by outlawing schemes that induced laborers to emigrate. The 1885 act (23 Stat. 332) went into effect on 26 February 1885. It disallowed the importation of laborers under contracts made before entering the country, but it lacked any enforcement mechanism.
As with the 1882 act, its purpose was to give federal authority to the states through the Treasury Department. Jurisdiction to enforce the law was transferred to the secretary of the treasury in 1887 under that year’s act (24 Stat. 414), but again the law provided no means of enforcement. Finally, in 1888 these two laws acquired administrative bite when Congress amended them, empowering the secretary of the Treasury to deport contract laborers at the expense of those sponsoring them. Labor unrest peaked in 1886, and though the recession abated the next year, immigration increased (Higham 1981, 53).
In 1886, the same year as the Haymarket Affair, the House of Representatives passed a bill prohibiting employment on public works by aliens who had not declared the intent to naturalize. In 1888, the House of Representatives set up the Ford Commission to study the national immigration problem. The following year the House formed a select committee on immigration and naturalization that became a standing committee in 1893. The Senate formed a select committee on immigration and naturalization in 1889 and made it a standing committee in 1893.
The national policymaking apparatus tried to coordinate the Chinese Exclusion Act and the contract labor and public charge legislation aimed at restricting Southern and Eastern Europeans (Orth 1907). It courted labor’s support symbolically by restricting the most egregious anti-labor aspects of labor importation, while providing leeway for employers who still wanted to use immigrants as strikebreakers (Calavita 1984, 51-56). The federal-level immigration policy encompassed all organized national interests by the end of the 1880s, affecting labor, capital, nativists, and state and local political authorities.
The investigations of the Ford Commission concluded, however, that effective restriction called for a rationalization of the administrative machinery for immigration control. The arrangement by which states administered federal laws was not effective as a national response to the influx of immigrants. Congress responded by drafting new legislation that would build an administrative apparatus for the national enforcement of the immigration laws of the 1880s. It also built permanent institutional forums of policymaking in these years. Again, the advocates of this nationalization were local authorities.
In 1890, New York City complained that it could not handle a new wave of immigrants that came during a period of economic growth. The federal government took over the administration of the Port Authority of New York. The Treasury Department of the United States government now ran the largest immigrant-receiving facility. The next year, following the recommendations of the Ford Commission, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1891. This act discarded federal administration of immigration and replaced it with a national scheme headed by the secretary of the treasury.
A new superintendent of immigration, under the treasury secretary’s authority, was given the charge of coordinating this enforcement ( Van Vleck 1932). The law also expanded and rationalized inspection and deportation procedures enacted in previous legislation such as the contract labor laws of 1885. It also put in place strong enforcement measures and created twenty-four border inspection stations (Masanz 1980, 9). Though largely symbolic and not comprehensive, immigration policy was now nationalized.
The early 1890s was a period of nationalism and activism (Commager 1950; Higham 1981). From both sides of the nativist consensus, dissatisfied labor and threatened elites, the demand for immigration restriction grew. The activities of the last decade had centralized immigration policy. There now existed a clearly defined immigration policy network in which key congressional committees and federal bureaus played the central roles. Though the grounds of consensus for immigration restriction were still nativistic, the moralistic rhetoric of restrictionists began to lose favor.
Intellectuals now spoke of the genetic deficiencies of Jews, Italians, and Slavs to explain the alleged immoral and radical tendencies of immigrants. This theory also rationalized the supposed general inferiority of immigrants. Eugenics and Social Darwinism replaced the Social Gospel as the informing rhetoric for immigration restriction. The nativist continuity, meanwhile, managed to bind laborers, whose ranks were filled with old immigrants, with elites, who increasingly feared immigrant radicalism. Conclusion
The years from 1882 until 1924 were the critical period of state formation for immigration policymaking. In two separate phases, the “official power relationships within governmental institutions” and “the ongoing relations between state and society”, had dramatically changed (Skowronek 1982). The first was the development of a network for national policy and “patchwork” administration in the new domain of immigration policy. The second was the creation of a comprehensive administrative framework for the regulation of front-gate immigration.
Episodes of high immigration, economic busts, and ethnic and labor insurgency led to social control problems. These problems accompanied large-scale labor immigration from the peripheral areas of Europe and Asia, intensifying them in some rapidly developing communities. In turn, local political authorities and elites attempted to control immigration but could not do so at the state and local levels within the federal framework. Local authorities could deal only with the costs of immigration, not immigration itself.
Therefore, local and state leaders joined labor to pressure the federal government for a national immigration policy. References Burnham, Walter Dean (1967). “Party Systems and the Political Process. ” In William Nisbett Chambers and Walter Dean Burnham, eds. , The American Party Systems: Stages of Political Development, pp. 277-307. New York: Oxford University Press. Daniels, Roger (1966). The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggles for Japanese Exclusion. Glouchester, Mass.
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