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date: 21 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This article offers a historical perspective on the U.S. immigration debate and the evolution of its immigration policy. The first controversies over immigration occurred during the French Revolution, when Federalist anxiety about French immigrants caused the U.S. Congress to lengthen the naturalization period and radically restrict immigrant civil rights, and when concern about Haitian immigration prompted the first racial restrictions in U.S. immigration law, limiting naturalization to “free white persons.” The federal government mainly left migration to the states during the nineteenth century and many state policies were focused on immigrant recruitment during this period, including in particular efforts by southern states after the Civil War to recruit European immigrants to boost their white populations. Immigration rates plunged during the Great Depression and World War II, but then the pendulum began to swing the other way, beginning with the creation of a quota for Chinese immigrants during the war, followed by quotas for Indians and Filipinos and, with the passage of the McCarran–Walter Act in 1952, quotas for the rest of Asia, still at levels far below those of European countries. It was not until 1965 that Congress passed the Hart–Celler Act, finally establishing a universal rule for immigrant admissions—a change that contributed to dramatic and largely unexpected increases in migration inflows from Asia and Latin America. Finally, the contemporary immigration system also has been shaped by refugee flows from Vietnam and Central America and by surging unauthorized immigration since the 1970s.

Keywords: immigration policy, naturalization, immigrants, immigration law, McCarran–Walter Act, Hart–Celler Act, United States

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