Thursday, February 23, 2017
Our Changing Times Or What A Fence Used to Be
Most of us are old enough to remember the song sung by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters
Don't Fence Me In (1934)
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you, please
Don't fence me in
Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise
Well that’s how Americans viewed our nation at that time. Many of the movies being produced were Western themed. We had heroes like Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Bill Cody ( many of these six-gun toting icons had handles such as “The Durango Kid,” “Bronco Billy,” or the “Cisco Kid.”) riding the open range and catching the rustlers and preventing wars between the sodbuster and the cattle barons.
American immigration history was based on the ideas expressed in lyrics of the song. The government of the United States had millions of acres of land that they wanted to be settled. The largest flow of migrants to the U.S. occurred in 1849 when gold was discovered in California. Thousands rushed to the west coast to seek the riches that were waiting for them to scoop up from the flowing streams. Sadly most of those that wanted to get rich quick were quickly disappointed. However, most of these dreamers remained in America and added their energies to make America a rich powerful nation. In the 1870’s Horace Greeley made popular the phrase “Go West Young Man.” Greeley was a great supporter of Westward expansion and shared the national conviction that it was the manifest destiny of America to conquer and civilize the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. By 1900 the government declared that there was no free land available for homesteading and our national immigration policies were under review. In addition, the American industrial economy was exploding and the demand for cheap labor was on the rise. The government saw vast trade potential in the Asian markets and their foreign policies reflected this view.
These events were eventually going to impact our views on immigration. My purpose is to review American immigration policy and to provide a logical and rational reason why our government has rejected the “Don’t Fence Me In” policy to “Fences Make Good Neighbors.”
Time: Circa 1900’s. Place: New York harbor. Event: Ship carrying hundreds of immigrants from Eastern European ports of departure. Place of embarkation: Ellis Island. Process: Immigrants embark ship and are sent to the Great Hall and eventually are required to line up to be processed. American immigration personnel examines immigrant papers. All those in line have legal documents, obtained from American government allowing the immigrants to enter the United States. During the vetting process, immigrants are asked if they have a sponsor. Why? Fear on the part of the government that the new immigrants would become wards of the state. When proof is shown or sponsor is present, immigrants move on to the medical exam line. Any immigrant that is sick, or found to have communicable diseases are denied entry to the United States. Those rejected are sent back to the nation of origin. When healthy they can apply for re-admittance. This was the process that those who desired to enter the United States followed. Unfortunately for these Eastern European the government of the United States changed the immigration laws.
The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to two percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the United States as of the 1890 national census. It completely excluded immigrants from Asia. The 1917 Immigration Act implemented a literacy test that required immigrants over 16 years old to demonstrate basic reading comprehension in any language. It also increased the tax paid by new immigrants upon arrival and allowed immigration officials to exercise more discretion in making decisions over whom to exclude. The 1924 Immigration Act also included a provision excluding from entry any alien who by virtue of race or nationality was ineligible for citizenship. This meant that Asians, especially Japanese immigrants would not be allowed into the United States.
End of Part One (please feel free to comment on my observations on this blog or on phyllisrichland.blogspot.com)