Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On this day...

Interesting, it was on this day in 1882 that Congress adopted 22 Stat. 58, governing Chinese immigration. The smart folks over at The Edge of the American West put into context with similar movements in Australia and Canada,

If you want to find your trans-oceanic community of policy-making, look at the immigrant-haters. Victoria, in Australia, had a Chinese exclusion law in 1855; other Australian governments followed suit, so that by 1887 there were such laws all over Oz. The US passed its law in 1882; the Canadians did not outright exclude Chinese until 1923 but in the meantime had a variety of measures, including a head tax and a highly discretionary system of immigrant admission, that kept down Chinese immigration. The pattern of Japanese immigration restriction is similar; Queensland made a “gentleman’s agreement” with Japan to keep down immigration in 1897, while the US did its deal with Japan in 1907 and Canada did its in 1908.

They also note that the passage of the law marked the beginning of American immigration controls. Notice as well the reflection of our current immigration debate in this 126 year old statute,

And what was made for the Chinese eventually extended to other immigrants as well—not just the Japanese, but eventually all “Asiatics,” excluded by the 1917 law. And also Europeans: in the decades around 1900, Americans found lots of ways to define various nationalities of immigrants as undesirable owing to “health” problems. Somehow, the taxonomy of health problems mapped onto certain ethnicities and national origins, as Howard Markel and Alexandra Minna Stern find; Jews were “neurasthenic,” Italians “criminally minded.”2

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