In this week’s reading of “The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924” written by Mae M. Ngai we are able to take a look at the discrimination in the federal laws regarding immigration that we have been discussing this week in lecture. When the reading first began and Ngai wrote on the politics surrounding the Immigration Act of 1924 and the legislation to follow I found the comparisons to politics today to be very interesting, such as Wilson’s campaign tactic not matching with his actions, if I understood that portion correctly. I also noted the two opposing public opinions in regard to this legislation, there were the patriotic societies that felt that America needed to preserve its national origins through immigration legislation and limitations targeting non-whites. On the other hand, opponents to this legislation were trying to push back the legislation of the national quotas on the argument that the inability to accurately determine these quotas would eliminate all fairness that is claimed by the supporters. This criticism was widely circulated by Americans stating that the accuracy in obtaining the numbers of nationalities in America would be nearly impossible. It has become generally agreed upon in all discourse that the implementation of immigration quotas through the many legislation including the Immigration Act of 1924 was discriminatory, the language and reality of these legislations favored the “nordic” white Europeans and that the immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were of “undesirable races” (69) and this is continued to be faced and dealt with today.
In her article, Ngai discusses and argues the impact of the Immigration Act of 1924 which altered the established racial categories and realigned the race relations in “new and uneven ways” (69) as Ngai described. In her work Ngai argues the three main aspects of the Immigration act of 1924 which started with her argument of how the legislation created the definition of “national origins” when created. This term is not natural in terms of racial classifications but in order to determine that specifics of the National Origins quotas the US government needed to create these classifications in order to create this legislation and put it into action. It is important to note that in this legislation race may not be specifically mentioned but this provided the implication of it and created the idea of European vs non-European and white vs non-white. The second aspect mentioned by Ngai was the concept of Eligibility for Citizenship and as a result, preventing the possibility of immigration for about fifty percent of the world to be able to immigrate to America. This targetted those of Asian nationality and other far-east countries. The determinations of eligibility were based on race which continued to pose difficulty to define throughout history and was argued many times but through different languages was continued to be reinforced by federal legislation for long periods of history in the United States. Finally, Ngai discusses the impact that this legislation had on Mexican Immigrants and Mexican-Americans. Due to the fact that Asians were not considered white, it was difficult to consider Mexicans as white but argued for a period of time. Eventually, in the 20s there was an emerging “race problem” in the United States southwest which then became the validating factor to deny immigration to America for Mexicans. This then gave way to the rise of illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico which continued on and then the concept of illegal immigration became associated with Mexico around the United States.
I do think that creating quotas from such undocumented, unestablished censuses was definitely unfair and inaccurate. I recall in relation to the Mexican immigration debate, Mexicans claimed their race as so unique and mixed, it was utterly subjective for the courts to try to label them, which may have justified the court’s decision to assign them to their own race. But the point here is that there was definitely not enough objective data on newly developed and turmoil ridden countries after World War 2’s conflict in Europe, and with race being socially constructed, there still was expansive lack of interaction with races around the world like Filipinio, Jap, Syrian, Mexican, which is what brought up so much conflict- we were making up the categories of race as we went! It was literally a completely subjective application of the Immigration Act of 1924. And when objective reasoning and evidence for arguments was brought up in court, it was mentioned that the judge’s sidestepped these arguments because not only were they complicated to refute, but they biological essentialism basis supporting the race and ethnic classification in the Immigration Act was already faulty to uphold!
It was especially subjective that we held selective distinctions of race and ethnicity, like those of European descent, who could always be white, but choose to apply their European ethnicity whenever, and the combination of race and ethnicity, like for that of the Chinese and the Mexicans, where both are deemed to easily identify these groups as undesirable so the elements were merged together as their distinction didn’t matter.
Nice job, especially your discussion of citizenship.
This is a very comprehensive look at the arguments made. It was interesting to read how often people would adjust the parameters of what they considered white depending on the current immigration system. It demonstrates how obvious their goal was and how arbitrary racial distinctions can be. Even when certain people are considered white it seems that certain people only do it tentatively as the reading mentioned how people considered south and east Europeans as lesser despite being considered white.
I liked how you mentioned that there was opposition to these ideas as it is not always evident that people took issue with these policies. It may not change the fact that these policies exist but it does provide a more rounded picture of what people thought at the time.