Week 6 – The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law

In this reading the author talks about the different parts of the Immigration Act of 1924. Quotas were the first part of this act. Something that I thought was interesting was that race wasn’t explicitly introduced into the system, but used terms like “native stock” for white people who were descended from the white population in 1790 and “foreign stock” for whites who were descendants of immigrants after 1790. Although the word ‘race’ wasn’t specifically mentioned, it very obviously stated who they wanted versus didn’t. Race was used was when the Quota Board used the numbers to make the quota calculations. Exclusion of persons ineligible for citizenship was the second part. It made it impossible for Chinese, Japanese, and South Asians to gain citizenship, and completely left out populations of Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico (even though U.S. immigration law covered those areas). By putting these restrictions in place, it excluded all nonwhite, non-European people from immigration opportunity. As shown in the quota tables, the limits placed on each country every year severely limited the number of immigrants that weren’t white Europeans. There was also talk about the racial classification of Mexicans because of their alleged racial ineligibility for citizenship. The issue was because the area was annexed by the United States by the Treaty fo Guadalupe Hidalgo, which would make the residents citizens of the U.S., but it was an issue because they weren’t white.

One of the strongest themes that I pulled out of this chapter was the repeated idea of nativism, which promotes/protects the rights of natural born citizens over immigrants. Most of the time, you could say that nativism is pushing an anti-immigrant agenda. The continued increase in years for immigrants to become naturalized as well as increase in cost shows the desire to limit who is able to come into the United States and become a citizen. In the reading, the author writes, “the Immigration Act of 1924 suggests that immigration law and policy were deeply implicated in a broader racial and ethnic remapping of the nation…,” (pg 71) which means that this act worked to reorganize the way that race was though about in the United States. The continued push for nativist policies and nationalism in today’s politics have led to similar immigrant blocks and restrictions.

2 thoughts on “Week 6 – The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law

  1. While I do agree that the nativist ideas of the time were part of an anti-immigrant agenda, I would say that it was more of a tactic of anti-non-white sentiments of the time. We must remember that even native-born African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Mexican Americans were not considered to be a true part of American society; each of these groups were labeled with some level of foreignness. Even Southern and Eastern Europeans were not fully accepted into the American identity due to debates over the integrity of their whiteness. Despite the fact that the laws under the Immigration Act of 1924 were written as racially neutral, they were clearly deliberated to advantage the white population of the United States and disadvantage the non-white population. These laws were in fact implemented during a time when racism and white supremacy were more overt, and politicians comfortably expressed the belief that the United States was a country for whites only.

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