(c) 2013 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.
If you are committed to populist and progressive myths about protecting jobs through immigration laws you do not need to read further. If, like my wife, you believe that the United States government has “inherent” powers to control immigration, I recommend reading Solburg, Winton L, ed., The Constitutional Convention and the Formation of the Union, second edition.
Let’s start with the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, defines the powers of Congress. Paragraph 4 says, “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;” This deals with uniformity of laws and deals with the issue of naturalization, not immigration.
The only paragraph that mentions migration is Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 1 which reads, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” This was a reference to the slave trade and the migration of indentured servants. It expired in 1808 and the slave trade was abolished. This was a compromise to keep Georgia and South Carolina in the Compact—George Mason proposed immediate elimination of the slave trade and elimination of slavery by 1800. In no way does this paragraph provide for regulation of voluntary immigration.
Article XIV of Amendment begins, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
So the Constitution does not give a whole lot of guidance. And the early laws did not deal with immigration. Even John Adams, the founding godfather of the progressive movement, did not get Congress to restrict immigration from France in 1898, but rather to require an extended residency period for naturalization.
During the 1840s a number of nativist groups emerged and advocated controlling immigration and deporting aliens. In the late 1860s it turned out that the aliens—specifically Irish and Chinese turned out to be necessary to the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Abraham Lincoln and Grenville Dodge had ignored the War Department’s surveys and drawn a line on a map. To execute the Western third of that line required disciplined workers who could be careful with explosives and reliable. These were the Chinese, whom the Anglo-Californians were trying to get rid of.
In 1875 that the first limitation on immigration was passed (the Page Act). Employers were prohibited from importation of “coolie labor” and Chinese sex workers. In 1882 came the Chinese Exclusion Act. It should be noted that both the 1875 and 1882 Acts violated the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 which was renegotiated in 1880.
The current quota based immigration system dates back only to 1921—more than 130 years after ratification of the Constitution. The latest intrusion is the REAL ID Act, a federal mandate on state issuance of identification justified by the so-called “war on terror.”
The progressive movement (and this includes the neo-conservatives and populists currently posing as conservatives) believes in government expansion by crisis. The attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 was not the ultimate attack on the United States. The REAL ID Act was an advance of central control, nothing more nor less.
The anti-immigration movement (including such national figures as Tom Tancredo and Kris Kobach) is nothing more than economic protectionism dressed up as patriotism—see Dr Johnson’s Dictionary. It is not conservative any more than was the Know Nothing party before the conflict of 1861. Economic protectionism, as many know, was the cause of the 1931 recession that was rebranded the Great Depression for political purposes. Ultimately, immigration has generally been positive although the folks who came in through Ellis Island and were socialized in the New York public schools and their descendants have contributed to the dependency culture—we need some hard-working Mexicans to change this.