Immigration law chronology

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The Emma Goldman Papers
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Sept. 16, 2010, 6:33 p.m. (view history)

United States immigration law chronology

Chinese Exclusion Act 1882, 1886, 1892

Passed for prevention of Chinese immigration into the U.S.  Challenges to this Act provided stricter enforcement and set legal precedents that would be used against general immigrant population.

Three specific challenges resulted in the Supreme Court affirming that the United States as a sovereign nation had the right to protect its borders.

  1. Chae Chan Ping v. U.S., 130 U.S. 581 (1889)
  2. Nishimura Ekiu v. U.S., 142 U.S. 651 1892
  3. Fong Yue Ting v. United States 149 U.S. 698 (1893).

Congress, as an arm of the national government was vested by the Constitution to enact laws as it saw fit to accomplish this protection. Not only did Congress have the right to prevent entrance into the country, but it also had the power to expel unnaturalized aliens when it was deemed necessary to public interest.

March 3, 1903

The Immigration Act (32 Statutes-At-Large 1213) passed regulating immigration much more stringently. Section 2 named anarchists or any other persons who believed in the overthrow of government or forms of law by force or violence as an excluded class.  Section 38 of this Act targeted anarchists specifically, based upon personal belief of anarchy or affiliation with any anarchist group. Section 39 barred naturalization or citizenship to anyone in violation of this Act.  This Act was perhaps the first to exclude a specific political group based upon beliefs seen as a threat to national security.

English anarchist John Turner was arrested, prosecuted and convicted under this Act only months after its passage.   The U.S. Supreme Court upheld his conviction, stating that Congress had unlimited power to exclude aliens and to deport anyone who entered the country in violation of law (precedent set with regard to Chinese Exclusion Acts).  This decision effectively ended America's role as haven for the politically oppressed of foreign countries.

June 29, 1906

This Act (34 Statutes-At-Large 596) provided uniform federal rules for naturalization (called both the Naturalization Act and the Denaturalization Act). In order to obtain citizenship, a petitioner had to sign a Declaration of Intention swearing he was not an anarchist.  This Act also allowed for cancellation of citizenship certificates obtained in an illegal or fraudulent manner.

The government was unable to prosecute EG under the Act of 1903 because she had immigrated before its passage and claimed to be a citizen because of the naturalization of both her husband and her father.  It therefore became important to the government to examine the nature of Kersner's naturalization.  In 1909 Kersner was tried (in absentia) for lying about his age and his length of residency in his naturalization papers (see 1874 Revised Statutes) and his citizenship certificate was cancelled under this Act of 1906.  After invalidating Kersner's certificate, it is not clear why the government did not deport EG.  Perhaps due to the rallying around her of public opinion at that time or because the legality of the Kersner proceedings were questionable, she was not prosecuted for revocation of her citizenship.   Because her status was in question, however, she did not leave the country after that, commenting that she was now a prisoner of the U.S. (From LML).

February 20, 1907

Act (34 Statutes-At-Large 898) further regulating immigration and streamlining procedures approved by Congress.

The Naturalization Act would be used by federal courts in the Pacific Northwest to keep I.W.W. members (or in anyone affiliated with the I.W.W. in any way) from being naturalized.  By preventing their naturalization, they became perpetual aliens and therefore could be deported. Before the Acts of 1918, 1919, they still had rights as domiciled aliens.  These Acts would effectively take away this last protection.**

February 5, 1917*

This Act (39 Statutes-At-Large 874) broadened considerably the classes of deportable aliens; and allowed for deportation without statute of limitation of anarchists.

May 22, 1918*

(40 Statutes‑at‑Large 559)

**The I.W.W.=s free speech fights had local officials scrambling for suppressive solutions, but local and state laws during this time (1909-1914) were inadequate because the Wobblies weren=t guilty of any crimes.  The 1903 Immigration Act was useless as written (barring anarchists) because the connection between anarchism and the I.W.W. was tenuous.   But the 1906 Naturalization Act became extremely useful to federal officials (particularly in the Pacific Northwest).  By defining the I.W.W. as a group that taught disbelief in organized government,  the federal government was able to use the requirements of the Naturalization Law to their advantage.   All alien members of the I.W.W. were barred from citizenship, effectively maintaining an alien reservoir of radicals and keeping them under the control of the Bureau of Immigration.

The naturalization law, however, was an indirect and, therefore, inefficient approach and officials sought more effective means to suppress the I.W.W.  After the first of the free-speech fights in 1912, both California and Washington representatives attempted to introduce legislation in Congress to make the I.W.W. a deportable class but were unsuccessful (because of the presidential election and the advent of WWI).

*World War I provided new focus on the Wobblies. Although hardly the only group of protesters, the I.W.W. was highly visible and already associated in the forum of public opinion with extreme labor agitation.   The Wobblies were accused of planting bombs in munition factories, torching buildings, driving spikes into logs, and destroying grain and poisoning cattle, as hindrances to the war effort. The local and state clamor for action by federal authorities against the I.W.W. intensified on par with the war hysteria.  Federal suppression remained up in the air, as the extent to which the federal government could act depended on its ability to find new techniques or utilize appropriate pre-war precedents.  The Department of Justice was unable to act at first. For those demanding immediate action, the Bureau of Immigration provided the answer.

The passage of the Immigration Act of February 5, 1917 and the Espionage Act in June 1917 affected the previous course of I.W.W. repression.  Under the Espionage Act, any strike could now be labeled as seditious interference in wartime production. Section 3 of the 1917 Immigration Act included in its list of excludable classes ApersonsYwho advocate or teach the unlawful destruction of property,@ an addition specifically targeting the I.W.W.

Immigration officials arrested individuals without any legal authority to do so.  It also participated in deportation drives launched by local employers to rid themselves of agitators.

But these immigration laws were only effective against non-citizens (note that with the 1919 Act, radical affiliation could be retroactive, so a naturalized citizen could have citizenship revoked, or a "resident" alien could be deported, if ever affiliated in any way with a radical group).  Criminal syndicalism laws enacted between 1917 and 1919  were specifically targeted at the I.W.W. at sites of agitation: Washington, California, Montana, Arizona, Minnesota, Idaho, South Dakota.  After 1919, in the wake of anti-radical and anti-labor sentiment, even states where there had been little or no I.W.W. presence passed criminal syndicalism laws.  Any form of agitative or radical activity became associated with labor and provided impetus.   Most of the bills were introduced by industrial or economic interests with connections to state legislatures and officials.  More importantly, many of the state officials involved in passage of these laws were also members of their business communities and therefore had a vested interest in maintaining the existing economic and industrial order.

Alaska: 1919
Arizona: 1918
California: 1919
Colorado: 1919
Hawaii: 1919
Idaho: 1917
Indiana: 1919
Iowa: 1919
Kansas: 1920
Kentucky: 1920
Michigan: 1919
Minnesota: 1917
Montana: 1918
Nebraska: 1919
Nevada: 1919
Ohio: 1919
Oklahoma: 1919
Oregon: 1919
South Dakota: 1918
Utah: 1919
Washington: 1919
West Virginia: 1919
Wyoming: 1919

There were also efforts to enact a federal criminal syndicalism law between 1917 and 1920; five bills were introduced in Congress during this time period.  There were also seven bills not specifically about criminal syndicalism (postal, commerce) which contained anti-syndicalism text.