Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Recommended reading on immigration

Knowledge of history is always helpful to understanding the present. In this regard, I'd like to recommend two articles I've come across recently. The first is an article in the latest issue of Socialism and Liberation magazine, written by Professor Ron Wilkins of California State Univeristy. The article explores the Mexican-American war (which resulted in half of Mexico being annexed by the United States), slavery, and, in those contexts, the relationship between Blacks and Mexicans. You'll learn things like this:
From 1825 until the end of the Civil War in 1865, Mexican authorities continuously thwarted attempts by slave-holding Texas settlers to conclude fugitive slave extradition treaties between the two parties. During this period of extremely tense relations between the two governments, Mexico consistently repudiated and forbade the institution of slavery in its territory, while U.S. officials and Texas slave owners continuously sought ways to circumvent Mexican law.
You'll learn about "Mexican General José Urrea and the land titles that he and his men granted to former Texas slaves following the defeat of the Alamo." And you'll learn about the history of slaves escaping to freedom in Mexico, and the earliest attempts of the U.S. government to militarize the U.S.-Mexico border:
By the year 1855, the estimates were that as many as 4,000 to 5,000 formerly enslaved Africans had escaped to Mexico. Slaveholders became so alarmed at this trend, that they requested and received, approximately one-fifth of the standing U.S. army, which was deployed along the Texas-Mexico border in a vain effort to stem the flow of runaways.
Fascinating article.
The second article, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times, was written by Professor Mae N. Ngai of the University of Chicago. This article is focused on the history of U.S. immigration policy. In it, you'll learn things like:
There were so few restrictions on immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries that there was no such thing as "illegal immigration." The government excluded a mere 1 percent of the 25 million immigrants who landed at New York's Ellis Island before World War I, mostly for health reasons.
Or how hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants -- mostly Europeans -- became legal:
  • The Registry Act of 1929 allowed immigrants who arrived before 1921 but had no record of their admission to register retroactively, for a $20 fee.
  • From 1935 to the late 1950s, to keep families together, tens of thousands of Europeans unlawfully in the United States were temporarily allowed to go to Canada and legally re-enter the States as permanent residents.
  • In 1940, Congress authorized the suspension of orders of deportation in cases of hardship, which it defined as "serious economic detriment" to the immigrant's immediate family. The guidelines have become less generous, but the principle remains in the law.
  • In 1965, the United States repealed racial restrictions against Southern and Eastern Europeans and Asians, but the 1965 law also imposed quotas for the first time on Western Hemisphere countries. That created illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America.
  • The 1986 immigration reforms addressed the problem by legalizing nearly 3 million undocumented workers. It also called for increased enforcement -- which didn't stop illegal immigration; it just made it more dangerous.
It never hurts to start with the facts. These were just some excerpted from two highly-recommended articles.