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Anti-Immigration: US Has Long History of Intolerance

Updated on July 14, 2014

Immigrants in modern day


Not a New Phenomenon

These days you hear a lot of people talking about illegal immigrants in the U.S. Most are very against it. They act like, suddenly, the U.S. is being invaded and that this is a new thing. The fact is that from the time the country first came into existence there has been an undercurrent of "Nativism" in this country. In fact, it started with some of our Founding Fathers.

Ben Franklin


Founding Fathers

Benjamin Franklin, in the 1700s, was very against the idea of Germans being allowed into the country. Franklin's home was in Pennsylvania and there were a lot of Germans coming to America and settling there. He found this very unsettling. Some others felt the same way and this resulted in President Adams singing the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, some of the most controversial laws signed into existence to this very day. These laws greatly limited the abilities of immigrants and what they could do in the U.S., particularly those from France and Ireland.

Continuation in the 19th Century

Nativism continued into the 19th century. Now, the United States had established itself as a world power and the freedom offered there was attractive to people all over the world. As things developed in Europe, people began to try and start over again in the U.S.

Nativists were those who could draw a connection back to the original 13 colonies. They became a very vocal and strong force in the government and laws made to restrict those streaming into the country via Ellis Island.

The U.S. had been founded by Protestants, and now Catholics from countries like Ireland and Italy were flooding in. A wave of anti-Erupoean and anti-Catholic sentiment swept the country. Riots happened in Philadelphia as Nativists rioted against immigrants filtering into the city. The riots began to spread against Catholics and others from Europe across the country as various Nativist parties formed to try and further restrict immigration.

Immigrants on a ship



The anti-German movement was strong between the years of 1840s through the 1920s. Many felt that Germany had a social structure and form of government that went against America's capitalist and democratic form. Also, during the mid-1900s, anti-German sentiment swelled as Germany leaped into World War I. A law in Wisconsin, in 1890, was passed that shut down German-speaking elementary schools and other laws were passed to prevent immigrants from learning in their native tongues. More riots ensued as Germans were attacked across the country.


The cross-continental railroad could not have been built without the help of Chinese immigrants. However, so many of them began to flood into the country during the 1870s, settling in Western states like California and cities like San Francisco, that true fever of anti-Chinese sentiment flooded the country. The Chinese Exclusion Act was created and passed in 1882 and was designed to put limits on the number of Chinese that were allowed in the country. Chinese immigrants responded by creating false papers that showed they were native to America. These exclusions, however, led the railroads to dip into Mexico and bring more workers up from there instead of hiring Chinese workers.

Union Problems

Anti-immigration laws were attempted all over the country. There was great worry of immigrants being allowed to join unions and spreading what was considered "Communist" ideas via US labor. One of the favorite laws was to create literacy tests before anyone could join a union. Many of these laws were vetoed by Presidents who saw the need for more workers as the U.S. continued to expand.

No Irish



At some point nearly every country across the globe was the target of anti-immigration sentiment and laws in the U.S. There was a time when businesses would put Help Wanted signs in the windows with the words NO IRISH or NO GERMANS written beneath it. World events changed public opinion constantly.

After World War I, so much of Europe was poor and devastated that a massive wave of immigrants fled and tried to create new lives in America. This caused a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment to rise. This culminated in the Immigration Act of 1924 which reduced the number of immigrants who were allowed into the country from 357,803 to 164,687.

Laws Become Complicated

As the anti-immigration sentiment rose over the passage of time, rising again after World War II, it became more and more complicated to enter the U.S. The lines and forms required to enter the U.S. began longer and longer. More and more laws were enacted to limit immigration from countries all over the world. The ultimate result is the mess that exists today.

Today it can take years just to get a Green Card and be allowed to live in the U.S. This is, of course, if the country you are coming from is on an approved list that pushes it through faster. It can take even longer to become a citizen, and the rules that apply to determining if you can become a citizen are murky. Nearly anything can be used to deny citizenship and Green Card.

This is what has created the wave of illegal immigration. It's often an easier and more realistic risk to try and sneak in than to go through proper channels. Going through proper channels could mean homelessness and starving in countries that are incapable of taking care of their people.

Undocumented Immigrants


Today's Problems Extend Back to the Beginning

The problems of today can be traced back all the way to the very creation of this country. As fear and anti-immigrant sentiment has, time and again, set into this country. Despite the fact that the entire country was created and settled by immigrants and the country is famous for being the place for the world to send its "huddled masses, yearning to breathe free" the truth is that few have ever been really welcomed here.

The history of the U.S., once you get past the Pilgrims, is one of Nativism.


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      Howard Schneider 3 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Balaspa. The United States indeed has a long running history of anti-immigration stances. This is understandable from a fearful of the unknown human feelings standpoint but quite ironic and opposite of our stated beliefs. We need to look at our own histories to develop some empathy for these immigrants.

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      Old Poolman 3 years ago

      At one time there was a very workable program called the "Bracero Program" that actually worked.

      Farmers and fruit growers here in the USA could put in a request for how many helpers they needed and the dates they needed them. Workers registered for the program in their own country and were assigned jobs when they became available.

      Labor contractors were responsible for housing, food, and transportation for the "guest" workers.

      The farmers had the help they needed, the "guest" workers made decent pay and had exact entry / exit dates when they could legally be here in this country. Most everyone was happy with this arrangement.

      But I guess the program was working too well so they stopped it.