Category Archives: Past

Immigrant Labor

Earlier this year, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Supplying Knowledge Based Immigrants and Lifting Levels of STEM Visas Act (the SKILLS Act), which allows more lenient immigration policies for STEM graduates. I saw this as an action very reflective of an attitude we’ve held towards immigrants for at least the past 100 years. Consider that while there is much anti-immigrant sentiment in American public opinion, there is also a high demand for skilled labor which we often fill with immigrants, since Americans don’t often enough have the skillsets for jobs that require an advanced degree. This is very similar to the political cartoon Scarlett posted, which depicts the immigrant as both a burden to the workforce for American workers (by taking a job that an American could theoretically take) but at the same time as a blessing for business owners, who were looking for cheap and plentiful labor. This attitude persists today, as we often hear anti-immigrant sentiment in terms of lost jobs for Americans, and all the while employers benefit from immigration due to their advanced skillsets in the STEM fields.


Immigration Conditions Then and Now

Frank B. Lenz’s 1916 article “The Great War’s Effect on Immigration” examines the effect World War I could have on immigration. He notes that immigration into the U.S. from countries in Europe has declined over the course of the war, but he speculates that it will increase dramatically after the war concludes and peace is restored.  Considering there is war occurring today, it is enlightening to consider claims made in this article and compare them to current worldly conditions. For example, Lenz asserts, “The economic conditions in the United States have always been superior to those in the countries of emigration.” It seems a lot of immigrants come to the U.S. under this premise. They think there are better jobs and more money to be made than in the U.S. and so immigrate under any conditions in order to obtain those. But is this really true? The economic conditions in the U.S. are not superior to other countries today, but it seems there is a prevailing idea that the U.S. is always better off economically than the rest of the world. 

Another statement Lenz makes still rings true today. He notes an “attractive force” driving immigration, mainly the “belief and hope that the new land offers opportunities to relieve the uncomfortableness that is felt at home,” or worse conditions in one’s home country. Immigrants in the past have come to the U.S. to seek new opportunities and a better quality of life and continue to do so today. In addition, Lenz proposes that immigration is one of the “biggest, most difficult problems this nation has to deal with,” but is this still true ? It would seem that immigration legislation has been put on the back burner lately as the U.S. deals with more pressing problems, even if the public thinks it is more of a priority than Congress does.

Finally, Lenz thinks the U.S. should focus on the assimilation of immigrants into life in the U.S. by instituting programs to “Americaniz[e]… the immigrant.” Although some may think this is still a prominent issue today, it is arguably less so than in the early 1900s. Immigrants today are left to learn English on their own before becoming citizens, often without the help of the government. Considering there are similar conditions in the world today as there were at the time of the Great War, mainly political and economic turmoil among many countries, some of the same problems surrounding immigration are still in place. It’s interesting to note that some of the same language and calls to action are in place to day as they were in the past, suggesting concerns about immigration were the same in the past as they are now.Great WarGreat WarGreat War


A Different Viewpoint on “The New Colossus”

Source: The Joshua Blog

In one of my previous posts regarding immigration in the early 1900s, I found a poem written by Emma Lazarus. It is titled, “The New Colossus”. The poem is engraved into a plaque on a pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty stands. In the past, this poem was a symbol of hope for immigrants as they entered America. It assured them that their journey was well worth it and that they were on their way to becoming accepted as citizens of America.

I found the above picture from a blog (published in 2010) regarding progressive political news. The picture shows several lines from the poem as a means of depicting the changing public opinion on immigration. While Americans were rather welcoming in the past, people are currently much more hesitant to allow immigrants to enter our country and eventually become citizens. For example, one of the lines above is corrected to read the following: “After eight years, send these, the homeless, back to their home country”. Thus, it appears that many Americans are not keen on the idea of allowing immigrants to eventually become legal citizens. The negative views toward immigration are largely evident in this particular moment, but it is worth noting that positive views regarding immigration are currently prevalent in the United States as well.

1,000 Marriageable Girls in 1907

1,000+ immigrant women from the Baltic arriving at Ellis Island

The Washington Post wrote an article in 1907 on the arrival of 1,000+ women from European countries that came to America seeking husbands. This drew considerable attention from young American men, who waited at the pier for the arrival of their ship the Baltic, so as to catch a glimpse of these women and consider these potential suitors. The article also asks women aboard the ship where in America they will settle as they search for husbands and what kind of men they are looking for. Some seek “rich Americans,” others like “tall men and blonds,” but some will marry “if [they] can find anybody to have [them].” The article concludes with the statement, “it is thought that the proposals will come thick and fast,” demonstrating a general positivity toward immigrants coming to America, specifically women. Not only were European women seeking husbands in America, the men favorably accepted their arrival. This emphasizes the favorable  regard with which Americans accepted immigrants in the early 1900s, especially when they arrived from European countries, such as England. In addition, if such immigrants were seeking a better life in America and were willing to assimilate into the culture, in this case by marrying an American man, then Americans gladly welcomed their stay.

Today there is talk of foreign women marrying American men to achieve green cards so that they can live legally in America. If such a large volume of women arrived in the U.S. today seeking marriage, would they be equally as welcome? It seems marriage between immigrants and Americans was accepted publicly in the early 1900s, but do we carry the same opinions today?

Woman on the Baltic seeking marriage in America

marriageable women column

Original Article from The Washington Post (1907)

Article within the page of The Washington Post (1907)

Article within the page of The Washington Post (1907)

sources: Bain’s New York: The City in News Pictures 1900-1925 (article images) (first image) (second image)

Ellis Island Arrival Video: Early 1900s


In order to begin to better understand what immigration was like in the past, I was curious to hear immigrants discuss their experiences. In a video found on the History Channel’s website, immigrants from the early 1900s reflected on the moment when they first arrived to America, recalling their emotions during that time. During the early and mid-1900s, more than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. The first thing that they could see was the Statue of Liberty. It was the sign that they had made it. The immigrants interviewed in the video recall the screaming and crying that occurred once they could see the Statue of Liberty. It was a moment unlike any other, because it was an affirmation that they were about to experience firsthand America’s reputation as the “land of the free and the home of the brave”.

Furthermore, to the immigrants, the Statue of Liberty embodied an actual person; they desired her acceptance. Immigrants perceived the Statue of Liberty as welcoming, which contributed to their extreme excitement as they arrived to America. The fact that the Statue of Liberty faced the incoming ships with her back turned to America exhibited her acceptance of the immigrants. In listening to the stories of immigrants from the past, it is evident that their own opinions on immigration erred on the side of positivity. They were hopeful and exhilarated by the possibility of a new life.

Lyndon B. Johnson Signing the Immigration Act of 1965

lyndon b johnson signing

Congressional Evaluation of the Immigration Act of 1965

Above is a photo of Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, and I’ve also attached a copy of an evaluation of the act three years after it was signed into effect. Notably, the congressional evaluation marks a major change in immigration policy brought about by the Immigration Act of 1965: “The operation of the existing safeguards to the American labor market…was reversed. A nonrelative alien intending to take employment is now required to obtain a certification from the Secretary of Labor that (A) his employment will not adversely affect the wages or working conditions of those similarly employed, and (B) that there are not sufficient workers in the United States able, willing, qualified, and available for such employment.” This speaks to a long-lived belief that an influx of immigration will seriously damage the job market, and more importantly shows the discriminatory practices towards people with an outsider status. The fact that neither of these premises are a matter of objective evaluation is indicative of an exclusive practice meant to keep jobs from immigrants while guaranteeing the posterity of those with citizenship.

Interestingly enough, the new standards brought about by the Immigration Act of 1965 superseded those of previous acts that instituted strict quotas, most notably the provisions of the National Origins Act of 1924, which restricted immigration on the basis of existing proportions of the population. This brought about a more open policy to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. So while this act in effect allowed more immigrants to enter the country, the makers of the law were still concerned with the loss of opportunity at home for citizens; a reflection of public opinion at the time regarding the view of immigrants and their effect on the country.


Angel Island: The Opposite Ellis Island

Angel Island

Opposite  Ellis Island on the East Coast of the United States, the West Coast harbored Angel Island, another immigration station, in San Francisco’s North Bay.  Here, immigrants from countries across the Pacific, such as China, Japan, and the Philippines, arrived and were processed before assuming life in the United States.  Angel Island ushered in only 300,000 immigrants, whereas Ellis Island’s numbers reached about 12 million, yet more immigrants that passed through Angel Island were deported at a rate of 11-30%, compared to those from Ellis Island, of which only 1-2% were deported.

Whereas Ellis Island’s history of welcoming European immigrants to the U.S. carries a positive connotation, Angel Island’s history is decidedly more depressing;  it served as a station in which many arriving immigrants were detained upon arrival.  During this time, these immigrants wrote poetry upon the walls documenting their feelings regarding their imprisonment, contrasting with their hopeful attitudes toward their immigration to America.  All of these poems carry a depressing tone tinged with feelings of hope and almost-regret, as the writers wondered if they would ever be released and given the freedom they so desperately sought in making the long voyage to America. In addition to the poem showcased below, more poetry from Angel Island can be found here.

Encouraging the Traveler

sources: (image)