Immigration Restrictions Arose with Progressive Social Engineering

Image: National Park Service
Image: National Park Service

Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh penned a new article for National Review, “The Conservative Case for Immigration Reform.” He offers a brief account of immigration laws in America:

The first naturalization law, passed in 1790, did not put any restrictions on immigration. It wasn’t until 1882 that Congress, in its first major legislative restriction, passed a blanket ban on Chinese immigrants. Over the next 40 years, Congress passed laws banning immigration of the Japanese and illiterates, and it imposed low quotas on immigration from European countries whose members were supposedly “unassimilable”—all at the insistence of nationalists, labor unions, progressives, and eugenicists. . . .

During the 1950s, the Bracero guest-worker visa program channeled migrants into a legal and regulated market, shrinking the illegal-immigrant population by 90 percent. . . .

The immigration restrictions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were a vast social-engineering experiment that departed from America’s traditional open immigration policy. In contrast, allowing immigration to mostly be guided by the market would be a rejection of the social-engineering impulse that arose out of the Progressive era.

Although I have not personally researched the history of America’s immigration laws, Nowrasteh’s account seems reliable. One modern guest-worker proposal is the “Red Card Solution,” promoted by Helen Krieble. Recently I’ve written a four-part series on immigration for The Objective Standard: see parts one, two, three, and four.