Immigration Public Opinion Shifts


Immigration: Public Opinion Shifts Essay, Research Paper

`+ + h h 4 , Undesirable conditions at home, such as poverty and famine, drew numerous foreigners to the idea of migrating to the United States. The U.S. was the answer to economic opportunity, religious freedom, and land acquisition. Because the move for many seemed to be a promise of fortune and freedom, a mass migration of millions had occurred in the late 19th century. At first, this move was widely accepted by many Americans. The immigrants supplied the manpower to dig canals, build railroads, mine minerals, and cultivate farmlands. The period of American industrialization also benefited from employing the immigrants, who were willing to work numerous hours in the most unfavorable environment for less than reasonable wages. But several factors, such as economic depression and culture, would change public opinion from accepting immigration to supporting the restriction of immigration altogether. Prior to World War I, many Americans believed that the immigrants could assimilate the American ways through education. Teaching them the language and history of the country that they now reside in, would help increase communication and grant them a more suitable place in society. But many newcomers had little or no education, which placed them in an increased disadvantageous situation. Many immigrants clung to their Old World customs, thus delaying Americanization. Faced with language handicaps, they tended to converge in communities of their own people. The foreign language neighborhoods were overcrowded and transformed into urban slums. Public opinion of foreigners reduced even more when the Bureau of Census announced negative statistics concerning immigration. Its publishing claimed that the United States and its economy could not manage the overwhelming amount of immigrants entering into the country. Immigrants well exceeded the number of opportunities available to them. The end result would be an increased crime rate due to insufficient funds and a lack of day-to-day much needed basic resources, such as food and housing.

Economic depression was a distressing element for Americans. Since immigrants provided cheap labor, most Americans feared that there would be less employment opportunities for them and that they would not be compensated as much. Since unemployment was now widespread, the surge of immigrants had just added to the difficulties. Anti-immigrant sentiment and racism had increased during these strenuous times. High unemployment rates with the loss of property and assets contributed to the disapproving feelings that Americans had toward the immigrant migration. Laws were passed by the United States to regulate the number and types of immigrants coming into the country. In 1882, a law was passed denying entry to convicts, paupers, lunatics, idiots, and any persons likely to become public charges. During Woodrow Wilson’s presidency, an act of 1917 was passed to require a literacy test for all immigrants over the age of 16. Then in 1921, Congress applied the quota law to immigration. This put a halt on unlimited immigration. The act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants from any country to 3 percent of the nationality in the United States in 1910. In 1924, the quota was reduced to 2 percent based on the 1890 census. The goals of restricting immigration included a higher standard of living, safer conditions, job security, and more access to economic and natural resources. In conclusion, public opinion seems to have shifted so rapidly because of fear and uncertainty. Some immigrants weren’t so apt and able to adjust to the American lifestyle. The “melting pot” was not as acquirable to the immigrants, especially those who were uneducated and could not let go of their old custom ways. The native Americans dreaded that all the employment opportunities would go to the immigrants because they were the primary source of cheap labor. Literature and media portrayed immigrants unfavorably, especially those from various parts of Europe and of a certain religion. Finally, the government supported the anti-immigration feeling, and passed numerous laws to regulate the admission of immigrants. IMMIGRATION: PUBLIC OPINION SHIFTS


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