New Americans

New Americans

by Geoffrey C. Harrison, Thomas F. Scott


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The story of America is a story of change. How these changes come about says a lot about who we are as a nation. When change looms on the horizon, every citizen in the United States has a chance to participate in the process. This means that every change-whether tiny or earthshaking-is usually the result of a Great Debate. The Great Debates series traces the history of important themes and issues in American culture. Each book stops at crucial points along the way and "eavesdrops" on the discussions surrounding society's major course changes. You'll discover that people 50 and 100 and 200 years ago could get just as loud and passionate as they do today! New Americans looks at the Great Debate concerning immigration. Each chapter brings to light the key positions on the topic … and challenges you to consider both sides of some very controversial issues. In the end, you'll learn that Americans love to make their voices heard. And that's what makes a Great Debate.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603576055
Publisher: Norwood House Press
Publication date: 01/28/2014
Pages: 48
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.20(d)
Lexile: NC1090L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 13 Years

Read an Excerpt

New Americans

By Geoffrey C. Harrison, Thomas F. Scott

Norwood House Press

Copyright © 2014 Norwood House Press, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59953-591-3


Should "old" Americans decide who gets to be a "new" American?

During the early 1800s, ships loaded with immigrants began landing on the shores of the United States in great numbers. That worried Americans who didn't want to share everything they had worked for and fought for. Their philosophy, called Nativism, held that people who already live in the United States should have greater rights and freedoms than immigrants new to the country. The first great debate on immigration focused on the fairness of Nativism ...

Who is a Native?

The inhabitants of the original 13 colonies were made up of different ethnic groups, but for the most part they came to think of themselves as being English. When the colonists were denied the benefits and freedoms enjoyed by citizens of England, they began to think of themselves as something else: Americans. After defeating the English in the Revolutionary War, Americans began to develop a strong national identity — and with it came a suspicion of newcomers.

In 1798, President John Adams took the first federal action against immigration with the Alien and Sedition Acts. "The tendency of the thing is injurious, unless the newcomers are more civilized and more virtuous, and have ... the same ideas and feeling about government."

Make Your Case

These new laws increased the time it took immigrants to become citizens from five years to 14. They gave the government power to arrest or deport immigrants considered to be "dangerous to the peace and safety" of the country. The passage of these laws also marked the beginning of carefully recorded immigration statistics.

A Question of Religion

In the years that followed, Americans turned a suspicious eye toward other immigrant groups, particularly those who followed the Catholic faith. During the 1820s, large numbers of newcomers started arriving from Germany and Ireland. Their labor was critical to the success of large projects being undertaken across the country. A high percentage of the German and Irish immigrants were Catholics. Many Americans believed that Catholics were faithful only to their spiritual leader in Rome, the Pope. Nativists used this rationale as part of their argument to keep Catholics out of the country.

By the 1850s, Nativism had become a powerful force in American politics. Most notable was the Know-Nothing Party, which worked to limit citizenship and restrict the rights of newcomers. The party was made up of middleclass American males, most of whom were Protestant and had descended from English colonists. The Know-Nothings and groups like them enjoyed great power for several years, and were behind much of the violence aimed at new Americans.

In 1855, the Know-Nothings supported Levi Boone for Mayor of Chicago. Boone won the election and immediately banned immigrants from holding any city jobs. But the Know-Nothings faced opposition. In fact, the group was eventually stopped from spreading its influence across Illinois by a 46-year-old state legislator named Abraham Lincoln. The Nativist movement began to crumble soon after.

The Nativist movement may have collapsed, but its impact it still felt today. Sometimes it seems as if each immigrant group that comes to America feels a little superior to the groups that arrive right after them. Why might some form of Nativism be with us today?


Can the U.S. pass a law aimed at people from one country?

By the late 1800s, the nature of immigration in the United States was starting to change. For nearly a century, the nation's "open door" policy toward newcomers had turned out to be its greatest strength. However, as the American West opened up in the 1850s and 1860s, concern grew among many business and political leaders that the "wrong" type of immigrant was entering the country. As newcomers from Asia began to arrive in America in large numbers, a new immigration debate began ...

From the Far East to the American West

The discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s started the Gold Rush. Pioneers, prospectors, and homesteaders flocked to the region in the 1850s and 1860s to stake their claims and seek their fortunes. Towns and cities sprang up on the west coast, and the building of the nation's transcontinental railroad began. Crossing the rugged U.S. terrain created a great demand for workers. The U.S. alone could not fill this demand. China could help.

As is so often the case with new immigrant groups, the Chinese people were facing challenges at home. Their population was growing rapidly and the country was in the midst of a bloody civil war. These factors convinced many young men to explore other parts of the world. More than a quarter-million Chinese residents came to the American West and found jobs related to the railroad. Some worked for a few years, saved their money, and returned home. More often, they put down roots in the U.S. Some had no choice — in order to pay for the trip to America, they had to work for many years as laborers at a dollar or two a week.

Almost from the start, the Chinese in America faced hostility and prejudice. They competed with gold and silver prospectors, often taking claims that had been abandoned and finding ways to make them profitable. American workers believed the Chinese were stealing jobs from them because they were willing to work hard for a lower wage. In some western cities — including Los Angeles and San Francisco — anti-Chinese riots led to murders. Some states tried to bar Chinese immigration. However, a treaty between the U.S. and China, signed in 1868, guaranteed free immigration in both directions.

In 1875, Congress passed new legislation called the Page Act. It barred entry into the United States for immigrants who were coming to the country as forced labor. It also targeted those who were convicts in their own country.

Although the Page Act did not single out Chinese immigrants, it was aimed directly at them. In 1880, further steps were taken to limit Chinese immigration when the 1868 treaty was renegotiated to greatly favor the U.S. Finally, in 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It barred entry to all Chinese laborers. This turned a wave of immigration from that country into a tiny trickle. Two years later, the law was extended to bar Chinese-Americans who had returned to their homeland to conduct business or make family visits. Later changes to the Chinese Exclusion Act required Chinese Americans to carry identification proving their U.S. residency. Without these papers, they could be arrested and deported.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first federal law preventing one specific group from entering the U.S. It was enacted under intense pressure from American workers. They feared competition from low-wage workers, even though Chinese often held jobs that most Americans were unwilling to do. Today, some people make a similar argument about immigrants who cross over the Mexican border into the U.S. Does an immigrant who is willing to work for lower pay harm or help America?


Is America a melting pot or a dumping ground?

During the 1800s, America began to think of itself as a melting pot. Despite predictions of the harm newcomers would do, the mixing of people from different countries and faiths gave the nation great diversity and strength. By the end of the century, however, some Americans wondered whether the "ingredients" being mixed into the melting pot were of high enough quality. The immigration debate during this era focused on immigrants pouring into America who were viewed as backward and uneducated ...

The Great Wave

Immigration in the U.S. underwent dramatic change in the second half of the 1800s. From 1800 to 1850, the number of new Americans each year rarely totaled more than 100,000 to 200,000. From 1880 to 1900, an average of 1 million immigrants arrived annually. This figure included Europeans who migrated to Canada and then traveled south across the border. This great migration continued until 1914 — when travel from Europe was stopped by World War I — and then picked up again when the war ended in 1918.

In 1907, 1.3 million immigrants officially entered the U.S. — the highest one-year total in history until the 1990s. Some of these people were part of familiar groups, such as the Irish, English, Germans, and those from Scandinavian countries. Also included were Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, who often came from small towns and villages in countries such as Italy, Greece, Russia (which included much of Poland at the time), and Austria-Hungary (which was one country from 1867 to 1918).

With this wave of new Americans, however, came new concerns. Were they coming to America to improve their lives and contribute to the country's growth? Or, were they simply running away? Many immigrants journeyed to America with few skills, almost no education, and with only a plan to send money home to their families. This created an additional fear: If these workers did not spend their hard-earned dollars in the U.S., some Americans worried the "draining" of money from the economy would trigger a financial panic.

Un-American New Americans

In the period from 1880 to 1920, an increasing number of Americans believed that immigrants had only one thing in mind: to take advantage of what had already been built by the sacrifices of others. This idea took root during the 1890s, when several financial calamities shook the nation. America's economic problems were caused mostly by unfair and irresponsible business practices. But many Americans instead blamed the new immigrants, who seemed to be everywhere.

During this time, the idea of keeping certain European immigrants out of America started to gain in popularity. The thinking was that people from England, Germany, and Scandinavia were from free and energetic societies, and therefore they were "good" immigrants. By comparison, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Ireland, Latin America, and Asia were considered backwards and downtrodden societies. People from these countries were viewed as "bad" immigrants, with little to offer America.

This argument could be very persuasive. Soon, groups began to pressure the government into making changes. In 1907, the U.S. Immigration Commission was formed to study the recent wave of immigrants coming to American shores. The commission was made up of respected congressmen and senators. In 1911, they issued a report that seemed to prove everyone's suspicions. It claimed that immigrants from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe posed a great threat to American culture. The 1911 report convinced most Americans that something needed to be done about immigration.

In 1921, Congress passed the Emergency Immigration Act. It set quotas on immigration from each nation based on the 1910 U.S. census. This dramatically reduced the number of immigrants that would be allowed from places such as Italy, Russia, and Hungary. An even stricter immigration act was passed in 1924. It reversed the quota back to the 1890 standard. One effect of the 1924 law was that it prevented future entry into the U.S. to large numbers of Jewish people. This would lead to one of history's great humanitarian catastrophes.

The immigration laws of the 1920s put the government's stamp of approval on the idea that certain immigrants were better than others. Thousands of people trying to come to the U.S. were turned away. America went through a brief period of prosperity during the 1920s, followed by a crushing financial collapse — the Great Depression — which lasted until World War II. How might cutting off an important source of cheap and willing immigrant labor have contributed to the country*s economic struggles?


Does America have a responsibility to offer freedom to others?

After the new laws of the 1920s went into effect, immigration to the United States dropped dramatically. During the 1930s, when America found itself in the grip of the Great Depression, immigration slowed to just over 50,000 people a year. That number dropped even lower after World War II began. At the same time, new governments came to power in Europe that discriminated against certain ethnic and religious groups. The debate now centered on whether the U.S. had an obligation to bend the rules and let people in when it was a matter of life and death ...

The Door Slammed Shut

The limits and quotas created by the immigration laws of 1921 and 1924 prevented millions from coming to the U.S. As in decades past, many of these people cast their eyes on America, hoping for a chance at a better life. However, during the 1930s and 1940s, more and more people saw passage to America as a way to stay alive. Among the groups most affected by the new immigration policies were Jewish people from Europe. Only 100,000 were allowed into the U.S. during the 1930s, despite the fact that they were being persecuted in Germany and other countries.

In 1939, a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees from Germany was denied permission to land in Florida. The ship was sent back to Europe, where more than half of the passengers died in the Holocaust. After news of the death camps reached the U.S. government, some politicians still worked to keep Jewish people from entering the country. In the late 1940s, after Americans became aware of the horrors of the concentration camps, attitudes on immigration began to change.

What About Refugees?

Although the old laws stayed on the books, the government began to create "loopholes" through which immigrants could enter the country. For example, women who married or became engaged to American soldiers were welcomed into the U.S. as citizens, thanks to the War Brides Act. After that, their families could follow them to the U.S.

A trickier subject was what to do with people fleeing Communist governments in the aftermath of World War II. The Soviet Union (a group of countries that was led by current-day Russia) controlled almost all of Eastern Europe after the war ended. The Soviets imposed Communism, a form of government that America considered extremely hostile to its safety and values. The U.S. encouraged people to oppose Communism and to try to escape from those countries that embraced it. But this philosophy also meant that America had a responsibility to accept these political refugees. The same was true for people who survived wartime prison camps and others whose homes had been destroyed by fighting and bombing.

The American people began putting pressure on the government to lift the old immigration restrictions. The most vocal were typically the children and grandchildren of Europeans who came to the U.S. in the 1800s and early 1900s. They were Americans, to be sure, but they had deep affection and concern for friends and family who were struggling overseas.

In 1948, Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act. For a limited period of time, it allowed certain groups of Europeans to gain full citizenship in the U.S. Almost immediately, more than 200,000 refugees were admitted to the country.

Over the next 15 years, new loopholes were created in response to humanitarian crises or political upheaval. For example, in the early 1960s, Fidel Castro imposed a Communist government on Cuba. Much of that nation's middle class was branded "enemies of the revolution." More than 400,000 Cubans fled to the U.S. in the years that followed. In 1980, the United States passed the Refugee Act. This created a permanent set of rules for dealing with people who were driven out of their own countries.

The lessons learned before and after World War II showed that strict immigration policies did not always have the intended effect. Also, they did not cover extraordinary events. In the years since, the U.S. has launched wars against countries led by dictators and leaders who limit the freedom of the citizens they rule. Does the U.S. have a responsibility to offer citizenship to people who are fleeing their own countries in pursuit of freedom in America?


Can a multicultural country be a strong country?

During the 1950s and 1960s, two forces changed attitudes toward immigration. First, America tried to expand its economic and political influence throughout the world. Second, the Civil Rights movement in America showed the importance of valuing the skills and heritage of all people, not just those with white skin. Unlike past groups, the immigrants entering the United States after 1965 were reluctant to abandon the languages and cultures of their homelands. This brought about a new debate over whether "too much" diversity was a good thing ...

Times Change

After six decades of strict limits on immigration, the U.S. reopened its doors to the entire world in the 1960s. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 erased or greatly reduced the old quotas. The most important part of the new law was the creation of a new category of immigrant. Anyone who was an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen now had a legal path to citizenship. This created a "chain" of immigration that might start with one family member gaining citizenship. That person could then be joined by his or her family members. The changes in immigration law during the 1960s triggered an explosion of diversity in the United States. Within a couple of generations, the "face" of America looked very different than it had for almost three centuries.


Excerpted from New Americans by Geoffrey C. Harrison, Thomas F. Scott. Copyright © 2014 Norwood House Press, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Norwood House Press.
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Table of Contents

Introduction: We have issues 4

1 Should "old" Americans decide who gets to be a "new" American? 8

2 Can the U.S. pass a law aimed at people from one country? 14

3 Is America a melting pot or a dumping ground? 20

4 Does America have a responsibility to offer freedom to others? 26

3 Can a multicultural country be a strong country? 32

6 Find your voice 38

7 Point - Counterpoint 42

Glossary 46

Sources & Resources 47

Index & Authors 48

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