Angélique CHENAL 1 The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924. By Mae M.Ngai. On February 1929, the chief statistician of the Census bureau and the chairman of the Quota Board, Dr Joseph A. Hill presented, for the third time a plan for the restriction of immigration with quotas based on national origins within the framework of the Immigration Act of 1924. The two previous plans were questioned because of their hardship and mainly because of their accuracy. This criticism remained in 1929. The fact that quotas were based on national origins and their accuracy were criticized but Congress accepted them justifying" the principle of national origins as fair and non-discriminatory" but asked for more and more precision. Hill defended them saying that " the present computations [were] as near as [they could] get on this matter to determining the national origins, practically". Thus, the quotas were proclaimed on March 1929. However, as the author Mae M. Ngai points it out, this law was not merely a law of restriction based on quotas, it comprised more than that. Indeed, it was also a law that classified people according their national origins. As she says it, “this process was a race-based nativism" and that is what Mae M. Ngai tries to explain in this chapter. His first emphasis is made on the creation of "national origins": When and why do they appear? To understand it, she needs to remind us of a part of American history. Indeed, the first census of the United States was in 1790 and did not include categories about “national origins or ancestry". The foreign-born were differentiated since 1850 and “the places of birth of parents of the native-born" since 1890. Immigration was recorded since 1820 and classified according to origins since 1899 under a category called "races and peoples". On top of that, after World War I, many boundaries changed in Europe. Then, it needed to “reattribute origins” according the world of 1920. Thus, categories such as "national origins", "national stock" or "nationality" became adapted. Race was not clearly evoked but the census was based on it. For example, the board "national stock" did not mean people born in the United States as we could think it but people "who descended from the White population of the United States in 1790". As far as foreign stock is concerned, it defined "the descendants of all Whites who immigrated to the United States after 1790". Only the category "nationality” seems to have been well defined: according to country of birth. Nevertheless, it did not concern the American nationality and excluded the non-Europeans and the non-Whites living in the United States. This divided Europe itself but also "Europe from the non-Europeans world". The world was classified by countries, nationalities and races. J. Trevor, in favor of a coalition of patriotic societies, listed in a table fifty-three countries for the category "country of origin" and five-colored races. But few cared. Qualifying people by race was not outraging for most people and the census was seldom questioned. By the way, Mae M. Ngai adds "Census data gave the quotas an imprimatur that was nearly unimpeachable". Restrictionists like F. Walker and nativists always talked about it as “scientific evidence”. This was a fine support for their ideas according to which immigration threatened the native birthrate. In a way, Dr Joseph A. Hill also served the restrictionist movement when he added "questions to the census of 1910 and 1920" in order to know differences between races and nationalities in depth. Nevertheless, he faced a lot of difficulties in determining national origins mainly because of the first census very unspecified Angélique CHENAL 2 even appealing to a genealogist and an immigration historian for help but retorted that" errors in the process would not significantly affect the outcome". Afterwards, Mae M. Ngai focuses on the second pillar of the Immigration Act of 1924: the ineligibility to citizenship in effect until 1952 and applied to the peoples of the Far East Nations. Several Japanese and Asian Indians managed to obtain naturalized citizenship during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Asiatic people often went to a Federal Court and justified their status as white persons with the aid of scientific explanation but mainly their demands were rejected like in the case of Ozawa or Thind. Asians were considered as racially inassimilable and here again we can perceive how much the law about national origins implied much more than a nationality. It was deeper than that. Indeed, it was more a problem of race and color and Asiatics were not the only concerned. Mexican people also did. Their main distinctness was their difficulty to be ranked." They fit no clear type”. The United States could not declare them as ineligible to citizenship contrary to the Asiatics partly because of the history which links the two countries and also because of their racial status .Secretary of Labor talked about the Mexican people as " a mixed stock" and said that individuals had " a limited knowledge of their racial composition" that it appeared impossible to determine their racial origins. By the late 1920's, restrictions on Mexican immigration was imposed with strict measures like literacy tests and made immigration drop but illegal entries increase. The Border Patrol was created in 1925 to regulate them and "In 1929, Congress made unlawful entry a felony”. Strangely, the illegal entries were not treated the same way for everybody. Illegal European immigration was not considered as detrimental as illegal Mexican immigration. For that matter, the word illegal became completely linked to Mexicans. When people thought about anything linked to Mexican, they thought illegal. Nevertheless, even if they were viewed as "illegal", they also were a useful “migratory workforce" chiefly in agriculture during the 1920's. They became "a disposable labour force" and the United Sates deported and repatriated them according to their needs during the Great Depression. As far as Mexicans are concerned, the law did not clearly prevent them from citizenship because the State did not have the means to do so but "created the problem of illegal immigration" by its restrictive policy which remains "at the center of the modern Mexican race problem". Immigration was a theme which already pleased me. Therefore, I was first interested in this text. After reading the chapter, I really enjoyed it but I was aware of the difficulty of the subject. I read it several times, and it did not appear so difficult in fact, all the more that the author named each part of her reflection. I cannot reproach this text so much things, maybe some words that I did not know. Indeed, it is well structured. Notwithstanding, I found Mae M.Ngai repeats some ideas. In her first part concerning natural origins, she comes back to ideas she already evokes in her introduction and it can be a bit tedious. Maybe she could have tried to cut down in order to give information only in the first part. But it depends, some people could find that is a good way for understanding better. Indeed, she reminds the readers of her conductor lead, and it can be clearer for them. Obviously, it is subjective and it can be a good process for some people and a low one for others. I also appreciated the introduction of the author and the references at the bottom of some pages. In a way, it showed Mae M.Ngai did many researches about the subject and that the text could be considered as a very serious work. There is a profusion of references and it appears to be very rewarding. I think it is a right help for further reading about the topic. On top of that, the author Angélique CHENAL 3 accompanied her chapter with pictures, extracts from comic strips and even tables about the immigration quotas on national origin in the 1920’s. It gave a lively side to the reading and we could better enter in the context and in the subject and I liked this addition by the author. The main difficulty was, according to me, the profusion of information to be treated. It was not simple at all to sum up all she wanted to make understand to their readers without forgetting something. Yet it did not prevent this chapter from making realize the readers of the harshness of the Immigration Act of 1924. The ideas, which the law included, did not seem to offend so much people in the 1920’s than it does nowadays and it really hit me. Obviously, some people these days still agree with such ideas and that is why this reading is significant. We could reflect on it precisely because it can be seen as something still topical, notably for the problem of Mexican Immigration. After such a reading, we really need to think about that and I think we could not prevent us from comparing with today’s situation. .
Pages to are hidden for
"The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law A "Please download to view full document