Last week I started reading a very interesting book entitled Immigration Law Stories, which tracks over a century of immigration history in the United States. One thing that was apparent: that in two hundred years the arguments from the anti-immigrant camp have not changed. I was astonished by the parallels and the similarities between the rhetoric used at the time the first anti-immigrant laws were being enacted to the arguments being advanced today to limit the rights of immigrants in the United States.
The book discusses the first laws, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which were aimed at the Chinese population, which were according to the laws’ proponents uneducated and unable to follow the American way of life, because of their ideal which were un-American. The book talks about several seminal cases in the field of immigration law, and I will discuss two of them in this post.
The laws passed in this era, prohibited people of Chinese dissent from benefitting from the American way of life. They were forced to register, much like the special registration program of recent history, and without the registration, the would be unable to return to the United States, even though they had lived there for decades. Without that registration, they would be interred in hard labor camps without that registration. The era witnessed two seminal cases in immigration law, which still affect us until today: Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228 (1896) and U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark,
169 U.S. 649 (1898). The Wing case expanded the protections of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth amendment to “aliens” and the Ark case gave citizenship to any person who is born in the United States.
Interestingly, the arguments proposed at the time, are eerily similar to the ones being advocated by people opposed to immigrants in twenty-first century America. In the Wing case, the government and the anti-immigrant camp argued that it was ok for aliens to be encamped and forced at hard labor, without the right to Due Process, because they did not comport to a certain way of life. In the Ark case, it was ok for the same camp to deny citizenship to people born in the United States, even though it was the law of the land, thanks to the civil rights amendments, simply because they did not dress like “Americans” and they allegedly owed their allegiance to the Emperor of China.
The pro-immigrant camp supporting Chinese rights at the time, according to the book, fought back with a legal and political campaign. More importantly, the benefactors of the movement made significant changes to their way of life, assimilating into the United States and even dressing like Westerners. I believe that people facing the same dilemma in the United States could really use that campaign in present-day America. However, the anti-immigration camp in our present day America, needs to take a lesson from history and know that the law will always prevail in the United States, no matter how many voices try to quell its voice.