Society and Culture change (Immigration)


How far did earlier immigration affect reactions t

  • Before the First World war, the USA had operated an open door policy and there was only 3 acts that restricted the types of immigrants allowed in the countries e.g disabled, Chinese
  • In 1882 under 650,000 immigrants arrived in the USA and in 1907 it was 1.2 million 
  • These immigrants came increasingly from southern and eastern europe rather than northern europe, 81% were in 1907
  • The vast majority of the new immigrants went to work in the cities as they were growing rapidly thanks to industralisation
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The dillingham commision

  • It investigated the impact of immigration on the USA from 1907 and made its report in 1911
  • The report said that immigration was posing a serious thrat to American society and culture and distignuished between 'old' immigrants from England and Germany and 'new' ones from Southern and Eastern Europe 
  • The findings were used to justify immigration acts in the 1920s including the Emergency quota act of 1921 which set limits on the number of immigrants. 
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Why legislate? (1920s)

  • There was a post-war isolationism as the government wanted elss contact with the rest of the world 
  • There was a Dillingham Commision that had said that Immigration was posing a threat to American culture
  • There was  aRed scare of 1919-20 which led fears to believe immigrants were communists
  • There were Bombings by anarchhists and strikes from leaders who had communist sympatheis 
  • There was a spike in unemployment 
  • WASP were hostile to anyone who posed a threat to their values e.g Catholics, communists, immigrants 
  • The government tried to control the rising hysteria with immigration laws and deportation 
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What was the effect of immigration in the 1920s?

  • With each new wave of immigration came a wave of hostility from many more established communities. Newcomers would create competition for everything - jobs, housing, 
  • The focus of 1920s legislation was on immigration from Europe and Asa and didnt apply to South America
  • In the late 20s and early 30s a combiniation of the great depression and immigration restrictions slowed European immigration to a trickle
  • Immigration from South America especially Mexico increased rapidly in the late 1920s to fill the need for cheap labor in southersn states
  • The demand for workers meant that employers didnt ask to many question and the status of illegal immigrants meant that employers could exploit their fears of exploitation 
  • Once the Depression hit, officals began to deport Mexican workers, (400,000) 
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What impact did immigrants have on urban life, 191

  • In the 1920s cities in the US were growing due expanding industries and growing need for workers. 
  • Immigrants had a tendency to gravitate to towns and cities that already had immigrants from their place of origin and spoke same language 
  • New York always had a large immigrant population wih 5.6 million immigrants
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A melting pot?

  • Jesse Jackson, in the ebony magazine, decribed a melting point as a soup with chopped ingredients visible as separate bits: all in the same soup but not all the same. 
  • Most urban areas broke down into informally segregated sections and had churches following the religious prractices of the old country and newspapers reporting news from back home 
  • Many towns and cities were nicknames Little italy and Chinatown. The chinese community was one of the most rigidly self-isolating because of its cultural difference
  • Detroit, the site of the Ford Motor worjks, had  alarge immigrant labour force in 1920. Fords breakthrough use of mass porudction teachniques created a high demand for production. Most of the workers were eastern european (24% Irish, 17% Candian , 16 % Itallian 
  • Children boorn in the USA were adding to the immigrant population without entering the records as foregin born 
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The bottom of the heap

  • Many immigrants in the USA expected to be welcomes and expected less hostility
  • The newest arrivals mostly tended to end up at the bottom of heap with the worst jobs and wages
  • Those 'fresh of the boat' worked for those who had managed to set up a family business; in turn; their children got an education and moved further up the social tree if they could 
  • By 1920s, there examples of immigrants from east europe who were politicians, policeman and even lawyers. 
  • Due to their numbers, immigrants had an influence in politics and their votes could change an election. During the Depression immigrants voted for Roosvelt as laissez faire policies hit urban areas hardest.
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What impact did the second world have on immigrant

  • Americans of Italian, German and Japanese nationality were classed as enemy aliens. Japenese people were treated the worse due to the bombing of pearl harbor and 120,000 of them were sent to internment camps with their property confiscated. 
  • As the war progressed, attitudes to the 'enemy' immigrant population worsened, even if families had lived for several generations in the USA. 
  • Some businesses owned by peope with Italian or German sounding names had their windows broken or a loss of customers
  • However, hundreds of young men who were technically enemy volunteered for US military 
  • Some second generation Japanese men and women were allowed to join the army and served in segregated units. The men were sent to fight in Europe, not against Japan 
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Government policy and its consequences

  • After WW2 the government passed the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act, which still used quotas. Many people thought that the quota system had outlived its usefulness 
  • However, it didnt allow for refugees so during the Cold war if the USA wanted to help refugees from communism it had to pass a new refugees law each time. From 1953 a variety of refugee acts allowed a set number of reguees outside of the quota
  • When Castro seized power in Cuba, 200,000 cubans fled to the USA and the government had to set up a Cuban Refugees program to deal with the numners 
  • Kennedy pointed out that 1950s attitudes to immigration made a mockery of the poem on the base of the statue of liberty. He said immigrants were only welcome if they met certain criteria 
  • He was working on a immigration law that would abolish quotas, but was assainated but Johnson brought the billto Congress after Kennedys death and it became law in 1965
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Asian, Central and Southern American Immigrants


Immigrants from Asia applied in large numbers for entry to the USA. In the first five years after the 1965 act, immigration from Asia quadrupled. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Usa took in 1300,000 vietnamese regugees. As communism spread, the USA passed additional refugee legislation tot ake more refugees and by 1985 there were over 700,000 of them 

Central America 

Immigration laws did'nt apply to people from the western hemisphere, especially mexico, although in 1054 the immigration and Naturalisation service began to control immigration by deporting immigrants from Southern states and became known as Operation Weback. The number of Hispanic immigrants moving into the cities also became a matter of concern for the government. The introduction of 20,000 limit on entry into the USA in 1976 put measures in place to slow immigration. However, this did'nt stop people from coming as people crossed the border secretly and became known as 'illegals' 

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Illegal immigrants

  • The largest number of illegals came from Mexico averaging over 60,000 a year in the 1970s and most went to Calfornia and Texas to work in agriculture or in factories
  • The INS tried to control this immigration by introducing border measures with guards and electrified fences, but it was impossible to stop smugglers sneaking illegals into the USA
  • Policing the border and tracking down illegals was expensive and the issue became more public in poltiical debates over costs
  • Once in the USA illegal immigrants were open to explotation 
  • The INS in the mid 70s etimated that there were about 7 million illegal immigrants in the USA and were deporting about 600,000 year
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Shifting attitudes to immigrants

  • Attitudes tended to shift with government policy 
  • Republican, Conservative government were keen ot restirct immigrants whereas Liberal politicans likie Kennedy were keener to adapt to immigrants and their cultures 
  • As many more people became conse4rvative they began to think immigrants were destorying their culture rather than entrinching it 
  • When the economy was doing badly immigrants were scapegoated and blamed as they were seen as drain on the economy 
  • They were the first to lose their jobs and became dependent on welfare so people complained their taxes being spent on immigrants 
  • By 1980, attitudes had shifted to a desire to control immigration and was a swing back towards 'nativism' a form of isolationism of the 1920s 
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