The Census and Immigration

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The Census and Immigration

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By: Henry C. Lodge

Date: 1893

Source: Lodge, Henry Cabot. "The Census and Immigration." The Century, 1893.

About the Author: Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924) was a noted historian and politician in the early twentieth century. He was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and opposed U.S. participation in the League of Nations.


American history has been marked by periods of anti-immigrant sentiment. In many ways, the story of immigrants is associated with the history of racism. Immigrants have experienced social exclusion due to their heritage and language differences. During times of economic hardship, immigrants have been blamed for lack of jobs, decreased property values, and crime. Immigrants have been subjected to deculturalization (the stripping away of one's heritage to replace it with a new culture) and Americanization, a movement in the early 1900s to assimilate immigrants and non-English speakers, especially school children, into the dominant Anglo-American Protestant culture.

The history of American immigration can be divided into four waves. During the first wave of immigration, from 1840 to 1880, more than ten million immigrants, primarily Irish and German, came to the United States. Most of these immigrants arrived due to massive crop failures during the Irish potato famine and the German depression. The sentiment among American citizens varied from neutral to hostile, except during the American Civil War (1861–1865), when citizenship was used as an incentive to recruit Irish and German immigrants into the Union Army. This first wave of voluntary immigrants witnessed a country at odds in political agendas and racial and social doctrines. The Civil War, in large part a fight to end slavery and to gain economic control of the South, divided America. In the ensuing decades, public policy became increasingly anti-immigrant.

The second wave of immigration was expedited by the introduction of railroads and steamships and by the industrial revolution. More than thirty-seven million immigrants came to America between 1880 and 1920. The majority came from southern and eastern Europe as well as from Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Orthodox Christians, Catholics, and Jews arrived from Russia, Austria, Hungary, Poland, the Balkan and Baltic nations, and Greece. In lesser numbers others arrived from Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Korea, the Caribbean, and the West Indies.

The first Naturalization Act, signed into law by George Washington in 1795, restricted citizenship to free whites living in the United States who renounced their allegiance to their former country. In 1891, the Bureau of Immigration was created to enforce immigration policies. Immigration stations were constructed to process arriving immigrants and weed out undesirables. The most well-known of these stations was at New York's Ellis Island. In addition to criminals, contract laborers, prostitutes, and disabled persons, Chinese immigrants were often singled out during screening. The Chinese immigrant population peaked after the 1849 gold rush in California, and resistance to further Chinese immigrants was growing. Hostility and discrimination eventually led to the first federal exclusion legislation in 1882, aimed at Chinese laborers. Contract labor laws were also exclusionary, as they prevented immigrants entry to the United States to work under a contract that had been made prior to their arrival.

In addition to anti-immigration laws, small groups formed aimed at protecting the country against the immigrant population. One group in particular, the Know Nothing Party, came about in the 1850s. This group sought to use government connections to preserve a native society by restricting immigration and changing citizenship requirements. Such political groups created and promoted ethnic stereotypes that persist in American culture today.


Expressed in percentages of the total white population in the United States, the division is as follows:

Native parentage62 percent
Foreign parentage21″
Foreign birth and parentage38″

The proportion of undesirable elements in these divisions can be shown in part by a comparison of these percentages with those of like divisions in the criminal and pauper classes. An examination of the statistics of criminals, juvenile delinquents, and paupers ought to disclose the same proportions in birth and parentage as the total population, provided our immigration is equal in character to the inhabitants of the United States who have been here for one or more generations. The result of such an examination, however, is widely and even alarmingly different, as the following figures prove.

Of the convicts in penitentiaries, 48 percent are of native parentage, while 52 percent, are of foreign birth and parentage; or, in other words, while persons of foreign birth and parentage furnish a little more than one third of the total white population of the country, they furnish more than half of the criminals.

Of juvenile delinquents, 39 percent are of native parentage, and 61 percent, of foreign birth or parentage. That is to say, persons of foreign birth or parentage are a little more than one third of our population, and yet they furnish nearly two thirds of our juvenile delinquents, the inmates of reformatories.

Of the paupers in almshouses, 41 percent are of native parentage, and 59 percent of foreign birth or parentage. Again it will be noticed that while persons of foreign birth or parentage furnish only one third of the population, they supply nearly two thirds of the paupers in almshouses. In this last case, however, it is proper to go a little more into detail. Of the 59 percent, of paupers of foreign birth or parentage only 8 percent, are born in this country, while 51 percent are foreign-born. These last figures are startling. The foreign-born constitute only 17 percent of our total white population,—in round numbers about a sixth,—and yet they furnish over half of all the paupers in almshouses throughout the country. This fact of itself certainly shows that an immigration which supplies more than half the inmates of our almshouses might, to say the least, be sifted with great advantage.

The census of 1890 unfortunately has no statistics in regard to the defective classes, so that we are unable to get any light from it upon the physical conditions of our immigrants during the past ten years. The census of 1880, on the other hand, although it gave full statistics of the defective as well as of the delinquent classes, did not classify the population or the criminal, delinquent, and pauper classes according to parentage, but merely divided them into native- and foreign-born. It is therefore possible to make comparisons only between the foreign-born of 1880 and the foreign-born of 1890 in the criminal, delinquent, and pauper classes. Even these limited comparisons, however, are well worth making, and are very suggestive.

In 1880, the foreign-born furnished 15.4 percent of the total white population, while of criminals (classified in 1880 as prisoners, and including both convicts in penitentiaries and prisoners in county jails) they furnished 30 percent; of paupers in almshouses they supplied 38 percent; and of juvenile delinquents, 10 percent.

The following table gives the comparison between these percentages and those of 1890 in the same classes:

Percentage of foreign-born to total white population15.417
Prisoners in penitentiaries and county jails3028
Paupers in almshouses3851
Juvenile delinquents1014.5

It will be seen from this comparison that the percentage of criminals of foreign birth has fallen off slightly in the last ten years, owing probably to the improvements in immigrant legislation and the better enforcement of the immigration laws, which have taken effect, so far as they have had any effect at all, almost exclusively against criminals. The number of juvenile delinquents of foreign birth, on the other hand, has increased somewhat (four and a half per cent) since 1880. In these two classes, therefore, there has been, comparatively speaking, no marked change of percentages; but when we come to paupers in almshouses we find a very different result. While the percentage of our foreign-born inhabitants to the total white population has increased only about two per cent, the number of paupers of foreign birth in our almshouses has increased thirteen per cent, from 1880 to 1890. This fact shows in the most unanswerable way that the immigration to this country has deteriorated very decidedly during the last ten years, and that the race changes which have begun in that period have been accompanied by a far greater change in the general quality of the immigrants.

There seems to be little need of comment upon these facts and figures, which speak for themselves only too plainly. Something certainly ought to be done, and at once, to restrict, or at least to sift, thoroughly an immigration which furnishes more than half our paupers, while it supplies only one sixth of our total white population. The undesirable proportion thus disclosed is too dangerously large….

There can be no reasonable doubt, moreover, judging from these facts, that if we had the means of comparison, it would appear that the defective classes, the insane, and the physically disabled among the immigrants had increased during the last decade in like ration with the paupers.

These are facts which may well give us pause, and they disclose conditions which, if continued, will have graver and worse effects upon our people and our future welfare than all other public questions now engaging public attention would have together….

Whatever may be said on the general question of foreign immigration, it is beyond question that it is not only our right but our plain, imperative, and very immediate duty to protect ourselves against the immigration of criminals, and also against this steadily swelling stream of pauperism which fills our almshouses, places upon our taxpayers burdens which should be borne by other nations, and introduces among us an ever-increasing element of deterioration in the general quality of our citizenship. More legislation is needed, and needed at once, to exclude, if nothing more, the criminal and pauper classes now being thrust upon us in large numbers by Europe. We should not, in my opinion, think for a moment of stopping there, but at the point where we are confronted with pauperism, disease, and crime we ought certainly to make a beginning in the work of restriction.


A rise in isolationism and racism occurred during World War I (1915–1918). In turn, the Immigration Act of 1917 was passed, excluding even more foreign-born persons from entering the United States. In 1921, Congress devised a quota system for immigrants. The National Origins Act of 1924 reduced the quotas even further for immigrants deemed less desirable (namely Russian Jews and those from Italy). However, the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950 and the Refugee Relief Act eased immigration restrictions, designed to help people escaping from persecution in post-World War II Europe. This legislation allowed for the admission of over 500,000 immigrants and signaled a turn in immigration policy.

Immigration policies following World War II varied. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (also known as the McCarran-Walter Act) incorporated most existing laws on immigration. It also abolished the Asiatic Barred Zone which had banned Asian immigrants since 1917. Due to labor shortages, the Emergency Labor Program (also known as the Bracero Program) was passed. This allowed Mexican laborers, braceros, to enter the United States to replace American workers who were at war. Many remained in the country illegally, and in response to this Operation Wetback was enacted in 1954 to locate and return undocumented workers to Mexico. As a result, millions of Mexican workers were deported. This program was cancelled in 1964.

The Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965 signaled major changes in immigration law. A number of refugees and undocumented workers were expected to arrive in the United States in the coming decades. Quotas were abolished and annual limits in visas were created. The Vietnam War sparked the Refugee Act of 1980 to accommodate Vietnamese refugees. Then, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 gave legal residency status to more than 2.7 million undocumented immigrants. This law also prohibited discrimination based on national origin and race.

The lastest waves in U.S. immigration history were from 1960 to 1995, and from 1996 to the present.

The impact of immigration on America has been analyzed and debated since the 1800s. Following public sentiment, laws and regulations have oscillated between tolerance during times of prosperity to hostility and xenophobia during economic downturns. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and immigrants continue to contribute to society by working and creating jobs, and as active participants in the community.



The Congress of the United States, Congressional Budget Office. "The Role of Immigrants in the U.S. Labor Market." Congressional Budget Office Report (November 2005).

Ohlemacher, Stephen. "U.S. Population to Hit 300 Million in 2006." Associated Press. (June 25, 2006).

Romero, Victor. "Race, Immigration, and the Department of Homeland Security." St. John's Journal of Legal Commentary 19 (2004): 51-58.

Web sites

American Immigration Law Foundation. "America's Heritage: A History of U.S. Immigration." March 29, 2006. 〈〉 (accessed June 26, 2006).

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The Census and Immigration

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