Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Stymied by the Immigrant: Part Two

Immigrants seated on long benches, Main Hall, U.S. Immigration Station.
1991 was the year with the largest number of immigrants to the United States when a total of 1,825,595 people obtained legal residence in the United States. See "Table 1. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2018." But the percentage of immigrants residing in the United States hit its highest percentage in 1890 with 14.8% of the population. The number of foreign-born people living in the United States was a record of 44.4 million in 1917. The current percentage of immigrants living in the U.S. is about 13.6% of the entire population; lower than the record. See "Key findings about U.S. immigrants." Despite current beliefs, the highest number of people who obtained permanent residency in the United States in 2018 did not come from Mexico, the highest number came from the Caribbean. See "Table 2. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status by Region and Selected Country of Last Residence: Fiscal Years 2016 to 2018." In 2016, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) removed a total of 240,255 aliens, a two percent increase over FY 2015, but a 24 percent decrease from FY 2014 and the total number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Removals has been dropping since 2012. Any numbers involving immigration are confusing because of the differences between legal entry, naturalization, deportation, and removal not to mention the political and social implications of such numbers.

Why should a genealogist be concerned about the details of the law and the numbers of immigration? This series isn't about immigration per se. It is about genealogy. The statistics can go on and on, but what they show for genealogists is that everyone in North and South America on every pedigree line will either find an end of their line with no more records available or an immigrant. Here is the rule: literally, every person (including the Native Americans) living in the country has immigrant ancestors if you believe the common consensus among scientists. See "A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas." From 1607 to the present, anyone from the United States who traces their ancestry back will eventually be looking at the existing immigration records.

So, from a genealogical standpoint, we should all be concerned about immigration. Since the passing in 1892 of "An Act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to Chinese or the Chinese Exclusion Act." Immigration into the United States has become steadily more controversial and complicated. For example, here is a short summary of what happened with the Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers. Building on the 1875 Page Act, which banned Chinese women from immigrating to the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent all members of a specific ethnic or national group from immigrating. 
The act followed the Angell Treaty of 1880, a set of revisions to the U.S.–China Burlingame Treaty of 1868 that allowed the U.S. to suspend Chinese immigration. The act was initially intended to last for 10 years, but was renewed in 1892 with the Geary Act and made permanent in 1902. These laws attempted to stop all Chinese immigration into the United States for ten years, with exceptions for diplomats, teachers, students, merchants, and travelers. The laws were widely evaded. 
Exclusion was repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943, which allowed 105 Chinese to enter per year. Chinese immigration later increased with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which abolished direct racial barriers, and later by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the National Origins Formula.
At one point in my legal careers, because of my Spanish speaking background, I decided to see if I could extend my law practice into immigration law. I visited a lawyer friend who was involved in the immigration practice and borrowed some of his reference books on immigration. Almost immediately, I determined that the only thing worse than dealing with immigration was trying to work with U.S. tax law and I decided not to represent clients in either area. Fortunately, none of us need to become experts in current immigration law to research our immigrant ancestors (but it helps). The earliest records go way beyond looking at passenger lists and as we move from the 16th Century into the 21st Century the volume of records increases dramatically. For example, in my quote above, each of the changes in that one immigration law series creates a different set of records that could be searched to find the identity of an immigrant.

This series is going in-depth to discuss and identify those records that assist genealogists in finding their immigrant ancestors. Stay tuned.

For the previous post see the following:

Part One:

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