Reading Response: Development of Modern American Federal Immigration Control

The authors for this week’s readings have focused on detailing and expanding our understanding of the development of modern immigration control. Erika Lee positions the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act as the primary force driving the creation of federal immigration controls and ideology, politics, and the law of “gatekeeping.” Beth Lew-Williams builds on Lee’s position by discussing the difference between restriction and exclusion, presenting 1888 as the most significant year of change in immigration policy. Hidetaka Hirota shifts the conversation to one with a national perspective by placing the conversation about immigration controls in the context of preexisting state policies and by showing how those policies influenced, created and implemented federal immigration policies. Anna Law, in turn, builds on Hirota’s analysis by showing that pre-antebellum states had directed and meaningful policies regarding migration and freedom of movement, disputing the “open borders” trope she states is common in American immigration literature.

In “The Chinese Exclusion Example: Race, Immigration, and American Gatekeeping, 1882-1924,” Erika Lee focuses narrowly on the West Coast and describes the process of public fears regarding Chinese labor migration. In her analysis, she describes the exclusion of certain groups of Chinese based on economic circumstances. She brings up the idea of “whiteness,” and while she does not elaborate, race seems less relevant here than labor concerns. Chinese migrants were primarily cyclical, returning to China with earned income rather than intending to settle in the U.S. While public concerns on the West Coast did expand to include other Asian immigrants who did intend to settle, the fears that people on the West Coast are shown to have mostly mirror those that Hidetaka Hirota describes in his article, “”The Great Entrepot for Mendicants:” Foreign Poverty and Immigration Control in New York State to 1882,” in which he describes the frustrations Northeasterners felt as they were inundated with European paupers. The desire to exclude those paupers was not based on race, but on the fact that they were not economically self-sufficient.

So, on the one hand, people on the West Coast were facing labor competition, and on the other, people on the East Coast were facing a potential financial crisis resulting from an overflow of poor migrants that would have to rely on state and private aid. The arguments that Beth Lew-Williams presents in “Before Restriction Became Exclusion: America’s Experiment in Diplomatic Immigration Control” support this argument. While her primary purpose is to draw a distinction between a temporary restriction of Chinese labor immigration in 1882 and the actual exclusion of all Chinese immigration after 1888, her analysis supports the focus of public attention on the West Coast on economic, rather than racial, concerns.

In his previously mentioned article as well as in “The Moment of Transition: State Officials, the Federal Government, and the Formation of American Immigration Policy,” Hirota makes the important point that federal immigration law did not appear out of a vacuum. It was not the major break from tradition that Lee and Lew-Williams so heavily emphasized. Hirota’s focus on the role of the New York and Massachusetts in defining what would become federal immigration law and their roles in subsequently enforcing those laws creates a continuity that was previously lacking. His choice in focusing on New York City was reasonable, given that for the time period covered, that was the port of entry for the majority of migrants. Hirota recognizes that West Coast, as well as Northeastern concerns, played a role in shaping federal immigration policies, but he fails to address the impact this has on southern states if any. As Anna Law mentions in “Lunatics, Idiots, Paupers, and Negro Seamen—Immigration Federalism and the Early American State,” the North and South had different economic concerns regarding immigration and free movement of peoples. This was, however, somewhat beyond the scope of what he intended to focus on and would likely have been more detrimental than helpful to the point he was trying to prove.

 

US Government’s Illegal Torture Policies in the Middle East



A friend of mine came across this documentary and passed along the link.  I’m studying Middle Eastern history as my major, so he thought it would be relevant to my interests.  It’s 79 minutes and the audio gets steadily further and further out of sync with the video, but hey, it’s free, and it’s worth the information you’ll glean from it.


What I saw in this video is nothing more than what I expected.  I have little faith in the US government anymore.  I mean, seriously.  They can’t fix our economy.  They can’t stop giving tax breaks to huge corporations.  They can’t take care of Americans.  They can’t do anything but blow up other countries to hide their own deficiencies.  It also bothers me how caught up most people are in glorifying war and the military in this country.  I think Americans are losing sight of what this country is supposed to be about.  War isn’t a destination.  War was a means of achieving a free society where people have inviolable rights.  All people.  Not just the ones we like.  War is not glorious, and just because someone is from another country, they don’t lose their human rights.  They’re still human beings.  Why would we take someone for whom we have no evidence of wrongdoing and then treat them worse than we treat serial murderers, rapists and child molesters in the US?


I can understand the situation that was created in these prisons and it’s completely absurd to blame the front-line soldiers.  In the military, there’s a whole other culture, distinct from regular American culture, and there’s a separate legal system and even a different way of thinking about things.  For the most part, you do what you’re told, even when things start to spiral into the absurd, because that’s what you get trained to do: follow orders.  When soldiers question orders, they’re reprimanded, disciplined and sometimes humiliated in front of their peers.  They can lose pay, rank or status.  So, there’s a lot of pressure to just follow orders, and I’m sure first-hand experience with public humiliation makes it easier to take the first step towards severe humiliation of prisoners whom your told have no rights and are something less than human.


So, things just get done because that’s what was ordered, and because everyone else is doing it.  What I’m describing is just based on what I remember from my experiences in non-combat units.  I can’t imagine the added pressures involved in dealing with people that you’re told are enemy combatants.  This whole situation seems like something Stephen King would have cooked up for a horror novel, rather than reality.  In the end, though, the unit commander should be ultimately responsible for the actions of the unit, both good and bad.  A common saying in the Army is that “shit rolls downhill,” meaning from the top of the chain-of-command to the bottom, but it should also roll back up when something goes wrong like this.


Instead of trying to find ways to justify unwarranted violence and illegal torture, our politicians should be finding ways to stop blowing up other countries, defend our own, and fix our financial issues.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Bizarre Laptop Policy

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Sunday afternoon I went to the Met as part of an assignment from my Art History class.  I was supposed to go there, find a sculpture, either Greek, African, Indian, or Egyptian, and then write a 3 page paper detailing its form and presentation.  I had this wonderful plan in my head.  I would show up, find a sculpture, pull out my laptop, and write the paper on the spot, while looking at the piece.  I thought that would best enable me to write a good paper on the form, while looking at the form of the sculpture, there in person.  After writing the paper, or at least the first draft, I would pack my laptop back into my bag and look at the exhibits until it was time for the museum to close.  Unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped.

When I arrived at the Met, the place was packed, but that’s to be expected.  As soon as I went through the front doors, there was a security check point, also not unexpected.  When I opened my backpack for inspection and the guard started yelling “Laptop!  Laptop!  Laptop!” I was taken aback.  I half expected to be bum rushed by guards and moved to a secure inspection area.  I was shuffled off to the side, but under my own power.  I had to go to the security desk to get a yellow security exception form.  For a laptop.  I also had to open the laptop and turn it on, probably to prove that it’s a working laptop and not a shell packed with explosives.  I was fine with all this.  The Met houses an incredible amount of art of priceless value.  What bothered me, though, were the instructions I received afterward.

I was told that I had to carry my backpack in my hand.  Putting my backpack on my back was not permitted.  I can understand having my laptop checked to make sure it’s really a laptop.  I can tolerate having to carry an exception form and I can deal with having to present it on request to any security guard that asks to see it.  However, what possible purpose can it serve to require me to hold the backpack in my hand, as opposed to having it on my back?  Whether it’s in my hand or on my back, it’s still the same backpack.  Call me weak, but carrying a backpack in one hand that’s loaded down with books, notebooks, and a laptop gets heavy after a while, and switching it back and forth is a poor solution to just carrying it on my back.  It also keeps one of my hands full, which meant that I couldn’t properly hold my camera to take photos of anything.

Luckily, before I lost patience and just left, I found myself in the African art section looking at a wooden sculpture with three faces that I knew would be the perfect piece to write my paper on, which I’ll post later this week or next.  There were no benches to sit on, and after my treatment at the security desk I was worried that if I pulled out my laptop and actually turned it on and started using it, a flock of security guards would descend on me and demand I leave the museum, so I put my backpack down, took a dozen photos of the sculpture and then left the museum.

I wonder why they even bother to offer free wifi in the museum when they so obviously want to discourage anyone from bringing laptops?  I saw the available open network message pop up in my phone’s notification area when I was checking an email.  I can’t help but wonder if this nonsense of requiring people to carry bags that way was implemented to drive off students who were taking up space in the museum, writing papers, to make way for more tourists?

10 dollars (the recommended student donation for entry) pissed away for 45 minutes in the museum. Next time they’ll be lucky if I give them a dollar and a smile. Ya, I’ll be going back. How could you not? There’s a lot to see in there and the last time I went I was a little kid. I won’t be bringing my laptop with me though. That’s for sure.