Immigration in the Pioneer Days

Everyone knows that the United States of America is a country founded and developed by immigrants; however, many people do not understand what that really means. Attending the Pioneer Days in Wheelersburg, OH has brought me back to the times when immigrants were not only welcomed but encouraged to come to the United States. With Citizenship/Constitution Day quickly approaching (September 17), I decided to take the opportunity and share a little of the immigration history of the United States of America.

Before the declaration of independence was signed, the U.S. population was slowly rising, from 275,000 colonists in year 1700, to around 2,210,000 in year 1770. At that point, there was no such thing as immigration law, perhaps because there was no unified country to enact and uphold it. Even the great Daniel Boone was the son of Quaker immigrants who came from Wales and England in 1708 and 1713.

After the U.S. came to its own in 1776, with the signing of the declaration of independence, it took 14 years before the first immigration law was enacted (the Naturalization Act of 1790). The only requirements for citizenship it imposed were to be a free white person, of good character, and 2 years of residence in the United States. For the pioneers then, the path to citizenship consisted of traveling to the U.S., staying for two years and filing your petition for naturalization in a state or federal court. It was not the most profitable time for immigration attorneys since their services hardly seemed necessary.

The first restrictions on immigration started in 1875, providing for the exclusion of convicts and prostitutes (no doubt, seeking to protect American jobs). The restrictions soon included persons with contagious diseases, “idiots, lunatics, and persons likely to become a public charge.” In 1907, Congress established the Dillingham Commission to study immigration policy in response to influx of over one million immigrants per year, mostly from southern and eastern Europe. It ended its work in 1911, concluding that immigration from those areas posed a serious threat to American society and culture and should be greatly reduced. (I try not to take that personally, being from Bulgaria myself!).

From that point on, U.S. Immigration laws started becoming more and more restrictive, enacting quotas on the amount of immigrants and refugees allowed to enter each year, harsher requirements and costs of applications, strict deportation and exclusion procedures, as well as restrictions on returning to the U.S. Today, the immigration laws are so complicated and convoluted that even a simple application for a temporary visa or green card demands the expertise of an immigration attorney. The costs for applications are steadily rising, making the legal process unfeasible for many aspiring immigrants. And on top of all else, the federal and state government agencies have become so overzealous in enforcing immigration and deportation laws that even citizens born in the U.S. are mistakenly being deported.

As I am taken back to the Pioneer Days, I would like to remind the rest of the U.S. population that immigration is one of the most valuable tools for supporting and improving this country’s economy, foreign relations, diversity, social and scientific advancements, and many other areas of national importance. As the world is quickly shrinking, society becomes globalized, and borders become more and more faint, do not be afraid to welcome the citizens of the world who are seeking a better life for themselves and their families. Odds are, you wouldn’t be here today if your ancestors were not welcomed to the U.S. just a few generations ago!