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Immigration Archives - The Immigration Law of 1882

In his message of December 6, 1881, President Arthur called attention to the subject of immigration control and recommended supervisory legislation. On August 3, 1882, the first general immigration law was approved.

This law provided for a head tax of 50 cents to be levied on all aliens landed at United States ports, the money thus collected to be used to defray the expenses of regulating immigration, and for the care of immigrants after landing, no more being expended at any port than was collected at such port. The Secretary of the Treasury was charged with executing the provisions of the act.

For that purpose he was given power to enter into contracts with such State officers as might be designated by the Governor of any State to take charge of the local affairs of immigration within such State. This law provided that foreign convicts, except those convicted of political offenses, lunatics, idiots, and persons likely to become public charges, should not be permitted to land.

On February 26, 1885, the first act of Congress forbidding the importation of contract labor was approved. This law was defective, in that no inspection was provided for, nor was any arrangement made for the general execution of the provisions of the law, or for the deportation of the contract laborer himself. It was amended by the act of February 23, 1887, the Secretary of the Treasury being given authority to return within the year any immigrant landed contrary to this law.

From 1882 to 1888, aside from the enactment of the contractlabor laws referred to, there was little attempt at other immigration legislation. Numerous bills in amendment of the laws of 1882 were introduced in Congress, but no action was taken upon .them.

The subject of immigration continued to be a matter of interest, however, and in 1889 a standing Committee on Immigration in the Senate and a Select Committee on Immigration and Naturalization in the House were established. In 1890 these committees were authorized jointly to make an inquiry relative to immigration, and to investigate the workings of the various laws of the United States, and of the several States relative to immigration. Various reports were submitted, the conclusion of the committee being that a radical change in the immigration laws was not advisable, altho it had been found that throughout the country there existed a demand for a stricter enforcement of the immigration laws.

During ISgo one or more political parties in 23 States had demanded additional regulations of immigration, and further legislation was passed by Congress and approved by the President on March 3, 1891.

This act, as in the case of that of 1882, provided for a head tax of fifty cents, merely as a means of raising money for the proper administration of the law. Persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease, and polygamists, were added to the classes excluded by the act of 1882, and it was also provided that "assisted persons, unless affirmatively shown that they did not belong to any excluded .class," should be debarred. The contractlabor law was strengthened by prohibiting the encouragement of immigration by promises of employment through advertisements published in any foreign country, and transportation companies were forbidden to solicit or encourage immigration.

Under the law of 1891 the office of superintendent of immigration was authorized, and for the first time federal control of immigration was completely and definitely established, United States officials exercising the functions which under the law of 1882 had been delegated to the States.

It now became the duty of the commanding officer of every vessel carrying aliens to report to the proper inspection officials the name, nationality, last residence, and destination of all such immigrants; all decisions of the inspection officials refusing any alien the right to land were final, unless appeal was taken to the Secretary of the Treasury; the medical examinations of immigrants at United States ports were to be made by surgeons of the United States Marine Hospital Service; and for the first time an inspection of immigrants on the borders of Canada and Mexico was established.

Another provision not found in the law of 1882 was that which allowed the return within a year after arrival of any alien who had come into the United States in violation of law, such return being at the expense of the transportation company or person bringing such alien into the country.

Jeremiah W. Jenks, Ph.D., LL.D. and W. Jett Lauck, A.B., "The Law of 1882" In The Immigration Problem, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1912, P. 305-307+.

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