First European settlements are established in the U.S.
In 1565, the first permanent European settlement in the U.S. is established in St. Augustine, Florida by the Spanish in an area already long occupied by the Timucuan Indians. In 1607, colonists seeking riches in competition with Spanish rivals establish the first English settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. They encounter the Powhatan Indians, who have lived in the area for centuries before the colonists’ arrival.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 provides the first rules to be followed by the United States granting citizenship other than by birth. The law limits naturalization to aliens who are "free white citizens," leaving out large groups like slaves and Asian immigrants.
The Naturalization Act of 1795 increases the residency requirements to five years and requires renunciation of “allegiance and fidelity” to any other country in order for citizenship.
The Naturalization Act of 1802 establishes additional requirements for naturalization such as good character, allegiance to the Constitution, and a formal declaration of intention. This statute also requires immigrants to complete an application form with their name, birthplace, age, nation of allegiance, country of emigration, and place of intended settlement.
The forced importation of enslaved Africans is outlawed with the Slave Trade Act of 1808. According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, up to 10.8 million Africans arrived in the Americas through the importation of slaves.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 commands the removal of Native-Americans east of the Mississippi River to reservations in Oklahoma. Migration causes the deaths of over 300,000 Native-Americans, making this event known forever as the “Trail of Tears.”
Mexican-American War ends and U.S. acquires former Mexican territories
Mexico and the United States sign the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, ending the Mexican-American War. The U.S. acquires California, a large area comprising New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado. Mexicans in these annexed areas have the choice of returning to Mexico or receiving American citizenship with full civil rights: over 90% remain in the new American territories.
The Dred Scott Decision declares that African-Americans are not citizens.
The U.S. Supreme court rules in the case Scott v. Sandford that African-Americans, both free and enslaved, are not citizens of the U.S. and not protected by the U.S. Constitution. Chief Justice Roger Taney explains in the majority opinion, “…We think they [people of African ancestry] are . . . not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States…” In 1868, Congress ratifies the Fourteenth Amendment, granting citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the U.S., finally overturning the Dred Scot Decision.
Chinese segregated in San Francisco public school system
Chinese children are segregated into one public school in San Francisco, creating the “Chinese School.” In 1871, San Francisco decides the city can no longer fund public schools for Chinese children, but still bars Chinese children from other public schools. Chinese parents hire private tutors or send their children to private church-sponsored schools.
In order to maintain the flow of cheap Chinese labor for the constructions of the Transcontinental Railroad, the treaty permits free migration between the two countries and guarantees the political and religious rights of Chinese immigrants. The Burlingame Treaty establishes formal relations between the U.S. and China.
The railroad is built mainly by immigrants. Promoted by railroad companies, new immigrants entering from the Eastern seaboard from Europe, Russia, Mexico, and Africa, use railways to migrate out West, creating new immigrant settlements.
A devastating economic depression rolls through Europe and the U.S., starting with the Panic of 1873 and lasting until 1879. The economic climate fuels discrimination against immigrants, who many Americans see as strains on the U.S. job market. At the same time, millions of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe pour into the U.S. looking for better economic prospects. A year later, the Tompkins Square Riot breaks out in New York City. Police brutally break up a peaceful demonstration of 7,000 workers (many of them immigrants) who are calling for the mayor to ease the strain of the depression. Two years later, the first restrictive federal immigration statute, the Page Act of 1875, prohibits immigration of undesirable populations. The Page Act prohibits forced contracted labor from an “Oriental” person and the immigration of prostitutes and convicts from any country of origin.
Southern legislatures begin to pass a series of laws in 1877 known as the Jim Crow Laws, focusing on diminishing the rights of African-Americans in order to force them into an inferior place in Southern society. These laws are intended to segregate public transportation, education, jobs, housing, and other basic services. In 1879, thousands of African-Americans migrate from the South to the West to escape this exploitation and oppression, thereafter known as the Exodus of ’79.
Mamie Tape is denied admission to a San Francisco public school
Joseph and Mary Tape try to enroll their Chinese-American born daughter, Mamie, into a San Francisco public school, but Mamie is denied admission based on her Chinese ancestry. The California Supreme Court decision on Tape v. Hurley upholds the right of Chinese children to access public education. To avoid integration, the San Francisco School District sets up a separate Chinese Primary School one year later.
Due to huge increases in immigration to the United States, Congress passes the Immigration Act of 1891, moving the Bureau of Immigration under the Treasury Department and adding new categories of restriction, excluding those with contagious diseases, polygamists, and contracted laborers. Immigration advertising is also made illegal. The Secretary of the Treasury begins to regulate immigration inspections along the borders of Canada and Mexico and handles the deportation of immigrants who enter the U.S. unlawfully.
The first Ellis Island Immigration Station opens and Congress passes the Geary Act
Ellis Island Immigration Station is officially opened. In the first year, nearly 450,000 immigrants pass through. In the same year, the Geary Act of 1892 extends the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 for another 10 years, and requires Chinese people residing in the U.S. to register and carry a certificate at all times. Without the correct papers, a Chinese immigrant is subjected to deportation, imprisonment, and a year of hard labor.
President William McKinley is fatally shot by a Polish anarchist. Congress enacts the Anarchist Exclusion Act in retaliation, which prohibits entry into the U.S. people judged to be anarchists and political extremists.
To standardize naturalization procedures, Congress passes the Naturalization Act of 1906, making some knowledge of the English language a requirement for citizenship. Congress also establishes the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in the Commerce Department to oversee national immigration policy.
Women Married to Foreigners Forfeit American Citizenship
The Expatriation Act of 1907 defines the citizenship of women married to foreigners. Under the law, women assume the citizenship of their husbands and a woman with U.S. citizenship forfeits it if she marries a foreigner, unless he becomes naturalized.
Angel Island Immigration Station and the Mexican Revolution
The First Angel Island Immigration Station officially opens. Meanwhile, due to Mexico’s industrialization and unrest from the rural poor, Mexico erupts into a revolution. Large-scale migration into the U.S. begins, but most people intend to return to Mexico after the violence ends.
As an act of resistance to abject poverty and horrifying racism in the Jim Crow South, millions of African-Americans move to the Industrial North in search of a better life. It represents the largest movement of people in U.S. history. In 1911 the National Urban League organizes to provide help and resources for African-Americans migrating to the north.
The Dillingham Commission recommends that the U.S. reduce its immigrant numbers
The Dillingham Commission decides that immigration of southern and eastern Europeans poses a very serious threat to American society and culture and recommends that the U.S. work to reduce the number of immigrants.
The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 bases the quota levels on the population of any given nationality living in the U.S. in 1910. The 1910 base point ensures that the cultural profile of the majority of people living the in U.S. is northern European. One immigrant group, Mexicans, is excluded from the quota system because of the efforts of the agriculture lobby.
The ruling from United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind states that although Bhagat Singh Thind is technically Caucasian and thus eligible for naturalization under the 1790 statute, Indian immigrants are ineligible for naturalization.
The Immigration Act of 1924 and the Indian Citizenship Act
Native-Americans are granted citizenship under the Act. However, many Western states enact Jim Crow type voting restrictions and violence to keep Native Americans from voting.
The Immigration Act of 1924 bases quotas on population levels in 1890. The aim of this law is to restrict immigration to 350,000 people per year, excluding Western Europeans. Asian nations (China, Japan, and India) and independent African countries are allowed 100 immigrants per year. This law also establishes a border patrol to curb undocumented Chinese immigrants from entering the U.S. through Mexico.
Mexican-Americans sue for their children’s right to attend all schools in Lemon Grove, CA
Roberto Alvarez vs. the Board of Trustees of the Lemon Grove School District is the first successful desegregation school court case in U.S. history. However, since Mexican-American school children are considered Caucasian, the decision does not apply to Asian, African-American, or Native-American children who continue to be segregated.
Jews deprived of German citizenship and migrate to U.S.
The Nazi state led by Adolf Hitler passes the Nuremberg Laws in an effort to separate German Jews and “Aryan” Germans and deprive Jews of German citizenship. Jewish refugees begin to arrive in the U.S., including some of the most prominent German academics.
Due to labor shortages during World War II, the U.S. begins the Labor Importation program, also known as the Bracero Program, to supply inexpensive workers. Thousands of Mexicans, Jamaicans, Hondurans, and Barbadians are granted admission to the U.S. as temporary workers. Many of the migrants to this day are still fighting for wages owed.
The United States government interns 120,000 Japanese-Americans in camps across the west. Two years later in 1944, in a 6-3 opinion on Korematsu v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the government agreeing that in wartime the government has the right to intern Japanese-Americans.
The Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles begin. For ten nights, members of the American Navy terrorize Mexican-American neighborhoods looking for young Mexican teens. Hundreds of young Latino men are beaten with little police intervention. Similar acts of violence against Mexican-Americans spring up in other American cities.
In the same year, China becomes an official allied nation and Congress passes the Magnuson Act, repealing the previous Chinese Exclusion Acts. Chinese-Americans finally have a path to citizenship. Although Chinese immigrants are now able to naturalize, there is a ban against ownership of property, and strict quotas continue.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holds that the segregation of Mexican-American students and white students in separate schools in California is unconstitutional. In their decision in Mendez v. Westminster, the court rules that, “a paramount requisite in American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage.” This ruling inspires the passage of the Anderson Bill in 1947, which ends all segregation in California schools. Mendez v. Westminster provides an important precedent for the Brown v. Board decision.
Hispanic-American women and children members of the Mine, Mill and Smelter Union organize a strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico. The film Salt of the Earth (1954) based on the strike is heralded as a true representation of Mexican-Americans and earns its creator a spot on the House Committee of Un-American Activities blacklist.
Reflective of the anti-Communist atmosphere that characterizes the Cold War, Congress passes the Immigration and Nationality Act over President Truman’s veto. The law upholds the national origins quotas being enforced by the new Immigration and Naturalization Service, limits immigration from the eastern hemisphere, establishes a preference for skilled workers, and tightens security and screening standards. The bill does abolish racial restrictions on nationalization, thus opening citizenship to non-white immigrants. Additionally, it gives the U.S. government the ability to deport immigrants and naturalized citizens engaged in subversive activities and grants citizenship to people living in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.
“Operation Wetback” deports over 3.8 million people
Due to pressure from border states, the Immigration Nationalization Service begins “Operation Wetback,” an unofficial campaign to deport undocumented Mexican immigrants. While officials claim they wish only to expel those who have immigrated to the U.S. illegally, they often focus on Mexicans, even deporting those who immigrated legally and their U.S.-born children. While looking for people to deport, officials adopt the practice of stopping “Mexican-looking” citizens and asking for identification. Mexican-American political activists are deported unfairly, including Luisa Moreno. Over 3.8 million people are deported as a result.
Cuban Revolution causes 200,000 Cubans to flee to the U.S.
Fulgancio Batista, dictator of Cuba, is overthrown by Communist Cuban Revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Over 200,000 anti-Communist Cubans and Western business owners flee to the U.S. to avoid prosecution by revolutionary courts and are welcomed as political refugees. A year later the Castro regime nationalizes all foreign-owned property, and in response, the U.S. freezes all Cuban assets, severs diplomatic ties, and issues an embargo on Cuba. In 1966, Congress passes the Cuban American Adjustment Act allowing Cubans who have been in the U.S. for over a year to receive permanent residency. No other immigrant group has been offered this privilege before, or since.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” illegal.
Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Latino High School Student walkout
The Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund is established. It is the first legal fund supporting the civil rights of Mexican-Americans.
Also in 1968, participating Latino high school students in Los Angeles students walk out in protest for being punished for speaking Spanish in schools. They are severely punished for the walkouts and thirteen are arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and conspiracy. The walkouts result in policy change in the Los Angeles school district.
Latino high school students walk out of classrooms in Los Angeles
The participating students walk out in protest of being punished for speaking Spanish in schools. They are severely punished for the walkouts and thirteen are arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and conspiracy. The walkouts result in policy change in the Los Angeles school district.
United Farm Workers March and Voting Rights Act Language Extenstion
Members of the United Farm Workers union embark on a thousand-mile march across California to rally the state’s farm workers.
The Voting Rights Act is also extended to include requirements for polling stations to have election information, including ballots, in any minority language that more than 5% of the citizens of voting age speak.
In accordance with the United Nations, the Refugee Act defines a refugee as “any person who is outside their country of residence or nationality, or without nationality, and is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
The Act gives legal status to about three million undocumented immigrants who entered the United States before 1982. Additionally the law makes it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit undocumented immigrants and requires employers to report their employee’s immigration status with the introduction of the I-9 employment form. This law also increases the Border Patrol by fifty percent and denies undocumented workers federal welfare benefits.
The magazine calls Asian-Americans the “model minority” because of their high-success rates in education. Many pan-Asian activists decry the effects of positive stereotyping on Asian-American students.
President Reagan and the U.S. Congress acknowledge and apologize for the crimes against the Japanese-American community during World War II. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 takes full governmental responsibility and condemns Japanese internment, and the so-called Redress Act gives $20,000 to every citizen and permanent resident surviving internee.
The Immigration Act of 1990 increases the limits on legal immigration to the United States to 700,000, revises all grounds for exclusion and deportation, authorizes temporary protected status to aliens of designated countries, revises and establishes new nonimmigrant admission categories, revises and extends the Visa Waiver Pilot Program, and revises naturalization authority and requirements. The law removes homosexuality as grounds for exclusion from immigration and creates the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, establishing a lottery system to admit immigrants from countries under-represented in the United States.
The United States, Canada, and Mexico agree to the North American Free Trade Agreement in an effort to help Mexico’s development as a capitalist country. Under NAFTA, all non-tariff barriers to agricultural trade between the U.S. and Mexico are eliminated and U.S.-run Maquiladoras open in Mexico. Both conservatives and progressives criticize the NAFTA as unfair to both Mexican and American workers, fearing it leads to lower wages and unfit working conditions in both countries.
Meanwhile, the El Paso Border Patrol places 400 agents directly on the Rio Grande river to deter undocumented immigrants trying to migrate to the United States. By 2003 nearly 3,000 people are killed attempting to illegally cross the border.
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
Congress passes the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act to create more stringent immigration laws pertaining to admission and deportation. The law broadens the types of crimes that could lead to deportation, making shoplifting a deportable offense, and makes becoming legal after entering the country illegally almost impossible. Applying for asylum becomes more difficult under this law, which bars refugees from working while their cases are under review. Mass incarceration of immigrants begins and by 2010 363,000 people are detained.
A Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima, is tortured and sodomized by members of the New York Police Department’s while in custody, causing national outcry. Two years later, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed west African immigrant, is shot and killed by four white policemen in New York City.
The Texas State Legislature passes the Texas DREAM Act providing that all students, regardless of their immigrant status, may qualify for in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities. This law also gives children brought to the United States illegally a pathway to citizenship. Currently there are twelve states with their own version of the DREAM Act and a similar law has been introduced into U.S. Congress every year since 2009.
Men affiliated with Al-Qaeda, a global militant Islamist organization, hijack four passenger airliners, fly two into the World Trade Center complex and one into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The fourth plane targets the U.S. Capitol, but crashes into a field in Pennsylvania when its passengers attack the hijackers. The Arab-American and Muslim community experience bigotry and violence as many Americans associate all Muslims with the September 11th terrorists. U.S. government officials focus their attention on “securing the American borders” by having stricter requirements for entry into the U.S.
Just over a month after the September 11th terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush signs the United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, or the USA PATRIOT Act, into law. The law lifts restrictions on law enforcement’s gathering of domestic intelligence; expands the Secretary of Treasury’s authority over international financial transactions; broadens the law surrounding detainment and deportment of immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts by authorizing the indefinite detentions of some immigrants; and adds domestic terrorism to the federal definition of terrorism. Conservative and Progressive activists criticize the PATRIOT Act’s passage as an infringement of the federal government on personal privacy. Although the law is directed at fighting terrorism, it has been used against undocumented workers with no terrorist affiliation.
Mass demonstrations of immigrants, Hispanic Americans, and their allies launch in cities across the U.S. in support of immigrant rights and to protest discrimination against undocumented immigrants. High school students walk out of classes in support of immigrant rights and equality.
Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy after the U.S. subprime housing market bubble bursts and a major panic breaks out in the inter-bank loan market. The stock market falls to levels not seen since the Great Depression and the international banking system collapses. In an effort to bail out international banks, Congress passes the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which includes a $152 billion stimulus to help the economy recover. While the stimulus helps to keep the banking system afloat, it does not stop the recession from worsening and the U.S. enters into a credit crunch as banks are unable or unwilling to extend lines of credit to businesses. As a result, many significant U.S. businesses file for bankruptcy. Over the next number of years, joblessness in the U.S. will prove to be a far better deterrent than any border security initiative to undocumented immigration.
Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009
President Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 and creates a new federal law that criminalizes willfully causing or attempting to cause bodily injury because of the perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person.
Arizona SB 1070 requires all persons over the age of 14 who remain in the US for more than 30 days to register with the government and to have registration documents in their possession at all times. This law also requires law enforcement to determine a person’s immigrant status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” or during “lawful contact” with a person who law enforcement “suspects” is an undocumented immigrant. Arizona HB 2162 is the final version of Arizona SB 1070, but includes the text stating, “prosecutors would not investigate complaints based on race, color or national origin.” The U.S. Department of Justice files a lawsuit against the state of Arizona asking that the law be declared invalid because it interferes with federal immigration regulations. Arizona HB 2281 prohibits public schools from offering courses at any grade level that advocate ethnic solidarity, promote the overthrow of the U.S. government, or cater to specific ethnic groups. As a result the state’s popular Mexican-American studies programs dismantle.
Arizona v. United States and President Obama’s amnesty
The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down three of the four provisions in Arizona SB 1070: the requirement for immigrants to carry registration documents at all times, the ability of law enforcement to arrest anyone suspected to be an undocumented immigrant, and the civilization of undocumented workers. The court upholds the provision that allows Arizona police to investigate the immigration status of those stopped, detained, or arrested.
Also in 2012, President Obama states that his administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children if they meet certain requirements. While Obama provides amnesty for some, by July 2012 his administration has deported around 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, more than any other President in recent history.