Immigration: Regulation, Response and Attitudes in America
Has America always wanted 'your poor, your tired, your huddled masses'?
Immigration is as old as human history. People move from one place to another for many reasons. When migration occurs across a national border, it is called immigration. When relocation happens within the same country, it is termed emigration. Historians often attribute the movement to "push-pull" factors. Sometimes conditions at home become so dangerous or challenging that people are forced to move elsewhere. Wars, famines, economic issues or political oppression are often "push" factors encouraging people to seek safety or better conditions somewhere else. Sometimes opportunities in a new land attract newcomers. Cheap and fertile farmlands in the United States lured hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the latter 19th century. Political and religious freedom, good jobs and educational opportunities "pulled" many to America to seek a fresh start in the states.
Immigration to Iowa
Historians usually identify three waves of immigration to Iowa, characterized by the national origin of the immigrants. The fertile Iowa prairies offered for sale at $1.25 an acre attracted thousands from northern Europe and the British Isles. The state government and railroad companies wrote glowing accounts of Iowa’s promise and distributed brochures across Europe in native languages to encourage migration. Germans and Irish were the top two contingents respectively, but British, Dutch, Norwegian and Czech families also swelled Iowa’s population. While new arrivals often formed tightly-knit ethnic communities, they also mingled with native-born settlers from the Ohio River Valley and the Upper South. They arrived with their state churches — Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican — and established newspapers in their native language. During World War I, patriotism in support of the United States often attacked those who had maintained strong cultural ties to their European homeland, especially the Germans. By the time the fighting ceased, Iowa had become more homogenized with less emphasis on cultural diversity.
A second wave of immigration began toward the end of the 19th century and continued through the 1920s. Southern and Eastern Europeans brought new faces to the eastern and Midwestern cities, but also to smaller towns. Italians, Croatians, Greeks and Russians took jobs in coal mines and meat packing plants. Mexicans began heading north to fill jobs during World War I. Unlike native-born American groups and immigrants from Northern Europe who were predominately Protestant, the second-wave immigrant groups brought Catholic affiliations and unfamiliar languages. Sometimes they came as families, but frequently a single male would come over first, get a job and sponsor a brother or nephew. The two would work together to buy tickets for other family members until extended families were reunited in America. At the national level, native-born Americans feared the growing numbers of these new arrivals. Congress passed laws restricting immigration from southern and eastern Europe (and Asia) in favor of northern Europeans.
Civil wars, political oppression and poverty sent a third wave of immigrants to Iowa. In the 1970s, Iowa’s Governor Robert Ray became the only governor in the nation to initiate a government-sponsored resettlement program for southeast Asians who were the victims of the Vietnam War. Refugees from Somalia, Bosnia and other nations in upheaval found their way to Iowa. Churches became active in sponsoring immigrants and helping them to adapt to their new Iowa homeland. Mexicans and other immigrants from Latin American nations found work in agriculture and meat packing. Mechanization in Iowa meat-packing plants created demand that immigrants were willing to take, and towns with these plants — Perry, Storm Lake, Marshalltown — soon attracted a sizable migrant population. Schools faced challenges teaching classes to many students whose native language was not English.
African Americans and Iowa
African Americans in Iowa present a unique history. While some African-American Iowans in the past 50 years came directly from African nations, most are from families that moved north at some point from the American South. The first African Americans in the state often lived in Mississippi River towns with the direct water connection to the South. Others came to the state recruited by meat-packing plants or coal companies. When African-American workers were hired to replace striking white workers, communities dealt with racial tensions. Even when Iowa laws made discrimination in housing, transportation, education or employment illegal, African Americans often faced hurdles to full integration.
Who can come to America is a divisive political issue. Some want to keep the doors open for those seeking a better life, while others worry that immigrants may take jobs from native-born Americans or change the nature of American society. Regardless, Iowa has attracted newcomers since its earliest days and now boasts citizens from around the world.
How have laws regulating immigration changed over time?
- Burlingame Treaty, 1868 (Document)
- Chinese Exclusion Act, May 6, 1882 (Document)
- "How John May Dodge the Exclusion Act" Illustration, July 12, 1905 (Political Cartoon)
- "Immigration Report: A Banner Year" Newspaper Article, December 16, 1907 (Document)
- Babel Proclamation, May 1918 (Document)
- Iowa Governor Robert Ray Congressional Hearing Testimony about Refugee Legislation, May 24, 1979 (Document)
- Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act, 2002 (Document)
- Truth in Immigration (TRIM) Act, November 14, 2005 (Document)
How have responses and supports for immigrants and refugees evolved over time?
- "Move On" Silent Film of New York's Lower East Side, October 27, 1903 (Video)
- "The Americanese Wall," March 25, 1916 (Political Cartoon)
- Sewing Class for Refugee Students in Mt. Ayr, Iowa, 1918 (Image)
- Revocation of Babel Proclamation, December 4, 1918 (Document)
- "Demand Return Fare for Mexican Labor" Newspaper Article, July 31,1920 (Document)
- Iowa Tai Dam Newsletter, December 19, 1975 (Document)
How have attitudes or viewpoints about immigration changed over time?
- "Examiner's Questions for Admittance to the American (or Know-Nothing) Party," July 1854 (Document)
- "Thoughts for Americans" Lyric Sheet, 1856 (Document)
- U.S. Rep. John Kasson (R-IA) Speech on Chinese Immigration, March 22, 1882 (Document)
- "Restrictions of Immigration" Iowa Newspaper Article, May 9, 1900 (Document)
- "Most Iowans Oppose More Boat People" Des Moines Register Article, September 30, 1979 (Document)
- H.Res 683, A Resolution from the U.S. Congress Regarding Chinese Exclusion Act, June 8, 2012 (Document)
Burlingame Treaty, 1868
Chinese Exclusion Act, May 6, 1882
"How John May Dodge the Exclusion Act," July 12, 1905
"Immigration Report: A Banner Year" Newspaper Article, December 16, 1907
Babel Proclamation, May 1918
Iowa Governor Robert Ray's Congressional Hearing Testimony about Refugee Legislation, May 24, 1979
Iowa English Language Reaffirmation Act, 2002
Truth in Immigration (TRIM) Act, November 14, 2005
"Move On" Silent Film of New York's Lower East Side, October 27, 1903
- Embedded resource
"The Americanese Wall," March 25, 1916
Sewing Class for Refugee Students in Mt. Ayr, Iowa, 1918
Revocation of Babel Proclamation, December 4, 1918
"Demand Return Fare for Mexican Labor" Newspaper Article, July 31,1920
Iowa Tai Dam Newsletter, December 19, 1975
"Examiner's Questions for Admittance to the American (or Know-Nothing) Party," July 1854
"Thoughts for Americans" Lyric Sheet, 1856
U.S. Rep. John Kasson (R-IA) Speech on Chinese Immigration, March 22, 1882
"Restrictions of Immigration" Iowa Newspaper Article, May 9, 1900
"Most Iowans Oppose More Boat People" Des Moines Register Article, September 30, 1979
H.Res 683, A Resolution from the U.S. Congress Regarding Chinese Exclusion Act, June 8, 2012
- Iowa Pathways - My Path
This Iowa Public Television webpage features an in-depth look at immigrants and refugees who settled in Iowa dating back to World War II.
- "Chinese Immigration in the United States" LOC Resource
This Library of Congress webpage is a section of the "Rise of Industrial America" website. The resource has a number of excerpts from books and texts related to Chinese immigration from a variety of perspectives.
- "Immigration" LOC Resource
This Library of Congress website houses a number of primary sources from immigrants from a variety of perspectives.
- Chinese Exclusion Act
This "American Experience" episode that aired May 29, 2018, focuses on the origin, history and impact of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
Iowa Core Social Studies Standards (9-12th Grade)
Listed below are the Iowa Core Social Studies content anchor standards that are best reflected in this source set. The content standards applied to this set are high school-age level and encompass the key disciplines that make up social studies for 9th through 12th grade students.
- SS-US.9-12.13. Analyze how diverse ideologies impacted political and social institutions during eras such as Reconstruction, the Progressive Era, and the Civil Rights movement.
- SS-US.9-12.17. Explain the patterns of and responses to immigration on the development of American culture and law.
- SS-US.9-12.23. Analyze the relationship between historical sources and the secondary interpretations made from them.
- SS-US.9-12.25. Analyze how regional, racial, ethnic and gender perspectives influenced American history and culture.
- SS-US.9-12.27. Evaluate Iowans or groups of Iowans who have influenced U.S. History.
- SS-Gov.9-12.13. Evaluate the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national, and international civic and political institutions, how they interact and the role of government in maintaining order. (21st century skills)
- SS-Gov.9-12.20. Explain the significance of civic values to a well-functioning democracy including concepts such as conviction vs. compromise, majority rule vs. minority rights, state interests vs. individual interests, rights vs. responsibilities, and other related topics. (21st century skills)
- SS-Gov.9-12.25. Evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of the implementation of public policy, specifically looking at the bureaucracy, citizen feedback, public opinion polls, interest groups, media coverage, and other related topics. (21st century skills)