America and Its Policy Toward Immigration
During the late nineteenth century, a wave of immigration known as the New Immigration swept across the United States. The Northern and Western Europeans of the 1840s immigration period continued to arrive, but the new wave brought significantly more people from eastern and southern Europe in addition to smaller groups from Canada, Mexico, and Japan. As a result of this large influx in immigration rates, questions concerning the regulation of immigration became the subject of intense debate and controversy. America was forced to decide if it would allow any additional immigrants to settle within its borders, and if so, what restrictions it should place on them. In response to these questions, two solutions were proposed: the first involved the implementation of a quota system that would limit the number of immigrants from each country, while the second suggested the development of a literacy test that immigrants would have to pass to become a citizen. Although each of these proposals has its apparent shortcomings, it is evident that the quota system would be the better choice because it would effectively prevent the overpopulation of certain areas by one or two groups and would be easier to enforce. Furthermore, the fact that the literacy test would be totally ineffective in encouraging the assimilation of American language and values eliminates it as a realistic option.
Firstly, the implementation of an immigrant quota system would easily and effectively prevent the domination of America by one or two nationalities. By establishing the number of people from each country that would be allowed to settle in the United States, one group of immigrants would not be capable of overtaking a certain region. In doing so, this would solve one of the problems posed by the New Wave of immigration. For example, in the 1880s two-thirds of the immigrants who arrived in America came from Germany, England, Ireland, and Scandinavia. If the number of one of these groups far exceeded that of the others, their arrival would significantly alter the character of the city that they chose to settle in, therefore undermining the American culture native to that city. Instead, a quota would promotes the development of a diverse immigrant population in the United States, from which it could benefit. In addition, by limiting the amount of immigrants from each individual nationality, the United States would be effectively reducing the total number of immigrants coming to America. This result would be met with great satisfaction and rejoice by Americans for two reasons. First, a gradual flow of immigrants annually would ensure that the rate of population growth could not exceed America's healthy carrying capacity; a sudden spurt of immigration might result in an explosion of poverty and starvation. Second, the factory workers of America felt threatened by the dramatic increase in the immigrant population. Though it is true that the immigrants of the late nineteenth century never truly replaced the Americans on the assembly lines, their mere presence struck fear in them due to the immigrants' willingness to work longer hours and in worse conditions for even less money. Thus, the quota would be an effective method of preserving America's character.
Another reason why the United States should resolve to install an immigrant quota is the fact that it would be easier to enforce than a literacy test. Just like any other political reform, both the quota and literacy test would have to survive the timely process of legislation. However, once the annual percentages of immigrants from each immigrant nation were established, the United States government would no longer have to worry about processing the results of the literacy tests, admitting those who passed, and rejecting those who failed. If a quota was used, immigrants wishing to come to America would simply fill out an application for acceptance and be placed on a waiting list; each year, a certain number of immigrants would be allowed to settle in the United States while the rest would wait till the following year. An additional factor to be considered would be the problem surrounding the testing of mentally disadvantaged immigrants. It would be unfair to make an exception for such immigrants, yet it would be impossible to test them. Clearly, a quota would be the most orderly method of immigration regulation.
Lastly, the quota system should be the utilized due to the blatant ineffectiveness of the literacy test. First, the literacy test would do nothing to encourage actual literacy; being able to speak very limited English would not be of any benefit to the American society. In addition, such limited use of English would not realistically promote the assimilation of American values. Most importantly, however, is that the literacy test could not definitely regulate in the long term; if the immigrants learned that proficiency in the English language would guarantee them a place in America, they would no doubt rush to become literate. Thus, America would still be faced with the problem of excessive immigration.
Ultimately, the immigrant quota is the only effective way of limiting the New Immigration, and should be the immigration policy used by the United States government. By allowing a certain number of immigrants into America annually, the United States could prevent the domination of a region by one group and thus promoting the diversity of its population. As a result, the American workers would not feel threatened by the inundation of cheap labor. Even more importantly, Americans would not be so unwilling to coexist with cultures other than their own.