09 May 2008 ~ 2 Comments

Documenting the birth of illegal immigration

Someone at BNF felt compelled to tell me that the birth of illegal immigration was the coming of Europeans to the Americas. The comment is theoretically accurate but misses the point of the argument. By the ‘birth of illegal immigration,’ I am referring to the social and political construction of a certain type of immigration as illegal. That discourse did not exist prior to a certain time, even though the phenomenon was naturally-occurring. It’s much like Michel Foucault, who dates the origin of homosexuality in America to 1876. That doesn’t mean homosexuality does not exist prior to that, rather he means that the definition and categorization of ‘sexual deviants’ in order to control, legislate, regulate and medicate comes about with the creation of the American nation-state. Much like that, the Native Americans did not partake in the Judeo-Christian moral and legal order of the European arrivals–they did not feel compelled to label them as ‘illegal’ and without documentation. The discourse of ‘illegal immigration’ does not really come into being until after Chinese Exclusion.

Anyway, here is some interesting archival material that I am posting upon request:

Paper: Unknown Title, published as Evening Bulletin; Date: 04-21-1882; Volume: LIV; Issue: 12; Page: 2;

This piece simply blew me away. It represents the start of the construction of desirable/undesirable immigration that snowballed into restricting the immigration of certain groups of peoples and hence, ‘illegal immigration.’ It contains the construction of a broad and acceptable ‘European immigration’ and right of citizenship faced with a contemporary Chinese ‘invasion’ quite unlike the former. I apologize for the unclear text—it is more than 100 years old and scanned.

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Now this is the first use of ‘illegal immigration’ in an article. And it concerns the Chinese entering from the Canadian border.

San Francisco Bulletin, published as Daily Evening Bulletin; Date: 12-12-1889; Volume: LXIX; Issue: 57; Page: 4;

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Philadelphia Inquirer, published as The Philadelphia Inquirer; Date: 03-23-1899; Volume: 140; Issue: 82; Page: 3;

And now we have moves to ‘check’ illegal immigration – deportation!

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Bellingham Herald, published as The Bellingham Herald; Date: 07-31-1907; Volume: 16; Issue: 108; Page: 3;

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Not all the archived data screams anti-Chinese and anti-immigration. True to conditions today, immigration proponents also existed from the birth of ‘illegal immigration.’

Paper: Unknown Title, published as The Philadelphia Inquirer; Date: 06-05-1893; Volume: 128; Issue: 156; Page: 2;

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