Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy

October 31, 2020
Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy

Historians have long assumed that immigration to the UnitedStates was free from regulation until anti-Asian racism on the WestCoast triggered the introduction of federal laws to restrictChinese immigration in the 1880s. Studies of European immigrationand government control on the East Coast have, meanwhile, focusedon Ellis Island, which opened in 1892.In this groundbreaking work, Hidetaka Hirota reinterprets theorigins of immigration restriction in the United States, especiallydeportation policy, offering the first sustained study ofimmigration control conducted by states prior to the introductionof federal immigration law. Faced with the influx of impoverishedIrish immigrants over the first half of the nineteenth century,nativists in New York and Massachusetts built upon colonial poorlaws to develop policies for prohibiting the landing of destituteforeigners and deporting those already resident to Europe, Canada,or other American states. These policies laid the foundations forfederal immigration law. By investigating state officials'practices of illegal removal, including the overseas deportation ofcitizens, this book reveals how the state-level treatment ofdestitute immigrants set precedents for the use of unrestrictedpower against undesirable aliens. It also traces the transnationallives of the migrants from their initial departure from Ireland andpassage to North America through their expulsion from the UnitedStates and postdeportation lives in Europe, showing how Americandeportation policy operated as part of the broader exclusion ofnonproducing members from societies in the Atlantic world.By locating the roots of American immigration control in culturalprejudice against the Irish and, more essentially, economicconcerns about their poverty in nineteenth-century New York andMassachusetts, Expelling the Poor fundamentally revisesthe history of American immigration policy.