Tag Archives: California

How did we get here? Chinese Exclusion Act buildup (1848-1872)

When co-blogger Chris Hendrix started off a series a couple of years ago on the origins of immigration restrictions, he fittingly began with the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), looking at the arguments made for the act at the time. He examined them both the evidence available at the time and the evidence that has emerged since then. In a subsequent post in the series, I briefly examined the early years of the implementation of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1910). While both these posts examined some aspects of the Chinese Exclusion Act in some detail, there is a lot about the history and aftermath of the Act that went unexplored.

Recently, I had the opportunity to create a number of Wikipedia pages on topics related to the Chinese Exclusion Act: Chae Chan Ping v. United States, Angell Treaty of 1880, Chy Lung v. Freeman, Fong Yue Ting v. United States, and others. As I worked on these pages, I familiarized myself more with the situation surrounding the Chinese Exclusion Act. I became more convinced that a more in-depth look at the Chinese Exclusion Act would help shed light on the modern border control regime.

I therefore intend to do at least three more posts on the subject. The current post will focus on the key developments and tug-of-wars that occurred until about 1872 (with passing mentions of trends that would continue into the late 1870s). A later post will discuss the more eventful years starting 1873. The year 1873 was marked by the Panic of 1873, the beginning of an economic downturn in the United States. The economic downturn was likely a contributing factor to increased anti-Chinese sentiment over the coming years, and key legislative and judicial developments related to immigration happened beginning 1875.

This post looks at the “keyhole solutions” used by state and local law enforcement in California before the federal government got on board with significantly restricting immigration.

Table of contents

Limitations of my analysis

Perhaps the biggest limiting factor to the quality of my analysis is the fact that such little data is maintained about that time period; in particular, about how ordinary people (both Chinese and the others in California) perceived the situation at the time. There is no Twitter, Tumblr, or Instagram to gauge public sentiment. There was no equivalent of Gallup polls. There were few newspapers and even those that existed don’t have all their archives available to peruse. Therefore, apart from actual legislative or judicial records, the main guidance present is various summaries provided by historians, who are in turn relying on observations penned by a few people, who may in turn have their own biases.

The lack of good resolution on who was thinking what leads to broad-brush generalizations in many parts of the text. I talk about the “Chinese” and “whites” but both groups were probably quite heterogeneous in terms of their habits, attitudes, beliefs about the other group, legislation they supported, etc. A more able historian with more time to research the issue and more space to devote to describing it would be able to pick nuances better. As such, please take any general statements I make about ethnic groups below with a large grain of salt: they are a third-hand summary of very incomplete data examined through possibly biased lenses.

How my thinking has evolved

Writing this post has led to some minor updates in my thinking. Here is a summary, that you can read without having to read the whole post.

  • As I had previously noted in “Why was immigration freer in 19th century USA?”, there were no restrictions on immigration till the late 19th century (the Page Act of 1875 being the first federal regulation, and the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882). Even then, the first restrictions applied only to Chinese immigration. But I now see that the sentiment to oppose and restrict migration existed far in advance of actual restrictions, and the reason that it took so long to restrict immigration was mostly the federal structure of governance combined with the poor connectivity of California with the rest of the United States.
  • This post also makes me more confident of observations I had made in my post on South-South migration and the natural state: despite the virulent and hostile response to Chinese immigration in California, migration remained freer and arguably closer to a state-of-nature than it does in the modern world.
  • My feelings on “keyhole solutions”, and in particular, on the question of their feasibility and stability, have evolved a bit. I am now more convinced that they are not a stable equilibrium that placates those favoring restrictions. One reason is that some keyhole solutions, particularly those involving taxes and tariffs, can hurt migrants so much that their subsequent impoverishment makes them look even worse on social indicators to the rest of the population (a point related to what co-blogger Nathan alluded to in his post the dark side of DRITI). Another is that keyhole solutions need to be extremely punitive (at risk of impoverishing migrants and making them look worse) to make a significant dent in migration trends, to the level that would satisfy those who seek restrictions. Keyhole solutions at an intermediate level can generate revenue for government and can address rationally calibrated concerns about immigration, but they can’t really solve the public’s general aversion to migration. Keyhole solutions might work better in quasi-democratic settings. In quasi-democratic settings, not every individual policy choice is debated. Rather, as long as the quasi-democratically elected leaders’ overall performance meets natives’ expectations, they buy into the policy package despite not liking parts of it. A country like Singapore might be an example.
  • Seeing the effects of migration isn’t guaranteed to drive one in favor of migration. In the case of events prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act, in fact, exposure to Chinese migrants led people to oppose it. California, which experienced the Chinese first, turned anti-migration first. Later, when the Chinese arrived in the Eastern cities, anti-Chinese sentiment also spread there. This does not mean that exposure to migrants always leads to anti-migration sentiment, nor does it mean that such anti-migration sentiment is factually grounded. Rather, we have to keep in mind existing narratives and biases that have been developed, in addition to the characteristics of migrants and natives, and results on sentiment towards migration could go in either direction. I don’t think nativist backlash is inevitable, but writing this post has led me to somewhat increase the importance I place on it as a force to reckon with.

First, they came for the Chinese

John’s post on tearing down Chesterton’s fence offers a good bird’s eye view of how immigration restrictions originated worldwide. While researching the subject, I noticed that in at least two other English-descended countries (Canada and Australia) the first significant immigration regulations appear to have been explicitly targeted at the Chinese, as I noted in an Open Borders Action Group post.

The situation in Australia closely paralleled the situation in California. In both cases, large numbers of Chinese moved to the area around 1850 in search of gold. In both cases, resistance to Chinese started off with native miners and labor unions of “natives” (i.e., whites, rather than the indigenous population), but gradually spread to the rest of society. Continue reading “How did we get here? Chinese Exclusion Act buildup (1848-1872)” »

Comparing US states by their unauthorised immigrant population

California is a common rhetorical example used to illustrate the harms of immigration (unauthorised or otherwise) in the US. People point to California’s runaway government debt, poor public school system, and rising rates of social disorder/crime as the inevitable consequences of more liberal immigration policies. I thought it might be worth pulling together a 50-state view (plus the District of Columbia) to see what we can generalise from a ranking of jurisdictions by their unauthorised immigrant populations.

The Pew Research Center has provided some estimates of the unauthorised immigrant population by state in 1990 and 2010 (see tables A3 and A4), and I combined these with US Census Data of the population by state to calculate the share of unauthorised immigrants in each state’s population in 1990 and 2010. It was then a simple step to calculate how much the unauthorised immigrant population has grown or shrunk over the intervening 2 decades.

In 1990, these were the top 10 states (and DC) by share of unauthorised immigrants in their population:

  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Arizona
  5. Nevada
  6. New York
  7. Florida
  8. Illinois
  9. New Mexico
  10. New Jersey

In 1990 the bottom 10 were:

  1. Tennessee
  2. Wisconsin
  3. Missouri
  4. Mississippi
  5. Indiana
  6. Iowa
  7. South Carolina
  8. Kentucky
  9. Alabama
  10. Ohio

And as of 2010, here are the top 10 states by share of population:

  1. Nevada
  2. California
  3. Texas
  4. New Jersey
  5. Arizona
  6. Maryland
  7. District of Columbia
  8. Florida
  9. Georgia
  10. New Mexico

The bottom 10 are:

  1. South Carolina
  2. Alaska
  3. South Dakota
  4. Missouri
  5. Ohio
  6. Vermont
  7. North Dakota
  8. Montana
  9. Maine
  10. West Virginia

While I’m not sure what life in these United States was like in 1990, I do know that in 2010 I would much prefer to live in any of the top 10 states ranked by the proportion of unauthorised immigrants in their population than I would prefer to live in the bottom 10. (In fact, I almost live in the District of Columbia: it’s literally walking distance from my current home, though to be fair, the parts of DC that are most accessible to me are also the swankiest. I am quite sure I would not have wanted to live in the District in 1990, however.)

Another way to rank the states would be how much their unauthorised immigrant population has grown. Here are the top 10 states ranked according to the absolute percentage point change in their unauthorised immigrant population:

  1. Nevada
  2. New Jersey
  3. Texas
  4. Maryland
  5. Georgia
  6. Arizona
  7. Oregon
  8. North Carolina
  9. New Mexico
  10. Utah

Meanwhile the bottom 10 (the bottom 3 are actually negative, i.e. the proportion of unauthorised immigrants fell over these 20 years):

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Missouri
  3. Wyoming
  4. South Dakota
  5. West Virginia
  6. Maine
  7. Alaska
  8. Montana
  9. North Dakota
  10. Vermont

Again, I would much prefer to live in most any of the top 10 states than I would in the bottom 10. I lived in New Hampshire/Vermont for the first 4 years of my time in the US (I lived actually on the border of those two states) and as beautiful as they are in the autumn, I can’t say they have much to offer otherwise, especially in the depths of winter (though it would also depend on how much you love skiing or other winter sports). Obviously there is cause and effect here: nice states attract more immigrants. But it does seem clear that if unauthorised immigrants “kill the goose that lays the golden egg” by laying waste to the land of these attractive states, it isn’t terribly apparent from these rankings.

There is one way to slice the data that might be more favourable to restrictionist conclusions, though: we can rank states by the percentage change in their unauthorised immigrant population. So Alabama, with 0.12% of its population unlawfully present in 1990 versus 2.5% in 2010 would have a (2.5 – 0.12) / 0.12 = 1920.2% increase. The low base effect means that these rankings are somewhat suspect, but for your benefit, here they are (along with all the other data I used to construct the rankings above):

State/District 1990 % of pop 2010 % of pop %age point change over 20 years % growth over 20 years
Alabama 0.12% 2.50% 2.38% 1920.19%
Iowa 0.18% 2.50% 2.32% 1288.42%
Kentucky 0.14% 1.80% 1.66% 1227.28%
Tennessee 0.21% 2.20% 1.99% 972.98%
Indiana 0.18% 1.80% 1.62% 897.95%
Ohio 0.09% 0.90% 0.81% 876.24%
North Carolina 0.38% 3.50% 3.12% 828.54%
Wisconsin 0.20% 1.80% 1.60% 780.52%
Arkansas 0.21% 1.80% 1.59% 746.22%
South Carolina 0.14% 1.20% 1.06% 736.71%
Mississippi 0.19% 1.60% 1.41% 724.15%
Georgia 0.54% 4.40% 3.86% 714.40%
Nebraska 0.32% 2.40% 2.08% 657.64%
Hawaii 0.45% 3.10% 2.65% 587.10%
Maryland 0.73% 4.60% 3.87% 528.33%
Pennsylvania 0.21% 1.30% 1.09% 517.91%
Connecticut 0.61% 3.40% 2.79% 458.81%
Michigan 0.27% 1.50% 1.23% 457.72%
New Jersey 1.23% 6.20% 4.97% 404.50%
Oregon 0.88% 4.30% 3.42% 388.88%
Minnesota 0.34% 1.60% 1.26% 366.74%
Missouri 0.20% 0.90% 0.70% 360.52%
Utah 0.87% 3.80% 2.93% 336.46%
Oklahoma 0.48% 2.00% 1.52% 319.41%
Washington 0.82% 3.40% 2.58% 313.67%
Delaware 0.75% 3.00% 2.25% 299.70%
Kansas 0.61% 2.40% 1.79% 296.41%
Colorado 0.91% 3.60% 2.69% 295.34%
Louisiana 0.36% 1.40% 1.04% 293.88%
Nevada 2.08% 7.20% 5.12% 246.08%
Virginia 0.81% 2.70% 1.89% 234.22%
New Mexico 1.32% 4.30% 2.98% 225.74%
Rhode Island 1.00% 3.00% 2.00% 201.04%
New Hampshire 0.45% 1.20% 0.75% 166.22%
Massachusetts 0.91% 2.40% 1.49% 162.53%
Texas 2.65% 6.70% 4.05% 152.91%
Arizona 2.46% 6.00% 3.54% 144.36%
Florida 1.85% 4.50% 2.65% 142.59%
Illinois 1.75% 4.10% 2.35% 134.33%
Idaho 0.99% 2.20% 1.21% 121.48%
District of Columbia 2.47% 4.50% 2.03% 82.07%
West Virginia 0.28% 0.50% 0.22% 79.35%
New York 1.95% 3.20% 1.25% 64.49%
South Dakota 0.72% 1.00% 0.28% 39.20%
Wyoming 1.10% 1.50% 0.40% 36.08%
California 5.04% 6.80% 1.76% 34.90%
Maine 0.41% 0.50% 0.09% 22.79%
Alaska 0.91% 1.00% 0.09% 10.01%
Montana 0.63% 0.50% -0.13% -20.09%
North Dakota 0.78% 0.50% -0.28% -36.12%
Vermont 0.89% 0.50% -0.39% -43.72%

One interesting reaction to all these numbers might be that two decades is too little time to truly assess the long-run impact of unauthorised immigration on a state’s economy and society. So we should be looking for states like Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, Maryland, etc. to become “wastelands” like California over the next decade or two (or at least see some pernicious effects such as bankrupt local governments or increasingly horrid public schools). Then again, many of these states were already in the top 10 in 1990, so it’s not all that clear that we shouldn’t be seeing these supposed effects already.

If you have any thoughts or reactions, feel free to share in the comments. I’ve also uploaded the same numbers in Excel spreadsheet format for ease of use. Hopefully these figures can drive some interesting conversation going forward; it’s quite plausible that I or another Open Borders blogger may return to them in the future.

TRUST Act Breaks Through in California

This post was originally published as an op-ed for the Huffington Post here. It is reproduced with permission from the author.

Last Friday the California State Assembly passed the TRUST Act. Also called the "anti-Arizona immigration law" by some, it would limit California law enforcement’s cooperation with the federal Secure Communities program (SCOMM). The bill is now on its way to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk where he is expected to sign it into law. The TRUST Act is good news for California budgets, residents, and police departments, for three main reasons:

First, it would limit immigration detainers to unauthorized immigrants convicted or currently charged with a serious or violent felony. If SCOMM must exist, it should exist for violent or property offenders and not otherwise peaceful unauthorized immigrants.

This limitation is essential to continuing California cities’ successful use of community policing strategies that rely on informant and witness cooperation with police, even if they are unauthorized immigrants. If the possibility of deportation is increased with SCOMM, fewer unauthorized immigrants and their legal families will go out on a limb to help police solve real crime. The TRUST Act limits the growing distrust between immigrants and police.

Second, the TRUST Act would lower the cost for local governments who object to shouldering the high cost of detaining suspected unauthorized immigrants. A recent report found that detention costs for SCOMM currently run over $26 million a year for Los Angeles county and $65 million a year for the entire state. Food, guards, prisons, beds, and other amenities that need to be provided to suspected unauthorized immigrants are too expensive for many jurisdictions.

Third, the TRUST Act frees those who haven’t been convicted of violent or serious felonies and would prevent imprisonment of American citizens like James Makowski. He was wrongly accused of being an unauthorized immigrant and held in detention for two months before the government admitted its mistake and released him. After his release, Makowski said, "Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mine . . . But if the government can detain a U.S. citizen without justification, that’s pretty outrageous. There have to be safeguards in place." (Markowski is suing the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security for his two-month detention.)

SCOMM was started by a pilot project in 14 police jurisdictions by the Bush administration in October 2008. SCOMM is now active in over 3,000 jurisdictions in the United States, roughly a 21,429 percent increase in jurisdictional reach since Obama took office, and will be going nationwide shortly.

Beyond the TRUST Act, SCOMM should be discontinued. SCOMM is a federal immigration enforcement program that links fingerprint records with government immigration and criminal databases. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suspects an arrestee is an unauthorized immigrant, it issues a detainer to hold the arrestee so that ICE is notified when the arrestee is to be released, often delaying the arrestee’s release until ICE is ready–on merely a suspicion that the arrestee is an unauthorized immigrant. ICE then detains the arrestee, verifies he is unauthorized (occasionally they deport American citizens by accident), and deports him. Meanwhile, local police departments hold these suspected unauthorized immigrants past their release dates.

States and localities originally volunteered to cooperate with ICE in this program, but some states like New York and Illinois want to drop out. The government’s response to their requests was to declare SCOMM mandatory despite earlier agreements and statements to the contrary.

ICE officials have previously stated in their SCOMM agreement with California that the program would only target those "convicted of serious offenses." Recently obtained government documents show that SCOMM issues detainers for people who are not suspected of any criminal conduct. Some are detained by SCOMM because they were unable to identify themselves satisfactorily at drivers’ license checkpoints or because they were arrested for identification purposes. Merely being arrested for non-serious offenses should not subject an arrestee to SCOMM.

SCOMM has lost credibility with the public, imposes heavy incarceration costs on states, and diverts the resources that should be used to deport unauthorized immigrants convicted of violent or serious felonies. The TRUST Act will build a wall around the worst parts of SCOMM in California and help restore confidence between police and immigrants.

Parts of this op-ed are based on an earlier blog post written here.