Plaza Voices: Who Can Come, Who Can Stay

On June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court of the United States allowed portions of the so-called "travel ban" to go into effect until further review when the court reconvenes in October.

Trump's Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States, (issued March 6, 2017, as a revised version of the original EO issued January 27, 2017), also called the Muslim ban or the travel ban, has been the subject of much controversy and legal debate. 

As others have pointed out, the exclusion of immigrants and visitors from specific parts of the world is nothing new in our country. A look at an immigration policy timeline will show that the government has passed numerous laws preventing certain people from entering the United States. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the "Asiatic Barred Zone Act"), and the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 are just a few examples of legislation passed to limit immigration based on national origin. And the "Muslim registry," an idea that came up during the campaign, recalls the "Alien Registration Act," passed in 1940, that required immigrants over the age of 14 to be fingerprinted and registered with the government.

The U.S. has also encouraged immigration, when it was in our interest, as when the "Bracero program" brought 5 million workers from Mexico in the 1940s, easing labor shortages caused by WWII. But much more often, targeted immigrants were detained and removed, as at the Angel Island immigration station in California.

And it's certainly not just ethnicity or national origin that could make or break a person's chances of pursuing the American Dream. Prohibitions against "convicts, lunatics, idiots, and persons likely to become public charges" also date back to 1882, and later laws barred "homosexuals,"  “feeble-minded persons,“ "criminals," “insane persons," and "alcoholics." Yet another law covered anarchists, beggars, and epileptics.

While these laws may seem outdated and offensive to us now, their reach has extended into recent memory--laws affecting LGBTQ immigrants were only removed in the 1990s, and laws regarding HIV status and marriage were on the books until 2009 and 2013. 

To learn more about the history of immigration policies in the U.S., follow the links above, and take a look at these resources from our catalog. To see up-to-date information on this and other topics in the news, check out CQ Researcher, available with your library card. And follow Plaza Voices, our blog about immigration and global culture.

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Amanda R. on July 2, 2017


Nadia Rendon on July 3, 2017


Thank you, Amanda. This is great!

Jonathan Padilla on July 7, 2017


This is really good info, thanks Amanda!

Vicki Lazaro on July 12, 2017


Thank you very much for this informative piece on the history of immigration laws. It is mind boggling to know that these exclusionary laws were/are being passed based on race/ethnicity and that other laws promoting inclusion were not passed until very recently. I appreciated the links you offered to learn more about the different topics. As an immigrant myself, I wish this post was on everyone's "Summer Reading List"!


Thank you all for your comments! It's great to hear your perspectives and know that people are reading and thinking about these important issues. 

Leave a comment