Historians have long assumed that immigration to the United States was free from regulation until anti-Asian racism on the West Coast triggered the introduction of federal laws to restrict Chinese immigration in the 1880s. Studies of European immigration and government control on the East Coast have, meanwhile, focused on Ellis Island, which opened in 1892.
Faced with the influx of impoverished Irish immigrants over the first half of the nineteenth century, nativists in New York and Massachusetts built upon colonial poor laws to develop policies for prohibiting the landing of destitute foreigners and deporting those already resident to Europe, Canada, or other American states.
In the first sustained study of immigration control conducted by states prior to the introduction of federal immigration law in the late nineteenth century, Hidetaka Hirota argues that the origins of American immigration control were in cultural prejudice against the Irish and, more essentially, economic concerns about their poverty, rather than anti-Asian racism.
Challenging the long-standing idea that immigration was unregulated prior to passage of federal immigration legislation, he connects nativist politics of the mid 19th century to US deportation policy and explores immigrants’ post-deportation experiences in Europe in his book Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy (Oxford University Press, 2017).
Historian Hidetaka Hirota received his PhD in History from Boston College. He is currently Associate Professor at Berkeley College, teaching the social and legal history of the United States, with a special focus on immigration. Before joining UC Berkeley, he served as a Mellon Research Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University and taught at the City University of New York-City College and Sophia University in Japan.
Expelling the Poor received the First Book Award from the Immigration and Ethnic History Society, the Lois P. Rudnick Award from the New England American Studies Association, and the Donald Murphy Prize from the American Conference for Irish Studies, as well as Special Commendation for the Peter J. Gomez Prize from the Massachusetts Historical Society and Honorable Mention for the Peggy O’Brien Book Prize from the Irish Association for American Studies.
The Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany will present a virtual lecture by Hirota on September 27, 2023 at 7 pm. You can register here for the Zoom link.
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