History of United States Immigration Law

Discipline: History of the United States
Instructor: Harmon
Credits: 3
Day: A
Start: 1550
End: 1705
Field Work: Day 1 - Saturday, 31 October | Senegal Download Syllabus

This course will study the history of voluntary and involuntary migration to the United States, with an emphasis on the legal response regulating the influx of immigrants, including, among others, the Naturalization Act of 1790, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, legislation in the 1920s imposing national quotas, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 giving preference to those immigrants with U.S. relatives, amnesty legislation, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990, the Real ID Act of 2005, and recent political efforts to overhaul our immigration policies.  The course will also survey the laws relating to the admission, naturalization, removal of immigrants to the United States, and the legal issues concerning refugees, asylum seekers, illegal immigrants and undocumented workers. The perspective will be global; the course will examine the historical, social and political factors that affected the arrival, settlement, growth and redistribution of African, Asian, European, Native American, and Latino populations in the United States, and will explore a variety of cultural, demographic, economic and legal issues that have arisen as a result of these waves of human migration.

Field Work

Country: Senegal
Day: 1 - Saturday, 31 October

Courses in the history of immigration law tend to ignore the African Americans who were brought to the United States under the institution of slavery.  Usually the term “immigration” implies a voluntary movement from one country to another, but almost all African Americans in the United States are descendents of West and Central Africans who were involuntarily taken from their homes, sold as chattel, and transported across the Atlantic to be sold again into slavery.  The trans-Atlantic slave trade began around the middle of the fifteenth century when the Portuguese colonizers shifted their interests away from the fabled deposits of gold to a more reliable commodity:  slaves. By the seventeenth century, the slave trade was in full swing, reaching its peak towards the end of the eighteenth century. This Field Lab will give students an opportunity to see the largest slave-trading center on the African west coast on the Ile de Goree.  An estimated 20 million Africans passed through the island from the mid 1500s to the mid-1800s.  Ruled in succession by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French, students will see a sharp contrast between the elegant houses of the slave traders and the appalling quarters in the House of Slaves.  We will visit the Museum of African Women, the Historical Museum, and after lunch, we will tour The House of Slaves.  As we explore these sites, we will consider the ways in which the forced migration of the Atlantic slave trade impacted American society and culture. After lunch, we will go to the IFAN Museum of African Arts in Dakar.  Students will have an opportunity to see one of the oldest art collections in Western Africa; the museum itself was built in the 1930s by the French.  This museum has a vast collection of folk art that will give students a glimpse into the rich tradition of the West African peoples who were sold into slavery and brought involuntarily to the United States. Academic Objectives:

  1. To educate students about the history of the slave trade in West Africa, and its impact on the forced migration of Africans to the Caribbean and to the Americas;
  2. To have students contemplate the legal distinction between an “indentured servant” and a “slave,” and to understand how that distinction was lost, both by Europeans, and by the West Africans who partnered with Europeans in procuring “slaves” to trade;
  3. To have students compare how the law dealt with “slaves,” a group made distinct by their race, and with Chinese laborers, a group also made distinct by their race;
  4. To have students contemplate what the granting of full citizenship accomplished for African Americans after the Civil War;
  5. To have students ponder how the label of “immigrant” permitted the assimilation of some ethnic groups into the American mainstream, and how its denial to others might not have.
  6. To have students view the folk art of the West African traditions, and appreciate the rich traditions of the West African peoples brought involuntarily to the United States.