Immigration and Assimilation in Urban America

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Immigration into the land of opportunity had been a bumpy road for those arriving between 1870 and 1900. Of all the years during that time period, the flow of immigrants was at its peak during the bursts of economic depressions (Document A). These weakened economic periods in the United States did not exactly ease the common immigrant’s transition into American life. With no yellow brick road to lead them to happiness and prosperity, many immigrants began searching for quick ways to make cash. In 1870, twenty percent of the New England population was made up of immigrants; an astounding seventy five percent of the crimes committed were perpetrated by those immigrants (Document B). Edward Steiner, an immigrant himself, recalls his experiences as a newcomer. “…unless he had waiting friends, [the immigrant] found no gateway open to him except the saloon, the brothel, the cheap lodging house and finally the ‘lock up’” (Document C).Steiner observed a strong incline for criminal activity among immigrants; it was therefore easy for natives to label many of the immigrants as stereotypical criminals and low-lifes, scarring the reputation of the hard working foreigners as well. Steiner further explains that even assimilation agencies were anti-social, and the police would back them up. The spread of alien perpetrators gave domestic Americans a reason to fervently oppose arriving immigrants. Not all of the arrivals remained on the East Coast. Many of the fresh faces decided to move further into the nation, and with them followed strong opposition. One case of discrimination went as far as reaching the Supreme Court, where Chinese laundry operators were charged with violating an ordinance; the Supreme Court determined this to be a case of racial discrimination (Document E). It is shocking that discrimination reached such a high level with no authoritative figure to stop it.

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