Immigration issues often meant that INS was precariously balanced between competing concerns. On the one hand, the United States has built itself on its reputation of welcoming newcomers. On the other hand, that openness has sometimes made it difficult to protect the nation’s interests. Throughout its history INS has reflected the national mood, even when the national mood was overly suspicious. The September 11 terrorist attacks underscore the crucial, yet often controversial role immigration laws have played throughout U.S. history, but it is by no means the only example.
In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law arose out of anti-Chinese sentiment which resulted after a heavy influx of immigrants from China. Originally intended as a temporary measure to limit the number of Chinese immigrants, the act was kept in force until 1943. After World War I, the U.S. government passed laws assigning quota numbers to each nationality based on immigration and census figures from past years. This action was in response to a post-war increase in immigration. (The increase in illegal entries by aliens in the 1920s led to the establishment of the Border patrol in 1924.)
In another example, after the United States entered World War II in 1941, INS initiated a program to document and fingerprint every alien residing in the United States. It was one of several organizations that operated internment camps that housed Japanese-Americans and Japanese who were long-time U.S. residents. INS-run camps were supposed to house “enemy aliens,” but many internees were imprisoned only because of their Japanese heritage.
In light of unrest around the world in the 1990s and early in the twenty-first century, civil liberties and human rights organizations kept a close watch on INS activity. Laws For instance, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 stirred criticism when groups claimed it gave INS the power to deny due process to innocent aliens.