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Illegal immigration sentiment

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Okay, been trying to find information on the general sentiment surrounding illegal immigration in the early 20th century. The story is set in Detroit, MI, in 1921. I can find tons of material about anti-immigration sentiment and of course there are all of the various laws and such that were passed through the ages and the census gives me lots of info about numbers and the movement of different ethnic groups, but does anyone know where I can find information specific to the feeling about illegal immigration in the Nineteen-teens and Twenties? I want to know if there was an awareness and/or public dislike of people slipping over the border and settling in without having gone through the proper channels. I do know that people working in Detroit disliked the Canadian 'day jobbers', but that is not the issue here.  There was another law passed in 1921 that restricted the numbers allowed into the country legally, and there was a lot of tension about immigration, especially after WWl, but was there an awareness about illegal immigrants? Anyone know?
#1 - July 11, 2013, 08:11 AM

I don't know personally, and I don't have any NF references for you. But "Esperanza Rising" kind of talks about this thing during the early 1900's (I can't remember it's exact year setting, though). I found the read pretty eye-opening and informative. However, it does take place in California, which is where I would bet most of illegal immigration sentiments, whether positive or negative, would come from. I just don't know if anyone in MI would have been exposed to many illegal immigrants at that time.
#2 - July 11, 2013, 12:40 PM
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The Detroit Historical Museum has a lot of online resources ( I would consider phoning them for an in-person (or telephone) interview.

Good luck!!!
#3 - July 11, 2013, 01:04 PM
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Oh, thank you, Angela, I don't know why I didn't think of the Detroit Historical Society, I've used the Corktown Historical Society quite a lot, but they are much smaller. So, thank you!
Yes, AmandaSue, "Esperanza Rising" is a good read. I live in California, and issues of immigration have become part of our cultural heritage. Though our Southern border has been an issue, and has become part of quite a large contemporary discussion, our northern border with Canada has also been an issue, historically. It has been used as a means to enter the country since the 18th C. At times this flow over the Canadian border has been purposely ignored (when we needed French Canadian workers in the mills, for instance), but other groups have found their way over, as well. It's not received as much attention, but it's certainly has been a concern to those living just on this side of the border. So, my question is: is there evidence of any popular sentiment about illegal immigrants, above and beyond the general immigration concerns, in the areas of Detroit or Chicago or thereabouts.
Again, I'm especially interested in the turn of the last century. Any help, suggestions, or books I can use, would be helpful. And I'm calling Detroit :grin3
#4 - July 11, 2013, 02:19 PM

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Have you already read the Congressional Record from 1921 on the debate in Congress in December 1920? I had someone telling me about this the other day. It was actually about all immigration, not specifically legal. All was considered a problem them. I am sorry I didn't pay more attention!
A few more sources can be found at:

Hope this helps -- I'm not sure it is really what you are looking for, but it may help point you in the right direction. The Detroit Historical Museum is a great suggestion!
#5 - July 11, 2013, 02:47 PM

Thanks, writerhoo! I do know that the law passed in '21 was temporary, made permanent in 1924, but I haven't read the debate before it's passing-that might give me more insight into the general feeling about the issue at the time. Great suggestion!
#6 - July 11, 2013, 07:14 PM

Maryann L

Hi, Rebecca. I’m new here and did a general search for other Detroit area writers and came upon your post. I would be interested in reading your book and hope you will post updates. My grandfather immigrated to the US in 1922 and came legally. We are of Italian decent and I can tell you that immigrants stuck together. I grew up in the 1970s and it wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that not all cities are broken up into ethnic neighborhoods. I don’t know if they did this is because of the language problem or because Italians were frowned upon. In any case, derogatory terms such as “wop” were common. Family stories have it that we did a little bootlegging to get by, shipping via Canada. Records from the Wyandotte police department – if they are still available – might be helpful to determine if this was predominantly immigrant-driven. Several homes in the area still have underground tunnels. Local libraries might be a good source for journals or transcripts from county courthouses if illegals were taken into custody. It may have been more difficult to determine whether a person was in the country legally or illegally, particularly in Detroit since it was easy to cross the border, and most families had relatives in both Detroit and Windsor. It’s an interesting question you bring up and I hope your book is progressing well!
#7 - August 14, 2013, 10:05 AM

Coming from a fourth generation Detroit family, (altho I've recently moved) I would echo Angela's excellent suggestion about the Historical Society ... and there are two other sources you might find useful Greenfield Village (in Dearborn) has a research library/collection that is accessible in person, and through requests by email (I'm pretty sure). Lots of excellent photography and also printed materials.   You can also try the Detroit Public Library which has an amazing research desk and the staff has always been very helpful in my queries. They have a strong genealogical collection which may not seem directly applicable, but I believe as part of that collection they keep some journals / diaries which may prove an interesting first person resource.
#8 - August 14, 2013, 03:23 PM
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