The 1885 Alien Contract Labor Law prohibited any company or individual from bringing unskilled foreigners (aliens) into the United States under contract to work for them. The only exceptions were foreigners who were brought to do domestic service, skilled workers who were needed to help establish a new trade or industry, professional artists, lecturers and actors.
Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act) for kids: US Immigration Policy
Due to the higher numbers of immigrants to enter the country in the 1880's, the federal government began to pass important immigration acts. The first federal law to effect migrants was the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act that restricted immigration from China for 10 years, the second law was the Immigration Act of 1882. These were followed by three bills that banned contract labor of unskilled workers.
Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act) for kids: What was Contract Labor?
What was Contract Labor? The term contract labor was a system that referred to labor imported from a foreign country under agreement to work for a particular employer. The contract labor system was developed to help the emerging mining and railroad industries attract cheap immigrant labor to the United States. The contract labor system enabled Big Businesses to use contracts that paid below-market wages.
Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act) for kids: Anti-Immigration (Nativism)
The economic depression, high levels of unemployment and the contract labor system had led to a wave of anti-immigrant feeling, called Nativism. The term Nativism fostered beliefs that the interests of native-born or established residents should be given a favored status compared to newcomers and immigrants. Immigrants were blamed which led to great friction and calls for a curb on Immigration. The wave of Nativism in the 1880's was fueled by labor unions who feared that immigrants working under the contract labor system would work for lower wages than Americans or would become strike-breakers and undermine American unions and workers. American labor organizations, such as the Knights of Labor, and other anti-immigration groups, lobbied individual states and the federal government to ban the contract labor system and regulate immigration. For additional facts and information refer to the Effects and Impact of Industrialization and the article on the Labor Unions History.
Who introduced the Alien Contract Labor Law?
The 1885 Alien Contract Labor Law was introduced by Martin Ambrose Foran (1844 – 1921) a U.S. Congressman and lawyer from Ohio, which is why the law is often referred to as the Foran Act.
Reasons for the Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act)
The reasons for the Alien Contract Labor Law were therefore:
To show Americans that the government was taking positive action to restrict and regulate immigration into the United States and curb the employment practices of some of the Big Businesses
To ban the use of Alien Contract Labor for unskilled workers
To ban indentured servitude
To include exceptions ensuring that skilled workers and certain occupations were excluded from the law
The Purpose of the Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act)
The federal government had to tread a fine line with the Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act). Many skilled immigrants were considered extremely desirable as were workers who had experience in the new, emerging industries. The purpose for the Alien Contract Labor Law was therefore to ban Contract Labor relating to unskilled workers.
Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act): Provisions of the Immigration Act
What did the 1885 Foran Act or Alien Contract Labor Law do? The provisions of the Act were:
To "prohibit the importation and migration of foreigners under contract or agreement to perform labor in the United States"
Pre-payment for transportation of banned foreign emigrants was made illegal
Penalties would be made on any companies or corporations violating the law
Any masters of vessels knowingly bringing in contract laborers would be subject to fines of imprisonment
Exemptions of the Alien Contract Labor Law: Citizens of foreign countries temporary residing in America can engage other foreigners as servants, domestics or private secretaries etc.
Exemptions of the Alien Contract Labor Law: Skilled workers in foreign countries may be engaged to perform work in any new industry not established in the United States
Exemptions of the Alien Contract Labor Law: The provisions of the act did not apply to professional artists, lecturers, singers and actors
Exemptions of the Alien Contract Labor Law: The provisions did not apply to persons employed strictly as personal or domestic servants
The Alien Contract Labor Law made it clear that nothing in the act should be construed as prohibiting any individual from assisting personal friends or relatives to settle in the United States
Significance of the Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act)
The significance of the 1885 Alien Contract Labor Law (the Foran Act) was that the legislation lacked enforcement and further laws with modifications needed be passed.
The Act of 1887 authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to enforce the Act and stipulated that immigrants be interrogated before clearing immigration
The Act of 1888 provided incentives for people who reported violators of the law resulting in deportation
In 1890 the individual states turned over control of immigration from the individual states to the Federal Government. In 1890 the first Federal immigration center was built on Ellis Island where immigrants were subjected to medical and legal examinations that have been detailed in the Ellis Island Inspection Process.