The 1882 Immigration Act adopted as federal law policies and practices already enacted by the states of New York and Massachusetts that targeted poor immigrants for exclusion and removal. As commitment to restricting immigration hardened, the federal government assumed sole authority to set policy and administer immigration law. Nonetheless, early efforts in immigration restriction adopted priorities of various states and regions, as in the 1803 ban on “negro” immigration, Chinese exclusion, and the 1882 prohibition against those “likely to become a public charge” (LPC). Immigration policy has since regularly maintained barriers against immigration by adults seen as lacking the means to support themselves. The ban against LPCs was most often applied to women traveling alone who were then debarred from entry.
CHAP. 376.-An act to regulate Immigration.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be levied, collected, and paid a duty of fifty cents for each and every passenger not a citizen of the United States who shall come by steam or sail vessel from a foreign port to any port within the United States. The said duty shall be paid to the collector of customs of the port to which such passenger shall come, or if there be no collector at such port, then to the collector of customs nearest thereto, by the master, owner, agent, or consignee of every such vessel, within twenty-four hours after the entry thereof into such port. The money thus collected shall be paid into the United States Treasury, and shall constitute a fund to be called the immigrant fund, and shall be used, under the direction of the Secretary of the Treasury, to defray the expense of regulating immigration under this act, and for the care of immigrants arriving in the United States . . . .
SEC. 2.-That the Secretary of the Treasury is hereby charged with the duty of executing the provisions of this act . . . he shall have power to enter into contracts with such State commission, board, or officers as may be designated for that purpose by the governor of any State to take charge of the local affairs of immigration in the ports within said State . . . and it shall be the duty of such State commission, board, or officers so designated to examine into the condition of passengers arriving at the ports within such State . . . and if on such examination there shall be found among such passengers any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a charge, they shall report the same in writing to the collector of the port, and such persons shall not be permitted to land.
SEC. 4.–That all foreign convicts except those convicted of political offenses, upon arrival, shall be sent back to the nations to which they belong and from whence they came . . . The Secretary of the Treasury shall prescribe regulations for the return of the aforesaid persons to the countries from whence they came, and shall furnish instructions to the board, commission, or persons charged with the execution of the provisions of this section as to the mode of procedure in respect thereto . . . The expense of such return of the aforesaid persons not permitted to land shall be borne by the owners of the vessels in which they came.
SEC 5.–That this act shall take effect immediately.
Approved, August 3, 1882.
“As in the colonial period… the governing logic of ‘immigration restriction’ exercised by states derived from the poor laws. As such, it was directed at citizens and aliens, insiders and outsiders, the native-born and the foreign-born. During the Confederation period, states sought to keep out indigent migrants from foreign countries and other states. This exclusion was explicitly contemplated by the comity clause of the Articles of Confederation, which excepted ‘paupers, vagabonds, and fugitives from justice’ from the general obligations of states not to discriminates against ‘free inhabitants’ of other states.”
Excerpt from: Parker, K. M. (2015). Making foreigners: Immigration and citizenship law in America, 1600-2000. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. p. 73.
”Under the Immigration Act of 1882, state agencies retained a significant level of involvement in immigration regulation . . . sometimes beyond their legal authority, as seen in the deportation of Irish paupers by the New York Commissioners of Emigration. In the meantime, the New York State Board of Charities kept enforcing the 1880 state law for the deportation of assisted paupers, considering the federal immigration Act of 1882 ‘supplementary.’ In Massachusetts, destitute foreigners had been expelled under state deportation law since the eighteenth century, and state officials maintained the law after 1882, implementing it with funding from the federal government. The 1882 act provided only for the exclusion of paupers, but paupers were not simply excluded from the United States; they were also deported under the de facto general deportation regime. The federalization of immigration control was therefore a gradual process at best, and the actions of officials in the northeastern states set the conditions for the introduction of general deportation by the federal government in 1891.”
-Excerpt from: Hirota, H. (2017). Expelling the poor: Atlantic seaboard states and the nineteenth-century origins of American immigration policy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 201.