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Photo of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in 1902

A Brief History of Undocumented Immigration in America

Erika Lee explains that in its early years as a nation, America largely lacked federal immigration policies. Then, beginning with the exclusion acts of the mid-19th century, which specifically prohibited Chinese immigration, the United States increasingly denied entry to those it deemed unsuitable: Asians, paupers, illiterates and, eventually, southern and eastern Europeans.