On this day in 1886, President Grover Cleveland submits a proposal to the Senate that outlines conventions for extraditing criminals of Japanese nationality who had committed crimes on U.S. soil and then escaped to Japan back to the U.S. for trial. The plan had already been agreed to by the Japanese government. Cleveland’s approval of this measure reflected an increasingly restrictive American policy toward immigrants.
The impetus for the legislation came from a recent forgery case in San Francisco. The perpetrator was originally from Japan and had avoided prosecution in the U.S. by fleeing back to Japan. The Japanese government voluntarily returned the forger to California, where he was taken into custody by state law enforcement, successfully prosecuted for the crime and imprisoned. Still, there was only vague protocol for extraditing Japanese-born criminals back to the United States for trial.
The late 1800s saw an enormous influx of immigrants into the United States from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe. A majority of Asian immigrants came to the western states to work in industries such as mining, railroad construction and farming. They brought with them alien cultures and ways of life that many Americans had never encountered before, and thus feared. As a result, much of the crime and social unrest of the late 19th century was often blamed on foreign elements and some Americans, including Cleveland, saw the need for more clear-cut extradition guidelines.
Cleveland signed off on some of Congress’ more stringent immigration policy during his two terms in office and his successor, Benjamin Harrison, followed suit. Harrison who served one term as president between Cleveland’s two, from 1889 to 1892, oversaw the creation of the first Office of Immigration in 1891. A list of those to which Harrison’s administration denied entry into the U.S. included paupers, polygamists, the mentally ill and anyone with a contagious disease. Harrison also presided over the opening of Ellis Island, the immigration center through which hordes of Europeans came to escape persecution and starvation in their homelands.
In 1893, Cleveland returned for a second term as president and continued implementing stronger immigration controls. During this second term, Cleveland ordered several federal departments to investigate whether they employed potentially hostile or subversive foreign-born employees. The order reflected the country’s anxieties regarding the massive influx of immigrants during the 1890s. In 1896, Cleveland gave voice to the feelings of many Americans when he proclaimed that immigrants were largely responsible for fomenting political agitation and bringing alien ideologies, such as socialism, anarchism and communism, to the U.S. from their homelands. Immigrants were also blamed for increased crime and driving down wages. By the end of Cleveland’s second term, the Immigration Office’s list of undesirable immigrants had expanded to include epileptics, professional beggars and anarchists.