A nation of illegal immigrants

The Western United States was largely settled by illegal immigrants — claim jumpers, squatters, sooners, you name it, our pioneer ancestors didn’t wait around for the government before moving out, moving on, moving in and moving up to make a living off the vast wealth of the West.

Tim Lee looks at squatters for Forbes:

[F]ew settlers had either $640 or the legal expertise to navigate America’s cumbersome property laws. And so thousands of migrants simply ignored the law and settled illegally on vacant land.

Offended by their disrespect for the law and worried about lost revenue, the federal government responded harshly. The US Army began evicting illegal squatters and destroying their homes….

These crackdowns failed. As migrants continued to pour west, it became obvious that the federal and state governments lacked the resources to evict more than a fraction of the lawbreakers….

Kentucky was one of the first states to offer squatters a path to legalization. Under the Kentucky system, any squatter whose claim went unchallenged for seven years, and who paid taxes on the land during that period, was eligible for a clear title to the property regardless of who had owned it previously. This system was controversial at first, but other states gradually saw the need for reform. Congress finally acknowledged defeat in 1862 with the passage of the Homestead Act, which gave settlers free federal land if they cultivated it for five years. The Act didn’t so much establish the practice of homesteading as formalize what settlers had been doing illegally for decades.

Sounds a lot like amnesty to me.

Posted on September 14th, 2011 by Katxena

2 Comments a “A nation of illegal immigrants”

  1. Allen MacKenzie says:

    Not directly related to immigration per se, but you might be interested in this modern-day squatter story:

    http://www.dallasobserver.com/content/printVersion/2365078/

  2. Katxena says:

    Thanks — that’s interesting!