A Look Back at the Recent History of Immigration Laws
The United States recently celebrated the 92nd anniversary of an infamous and controversial Immigration law, which thankfully, has since been replaced with an improved system. Although Immigration Laws in this country can be quite complicated and difficult to navigate at times, it is good to look back and remember how far our country has come from the backward and blatantly discriminatory immigration laws of the past. The Comprehensive Immigration Act, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, was passed into law on May 26, 1924. The Act limited the number of immigrants allowed into the United States by putting into place strict quotas restricting the number of people from each country allowed to obtain immigration visas. No immigrants from Asia were allowed to receive visas or enter the United States under a provision that excluded from entry any “alien” who was ineligible for citizenship due to their nationality or race. The immigration quotas set in place allowed for immigration visas for two percent of the total number of each nationality of people in the United States as of the 1890 national census. Basing quotas on the 1890 census in particular meant that fewer southern and eastern Europeans such as Italians or Bulgarians were allowed into the U.S. than would have been if a more recent census had been used as a baseline. So where an average of 200,000 Italians had entered the U.S. during each year from 1900-1910, the annual quota for Italians was set at 3,845. 51,227 immigrants were allowed from Germany but only 131 from Spain and 100 from Greece. This horrific law was the result of many factors. World War I had raised national security concerns in the country. Congress had passed a restrictive immigration law in 1917 that increased the tax paid upon arrival by new immigrants (almost all immigrants had to pay an $8 tax, which equals about $163 today) and required immigrants over 16 years to pass a literacy test (in which immigrants had to show basic reading comprehension in any language), among other things. The Act completely excluded any immigrants born in the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” defined as “any country not owned by the U.S. adjacent to the continent of Asia.” Those who were able to enter the country were almost all required to pay an $8 tax (equal to over $163 today). The Quota Act of 1921 limited immigrants from each nation to three percent of that nationality’s makeup in the U.S. population as of the 1910 census. Such laws were also influenced by the rise of the eugenics movement, which tried to improve the genetic quality of the human population by promoting genetic superiority of white Europeans. The 1927 law reflected this viewpoint in its restriction on the immigration of “undesirables,” including "idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons…paupers; professional beggars…contract laborers” among others. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (also known as the Hart-Celler Act) got rid of the Immigration Law of 1924 and replaced the national origins quota system with the system we have today, which looks at immigrants’ skills and their family relationships with U.S. citizens or residents instead. The Act also allowed people to migrate from Asia to the United States. The immigration lawyers at Maximilian Law are here to assist you with your immigration issues. Call us today for a free consultation.