Wednesday, May 17, 2006
By Steven L. Taylor

In regards to the Gonzalez post, the question has emerged as to the legal regime vis-a-vis immigrants prior to the 1965 law.

There’s was the The National Origins Act of 1924 that control the number and country of origin of immigrants until the 1965 law was passed:

The National Origins Act of 1924 set a quota of about 150,000 total immigrants a year disporportionately distributed to England and Northern Europe, with few slots allotted to southern and Eastern Europe (and none for Asians). This law was the basis of U.S. immigration policy until 1965.

Also, in 1917 a law requiring literacy was passed by Congress.

Via PBS here is a timeline of 20th Century immigration law pre-1965:

1917 Literacy test introduced. All immigrants 16 years of age or older must demonstrate the ability to read a forty-word passage in their native language. Also, virtually all Asian immigrants are banned from entry into the United States.

1921 Quota Act. An annual immigration ceiling is set at 350,000. Moreover, a new nationality quota is instituted, limiting admissions to 3 percent of each nationality group’s representation in the 1910 U.S. Census. The law is designed primarily to restrict the flow of immigrants coming from eastern and southern Europe.

1924 National Origins Act. The Act reduces the annual immigration ceiling to 165,000. A revised quota reduces admissions to 2 percent of each nationality group’s representation in the 1890 census. The U.S. Border Patrol is created.

1927 Immigration Ceiling Further Reduced. The annual immigration ceiling is further reduced to 150,000; the quota is revised to 2 percent of each nationality’s representation in the 1920 census. This basic law remains in effect through 1965.

1929 National Origins Act. The annual immigration ceiling of 150,000 is made permanent, with 70 percent of admissions slated for those coming from northern and Western Europe, while the other 30 percent are reserved for those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe.

1948 Displaced Persons Act. Entry is allowed for 400,000 persons displaced by World War II. However, such refugees must pass a security check and have proof of employment and housing that does not threaten U.S. citizens’ jobs and homes.

1952 McCarran-Walter Act. The Act consolidates earlier immigration laws and removes race as a basis for exclusion. In addition, the Act introduces an ideological criterion for admission: immigrants and visitors to the United States can now be denied entry on the basis of their political ideology (e.g., if they are Communists or former Nazis).

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5 Responses to “Immigration Law Pre-1965”

  1. Rick Says:

    That’s true, but the National Origins Act was oriented specifically towards keeping out Asians (even more specifically Chinese). Please note the qualifier: “[T]he Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965
    ‘plac[ed] a ceiling on Western Hemisphere immigration (120,000) for the first time.’”

    So yes, immigration was restricted by nationality. But in the current immigration debate, we’re not really talking generically about immigration from wherever. We’re talking about Mexicans (and other Latin Americans to a certain extent). Gonzales’s grandparents were Mexican immigrants and, prior to 1965, there were no legal restrictions on immigration from Mexico.

    This also puts the lie to the whole national security argument. Of course this is just about Mexican immigration and has nothing to do with terrorists sneaking across the border. If not, why are we also not discussing controlling our northern border, which is just as, if not more, permeable than the southern border?

  2. LaurenceB Says:

    Thanks for confirming what I thought was the case. I appreciate the research.

  3. Says:

    The 1965 Immigration Act

    Steven Taylor reviews the US immigration laws that lead up to the critical Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965. Personally, I’ve always thought the 1965 Act was one of the most beneficial pieces of legislation in our nation’s history. Why?

  4. Minor Thoughts Says:

    Improbably Legal Immigration

    Jenna has already responded to my earlier post about immigration. In her response, she makes two arguments for why we should have border laws and immigration laws. The first is that American citizenship is valuable — too valuable to simply be han…

  5. Shawn Says:

    One thought on pre 1965 immigration regulations. The regulations in 1924 and 1907 specifically allowed “Non-Quota Immigrants” from the following area to immigrate at will

    Section 4(c)
    An immigrant who was born in the Dominion of Canada, Newfoundland, the Republic of Mexico, the Republic of Cuba, the Republic of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, the Canal Zone, or an independent country of Central or South America, and his wife, and his unmarried children under 18 years of age, if accompanying or following to join him;

    In other words there was no limit on the # of immigrants from the Americas. The immigrants had to follow the other rules outlined in the 1907 and 1924 regulation with respect to health and mental status.

    The 1965 reg actually stripped this language.

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