The United States had an “open-borders” policy for the first century of its existence; it had very clear naturalization laws from the first years of its existence. Anyone who wanted to vote or hold elective office had to be naturalized. That is, anyone could immigrate in, but only those who went through the naturalization process and became a citizen could vote or hold elective office.
This set of policies, in which open immigration was permitted, but naturalization was tightly controlled, persisted until the 1870s and 1880s, when growing support for eugenics eventually drove the U.S. government to adopt immigration laws. These laws intended to end the open immigration policy which the Founding Fathers had permitted, in favor of preventing “racial taint” from immigrants entering from undesirable countries.
How the United States immigration system works. Immigration to the United States is based upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees and promoting diversity. This fact sheet provides basic information about how the U.S. legal immigration system is designed.
The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 was written by the 57th Congress and passed on May 19, 1921. This was a law addressed to American citizens.
The law passed with a 78-1 vote in the Senate. This limited how many immigrants from each country could enter the U.S. every year. The quota system made it so only 2 percent of a county’s population could enter the U.S. as immigrants each year. This mainly was to limit European immigration, and was successful in limiting immigration, except from Mexico and Canada. During the 1920s, approximately 38,000 Asians came into the United States.
When the immigrants got into America, most settled down and tried to find jobs. But employers wouldn’t give “aliens” jobs because they wanted true-born Americans instead of “undesirable” immigrants (of which many employers were not).
The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the number of immigrants allowed entry into the United States through a national origins quota. The quota provided immigration visas to 2 percent of the total number of people of each nationality in the U.S. using the 1890 national Census.
The problem with the system is that it addressed ethnic and racial boundaries. In Part II we will see how that affected us and how it had to change.