Summary of Immigration Laws, 1875-1918

Page Act of March 3, 1875 (18 Statutes-at-Large 477)

Established the policy of direct federal regulation of immigration by prohibiting for the first time entry to undesirable immigrants.


  1. Excluded criminals and prostitutes from admission.
  2. Prohibited the bringing of any Oriental persons without their free and voluntary consent; declared the contracting to supply “coolie” labor a felony.
  3. Entrusted the inspection of immigrants to collectors of the ports.

Chinese Exclusion Act of May 6, 1882 (22 Statutes-at-Large 58)


  1. Suspended immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States for ten years.
  2. Permitted Chinese laborers already in the United States to remain in the country after a temporary absence.
  3. Provided for deportation of Chinese illegally in the United States.
  4. Barred Chinese from naturalization.
  5. Permitted the entry of Chinese students, teachers, merchants, or those “proceeding to the United States ... from curiosity.”

Renewed in 1892. April 1902 Act (32 Statutes-at-Large 176) renewed it again and extended its application to insular territories of the United States, including the requirement of a certificate of residence, except in Hawaii. April 1904 Act (33 Statutes-at-Large 428) reaffirmed and made permanent the Chinese exclusion laws. In addition, it clarified the territories from which Chinese were to be excluded.

N.B.: On December 17, 1943, the Chinese exclusion laws were repealed.

Immigration Act of August 3, 1882 (22 Statutes-at-Large 214)

First general immigration law, established a system of central control of immigration through State Boards under the Secretary of the Treasury. Provisions:

  1. Broadened restrictions on immigration by adding to the classes of inadmissible aliens, including persons likely to become a public charge.
  2. Introduced a tax of 50 cents on each passenger brought to the United States.

Foran Alien Contract Labor Act of February 26, 1885 (23 Statutes-at-Large 332)

The first “Contract Labor Law,” made it unlawful to import aliens into the United States under contract for the performance of labor or services of any kind. Exceptions were for aliens temporarily in the United States engaging other foreigners as secretaries, servants, or domestics; actors, artists, lecturers, and domestic servants; and skilled aliens working in an industry not yet established in the United States. Amended in February 1887 (24 Statutes-at-Large 414) to render it enforceable by charging the Secretary of the Treasury with enforcement of the act and providing that prohibited persons be sent back on arrival.

Payson Act of March 3, 1887 (24 Statutes-at-Large 476)

Restricted the ownership of real estate in the United States to American citizens and those who have lawfully declared their intentions to become citizens, with certain specific exceptions.

Act of October 19, 1888 (25 Statutes-at-Large 566)

First measure since the Aliens Act of 1798 to provide for expulsion of aliens—directed the return within one year after entry of any immigrant who had landed in violation of the contract labor laws (see acts of February 26, 1885 and February 23, 1887).

Immigration Act of March 3, 1891 (26 Statutes-at-Large 1084)

The first comprehensive law for national control of immigration. Provisions:

  1. Established the Bureau of Immigration under the Treasury Department to administer all immigration laws (except the Chinese Exclusion Act).
  2. Further restricted immigration by adding to the inadmissible classes persons likely to become public charges, persons suffering from certain contagious disease, felons, persons convicted of other crimes or misdemeanors, polygamists, aliens assisted by others by payment of passage, and forbade the encouragement of immigration by means of advertisement.
  3. Allowed the Secretary of the Treasury to prescribe rules for inspection along the borders of Canada, British Columbia, and Mexico so as not to obstruct or unnecessarily delay, impede, or annoy passengers in ordinary travel between these countries and the United States.
  4. Directed the deportation of any alien who entered the United States unlawfully.

Act of March 3, 1893 (27 Statutes-at-Large 570)


  1. Added to the reporting requirements regarding alien arrivals to the United States such new information as occupation, marital status, ability to read or write, amount of money in possession, and facts regarding physical and mental health. This information was needed to determine admissibility according to the expanding list of grounds for exclusion.
  2. Established boards of special inquiry to decide the admissibility of alien arrivals.

Immigration Act of March 3, 1903 (32 Statutes-at-Large 1213)

An extensive codification of existing immigration law. Provisions:

  1. Added to the list of inadmissible immigrants.
  2. First measure to provide for the exclusion of aliens on the grounds of proscribed opinions by excluding “anarchists, or persons who believe in, or advocate, the overthrow by force or violence the government of the United States, or of all government, or of all forms of law, or the assassination of public officials.”
  3. Extended to three years after entry the period during which an alien who was inadmissible at the time of entry could be deported.
  4. Provided for the deportation of aliens who became public charges within two years after entry from causes existing prior to their landing.
  5. Reaffirmed the contract labor law (see the 1885 act).

Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906 (34 Statutes-at-Large 596)


  1. Combined the immigration and naturalization functions of the federal government, changing the Bureau of Immigration to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
  2. Established fundamental procedural safeguards regarding naturalization, such as fixed fees and uniform naturalization forms.
  3. Made knowledge of the English language a requirement for naturalization.

Immigration Act of February 20, 1907 (34 Statutes-at-Large 898)

A major codifying act that incorporated and consolidated earlier legislation:

  1. Required aliens to declare intention of permanent or temporary stay in the United States and officially classified arriving aliens as immigrants and nonimmigrants, respectively.
  2. Increased the head tax to $4.00 (established by the Act of August 3, 1882 and raised subsequently).
  3. Added to the excludable classes imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, persons with physical or mental defects which may affect their ability to earn a living, persons afflicted with tuberculosis, children unaccompanied by their parents, persons who admitted the commission of a crime involving moral turpitude, and women coming to the United States for immoral purposes.
  4. Exempted from the provisions of the contract labor law professional actors, artists, singers, ministers, professors, and domestic servants.
  5. Extended from two to three years after entry authority to deport an alien who had become a public charge from causes which existed before the alien’s entry.
  6. Authorized the President to refuse admission to certain persons when he was satisfied that their immigration was detrimental to labor conditions in the United States. This was aimed mainly at Japanese laborers.
  7. Created a Joint Commission on Immigration to make an investigation of the immigration system in the United States. The findings of this Commission were the basis for the comprehensive Immigration Act of 1917.
  8. Reaffirmed the requirement for manifesting of aliens arriving by water and added a like requirement with regard to departing aliens.

Mann White Slave Traffic Act of June 25, 1910 (36 Statutes-at-Large 825)

Prohibited the importation or interstate transportation of women for immoral purposes.

Act of March 4, 1913 (37 Statutes-at-Large 737)

Divided the Department of Commerce and Labor into separate departments and transferred the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to the Department of Labor. It further divided the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization into a separate Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Naturalization, each headed by its own Commissioner.

Immigration Act of February 5, 1917 (39 Statutes-at-Large 874)

Codified all previously enacted exclusion provisions. In addition:

  1. Excluded illiterate aliens from entry.
  2. Expanded the list of aliens excluded for mental health and other reasons.
  3. Further restricted the immigration of Asian persons, creating the “barred zone” (known as the Asia-Pacific triangle), natives of which were declared inadmissible.
  4. Considerably broadened the classes of aliens deportable from the United States and introduced the requirement of deportation without statute of limitation in certain more serious cases.

Act of May 22, 1918 (40 Statutes-at-Large 559)

“Entry and Departure Controls Act,” authorized the President to control the departure and entry in times of war or national emergency of any alien whose presence was deemed contrary to public safety.