Summary of 1920s Quota Laws

“Emergency” Quota Law of May 19, 1921 (42 Statutes-at-Large 5)

The first quantitative immigration law. Provisions:

Limited the number of aliens of any nationality entering the United States to three percent of the foreign-born persons of that nationality who lived in the United States in 1910. Approximately 350,000 such aliens were permitted to enter each year as quota immigrants, mostly from Northern and Western Europe.

Exempted from this limitation aliens who had resided continuously for at least one year immediately preceding their application in one of the independent countries of the Western Hemisphere; nonimmigrant aliens such as government officials and their households, aliens in transit through the United States, and temporary visitors for business and pleasure; and aliens whose immigration is regulated by immigration treaty.

Actors, artists, lecturers, singers, nurses, ministers, professors, aliens belonging to any recognized learned profession, and aliens employed as domestic servants were placed on a nonquota basis.

Reed-Johnson Immigration Act of May 26, 1924 (43 Statutes-at-Large 153)

The first permanent limitation on immigration, established the ““national origins quota system.”” In conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1917, governed American immigration policy until 1952 (see the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952).

Contained two quota provisions:

In effect until June 30, 1927——set the annual quota of any quota nationality at two percent of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the continental United States in 1890 (total quota - 164,667).

From July 1, 1927 (later postponed to July 1, 1929) to December 31, 1952——used the national origins quota system: the annual quota for any country or nationality had the same relation to 150,000 as the number of inhabitants in the continental United States in 1920 having that national origin had to the total number of inhabitants in the continental United States in 1920.

Preference quota status was established for: unmarried children under 21; parents; spouses of U.S. citizens aged 21 and over; and for quota immigrants aged 21 and over who are skilled in agriculture, together with their wives and dependent children under age 16.

Nonquota status was accorded to: wives and unmarried children under 18 of U.S. citizens; natives of Western Hemisphere countries, with their families; nonimmigrants; and certain others. Subsequent amendments eliminated certain elements of this law’’s inherent discrimination against women but comprehensive elimination was not achieved until 1952 (see the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952).

Established the ““consular control system”” of immigration by mandating that no alien may be permitted entrance to the United States without an unexpired immigration visa issued by an American consular officer abroad. Thus, the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service shared control of immigration.

Introduced the provision that, as a rule, no alien ineligible to become a citizen shall be admitted to the United States as an immigrant. This was aimed primarily at Japanese aliens.

Imposed fines on transportation companies who landed aliens in violation of U.S. Immigration laws.

Defined the term ““immigrant”” and designated all other alien entries into the United States as ““nonimmigrant”” (temporary visitor). Established classes of admission for nonimmigrant entries.

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