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Government Restrictions on Immigration During the “New Immigration” Age
From the late 1880s and into the mid 1920s, Nativism and the fear of communism in
America were driving forces behind several acts of legislation that changed the nation’s
immigration laws. Listed below are five laws that clearly show national sentiment
towards immigrants during this era.
Chinese Exclusion Act (1882)
Background: West Coast Chinese were seen as cheap labor, strikebreakers (scabs)
possessing “strange” customs and unlikely to assimilate into American society. Many
local and state governments passed laws discriminating against them, including
segregated schooling. Boycotts of Chinese businesses took place and were often
accompanied with violence.
Provisions: Prohibited Chinese immigration for 10 years
Effect: Drop in immigration caused the violence to subside
Gentlemen’s Agreement (1907)
Background: Nativist fears over job losses resulted in violence in the streets of San
Francisco. President Theodore Roosevelt negotiated the Gentlemen’s Agreement with
Provisions: Japan denied passports to Japanese workers intending to go to America. San
Francisco promised to desegregate its schools
Effect: Anti-Japanese agitation continued, but Japanese immigration ceased
Literacy Test Act (1917)
Background: World War I fueled fear of foreigners and called for stricter immigration
laws. Previous literacy test bills had been successfully vetoed. This one was not.
Provisions: Immigrants had to pass a literacy test in English or their own language
before they could receive a visa to come to America
It kept very few immigrants out of the country
Emergency Quota Act (1921)
Background: As war refugees streamed into the country, Americans upset by the
Bolshevik revolution in Russia and the spread of communism in Europe feverishly
suspected communist infiltration of the United States. There was a belief that
revolutionaries were active within the immigrant communities. After a series of
bombings in 1919, U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell palmer began nationwide raids to
round-up suspected communists – The Palmer Raids. Denials of civil liberties occurred.
Provisions: Quotas were set for each country at 3% of the number of each nationality
already living in the United States in 1910. A general limit was set at 350,000 immigrants
per year
Effect: Decreased number of immigrants entering the U.S.A.
Emergency Quota Act (1924)
Background: Some people in America believed that the 1921 Act’s immigrant numbers
were too high
Provisions: New Quotas were set – 2% of the number of each nationality already living
in America in 1890. It also prohibited Asian immigration
Effect: Lowered immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe