Have you ever asked yourself how and when the immigration laws of the United States came into force? Perhaps yes or not, perhaps you are conversant with the laws or not, but this is the perfect chance for you to understand the origin of the immigration laws. The efforts to reduce immigration into the United States started in 1909 when the number of Western and Southern Europeans increased in the country. Consequently, Senator Henry Cabot proposed a limitation to the number of Europeans and other immigrants that could enter the United States at a time. Therefore, the debate concerning the immigration act began early in 1909.
According to Jones (2010), following the influx of foreign immigrants into the United States in 1924, the federal government and the Senate considered establishing a quota on the number of immigrants from a particular country. The limit to the number of immigrants that could enter the United States was crucial and targeted various countries and individuals. Thus, it is important to specify the countries that the immigration act targeted. For instance, in 1909, the increase of Eastern and Western Europeans prompted the Senate, through Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, to propose a limitation to the number of the Europeans that could enter the United States of America.
In 1924, the government introduced the immigration act that was more specific about the number of immigrants that the US immigrations department could allow into the country. The then US President Calvin Coolidge signed the act into law in May 1924. Notably, media reports indicate that the presence of Japanese and Chinese aliens in the United States prompted the act of 1924. The architects of the immigration bill of 1924 were Senator David Reed and Congressman Albert Johnson as Jones (2010) observes. In motion and debates that elicited considerable discussion and opposing opinions, the bill passed through numerous legislative stages. One of the key opponents of the immigration act of 1924 was Brooklyn representative, Emmanuel Celler, who claimed that the law was meant to exclude Africans.
However, the proponents of the act argued that there was a need to establish a distinct American identity that would include only the Native Americans while excluding the immigrants. According to Jones (2010), the proponents sought to maintain what they called, “the racial preponderance of the basic strain of American people.” It was important to have a stable ethnic composition of the population of the United States and therefore, the proponents of the immigration act of 1924 argued that the only way to have that stable ethnic composition was to restrict the number of immigrants in the country. Senator David Reed is quoted to have stated, “the earlier legislation disregards the people who were born here.” Interestingly, Reed believed that the Southern and Eastern Europeans, as well as the Jews, arrived in America while they were starving and therefore, they could not contribute to the economic development of the country.
It is believed that the proponents of the immigration act drew aspiration from the book The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant. The author of the book argued that there was a superior American society that could dominate the other races (Grant, 2009). He was a proponent of the racial hygiene theory that purported to show the superiority of the Nordic races.
Evidently, the law had specific provisions that were helpful in understanding what the law entailed. First, the general provision was that the immigrants entering the United States from a certain country should not exceed two percent of the immigrants who were already living in the United States (Jones, 2010). The two percent threshold was the quota that aimed at reducing the number of immigrants that entered the United States after 1924. Being a modification of the immigration act of 1917, the 1924 act included other provisions of the 1921 act by establishing a basic permanent limitation to the number of immigrants who could enter the United States at a time per year.
According to Imai (2012), the act preferred certain categories of people who could become immigrants to the United States. The groups included the unmarried children under the age of 21 years, the spouses and parents of children under 21 years. These groups could immigrate to the United States without the limitation of the immigration act of 1924. Furthermore, the immigration act provided for the establishment of the consular control system. Reports from the department of internal affairs indicated that two entities could handle the issues relating to immigration. The two departments included the state department and the department of immigration and neutralization service.
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It is noteworthy that the immigration act had various implications in the American society. For instance, limiting the number of immigrants that entered the United States helped the country save large sums of money that could have been used to fund the welfare of the immigrants. Therefore, the proponents of the act achieved their goal by cutting the American budget that could go to the immigration department. Reports indicate that the economy of the United States started to grow due to cost cutting initiatives that accompanied the immigration act of 1924. Regarding the social implications of the act, the intermarriages between the Native Americans and aliens reduced greatly as few immigrants could find their way into the United States. According to Imai (2012), the political implications of the act came through the opposition of the act in which politicians argued against the establishment of the quota limitation to the number of immigrants who could enter the United States.
For example, Emmanuel Celler agitated against the immigration act, terming it as a discriminatory initiative. However, some immigrants such as Samuel Gompers, a Jewish immigrant, claimed that the law prohibited immigration of cheap labor that the American society associated with immigration as Jones (2010) notes. Other proponents of the Immigration Act favored the act because it could reduce the Jewish immigration into the United States. The opposition of the act would later in 1952 see the amendment to the immigration act under the name Immigration and National Act of 1952 that completely revised the immigration act of 1924.