Emigration restrictions in history

Emigration restrictions in history


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In the 20th century many states restricted the capacity of their populations to emigrate. Most famously, Churchill described the variety of emigration, financial and political restrictions in Central Europe-imposed by the Soviet Union-as an "iron curtain" due to their cohesive and impervious nature. As a result, pervasive emigration restrictions are interesting-what's their history?

Have there been other examples in history (say, up to the 19th century) where countries did not allow their citizens to emigrate or travel abroad, save by very special permit?

The only example that comes to my mind is Frederick II prohibiting study in foreign universities, but I am thinking more of blanket prohibitions.

EDIT: The answers so far are very interesting but I am mainly interested here in external passports.


Norway had emigration restrictions in the nineteenth century; they were lifted in 1860. From http://digitalarkivet.uib.no/utstilling/norge.htm (a page hosted by the Norwegian National Archives; the translation from Norwegian is mine:)

In some cases one wanted to keep persons from leaving the country, and the police had registries of these. The picture shows a page from one such protocol of those who were not allowed to leave the country. The reasons for one being listed here could be that one was waiting to serve a prison term, that one was owing money, or that the government feared that one would leave one's family forcing the goverment to take responsibility for it. Most of those denied emigration were young men.

In 1860 the passport obligation for domestic travel, and for entering Norway, was lifted. Neither was a passport needed to leave the country. (link to some more info about this law.)

Until 1860 everyone travelling from one parish to another had to carry a travel certificate signed by the parish priest or local sheriff. Those leaving the country needed a passport that was obtained from the police, which also entered them into a protocol.

Summary: There was no "very special" permit, but one did need to obtain permission to leave Norway before 1860, and it could be denied even if you were not a criminal (ie for fear of you abandoning your family).


Sakoku was a set of Japanese policies that included the restriction that no Japanese could travel outside the country; these policies were effectively terminated in 1853.

Wikipedia has a number of examples of emigration restrictions including A 17th century Chinese restriction on emigration.

Some countries restrict the ability of women to travel abroad without a guardian, and I believe those restrictions extend into the period you describe. That may be within your scope, but it is unlikely to be easy to study.


First thing coming to mind: peasant's situation in Poland-Lithuania and Russian Tsardom. They could not leave their land without master's permission.


And even for no serfs in pre-1917 russia there was a tough [internal passport system] with few freedoms to travel or reside internally.

The Confederate States of America also had internal passports: example

Back to your question, you will be interested in this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_movement#Europe


I seem to recall emigration restrictions on Frenchmen being one of the reasons for the small population of French colonies in North America compared with the English colonies, but I'm afraid I can't place the origin of that.

Equally in the early days of a united Spain, Aragonese were forbidden to trade or settle in the American colonies, as these were Castilian claims whereas Aragon's sphere was seen as the Mediterranean.

You'll notice the common factor between these, however: they involve a state restricting emigration from the home country to places it controlled. Few pre-modern states would have had sufficient control over their borders to prevent individuals leaving their territory at all. Edited to add: And of course exile, whether self-imposed or otherwise, has often been a pressure-release valve, which it would rarely be in the interests of the state to stop up.


The Swedes

Of all the immigrants from Scandinavia, those from Sweden were the first to come to the U.S., and they came in the greatest numbers. In the early 17th century, the nation of Sweden had become a substantial power in Europe, and it joined with other powerful nations in launching colonial enterprises in the New World. In 1637, a group of Swedish speculators, together with German and Dutch investors, formed the New Sweden Company in order to send a trade expedition to North America. The next year, the Company's two ships, the Fågel Grip and the Kalmar Nickel, sailed into Delaware Bay, where the settlers founded the town of Fort Christina, now the city of Wilmington, Delaware.

Over the next two decades, the farms and villages of New Sweden spread out along both banks of the Delaware River, well into present-day New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, as more immigrants, mostly Swedes, arrived from Scandinavia. By 1657, though, the small colony was swallowed up by the larger New Netherlands, which was in turn subsumed by the massive English settlement founded by William Penn. The Swedish presence in the mid-Atlantic states continued for more than a century, though, and still survives in family names, churches, and in the distinctively Swedish notched-corner log cabins that became a staple of the European settlement throughout North America.

When Swedes returned to the United States in the 19th century, they came as part of a mass migration, not a colonial adventure. In the 1830s and 40s, small groups of farmers had begun to make the long voyage to the U.S. in search of more land or religious freedom. By the middle of the century, however, Sweden was in the throes of a national population crisis—the small country's population had doubled from 1750 to 1850, and was still growing. Tillable land became more and more scarce, and famine swept the nation, killing 22 out of every 1,000 Swedes. Emigration regulations were eased, and the 1860s saw a massive movement of Swedes fleeing their homeland between 1861 and 1881, 150,000 traveled to the United States, 100,000 of whom came in just five years, between 1868 and 1873.

The majority of these immigrants, after arriving in East Coast port cities, quickly made their way to the new states and territories of the Midwest, drawn by the promise of open land and by the "America letters" of their compatriots. In addition, many immigrants were aggressively recruited by representatives of U.S. steamship lines and railroad companies, as well as by local governments seeking new settlers for remote parts of the country. Recruiters and correspondents alike extolled the bounties of the American landscape, and sometimes provided exaggerated accounts of the comfort and profitability of settler life. In 1850, the Swedish novelist and feminist Fredrika Bremer visited a group of Swedish farmers in Pine Lake, Wisconsin, and found their daily existence to be more difficult than some descriptions had promised.

It is lake scenery, and as lovely and romantic as any may be imagined--regular Swedish lake scenery and one can understand how those first Swedish emigrants were enchanted, so that, without first examining the quality of the soil, they determined to found here a New Sweden and to build a New Uppsala! I spent the forenoon in visiting the various Swedish families. Nearly all live in log houses, and seem to be in somewhat low circumstances.

One farmer told her, "None who are not accustomed to hard, agricultural labor ought to become farmers in this country. No one who is in any other way well off in his native land ought to come hither. ."


US Has Long History of Restricting Immigrants

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump’s executive orders last week limiting immigration to the U.S. may be the first such directives in recent years, but they are hardly the first time the U.S. government has sought to restrict immigration.

The U.S. Constitution, which went into effect in 1789, gave Congress “absolute authority” over immigration law, says Linda Monk, who wrote a book about the Constitution called “The Words We Live By.” The president executes those laws through regulations.

For about the first 100 years of American history, Congress did not place any federal limits on immigration.

During those years, Irish and German immigrants came to the U.S. in large numbers. Many Chinese immigrants did, too. In the 1860s, they came to work as laborers on the continental railroad and stayed.

Members of the American public disapproved of these groups. They did not like the Catholic religion that many Irish and German immigrants practiced. And they did not like Asian immigrants, whom they viewed as convicts, prostitutes, or competition for jobs.

So, in the late 1800s, Congress moved for the first time to limit the number of immigrants. Lawmakers targeted Asians, especially Chinese. The Page Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act banned most Chinese women and workers.

Restrictions on other nationalities

By the turn of the 20 th century, the U.S. federal government had increased its role in immigration. It established Ellis Island in New York as the entry point for immigrants. And it oversaw a dramatic increase in the number of immigrants, especially from Italy and Eastern Europe. Many of the new arrivals were uneducated and had little money.

Once again, some people opposed the number and kind of immigrants entering the country. A group called the Immigration Restriction League was formed. They petitioned Congress to require immigrants to show that they could at least read.

Both Presidents Grover Cleveland and President Woodrow Wilson opposed the requirement. But in 1917, Congress approved the measure over Wilson’s objections. People who wished to settle in the U.S. now had to pass a literacy test.

In the 1920s, restrictions on immigration increased. The Immigration Act of 1924 was the most severe: it limited the overall number of immigrants and established quotas based on nationality. Among other things, the act sharply reduced immigrants from Eastern Europe and Africa. And it completely restricted immigrants from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines.

At the same time, the historian’s page at the State Department notes that the act made more visas available to people from Britain and Western Europe.

“In all of its parts, the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity,” the State Department history page concludes.

Major change

During the 1940s and 50s, the U.S. made some policy changes that increased – however slightly – the number and nationalities of immigrants.

Then, in 1965, a major change happened. Under pressure in part from the civil rights movement, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. President Lyndon Johnson signed it.

The act eliminated the quota system based on nationality. Instead, it prioritized immigrants who already had family members in the U.S. It also sought to offer protection to refugees from areas with violence and conflict.

Even though the act kept some limits in place, the origins of immigrants changed dramatically. Instead of being from Western Europe, most immigrants to the U.S. by the end of the 20 th century were originally from Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, the Dominican Republic, India, Cuba and Vietnam.

So, what about Trump’s order?

Kunal Parker, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law, says the 1965 law ended “overt discrimination” in U.S. immigration policy. Parker is also the author of a book called “Making Foreigners: Immigration and Citizenship Law in America.”

Parker says that people who are protesting Trump’s executive order probably “perceive what is happening as contrary to U.S. tradition since 1965.”

The order bans refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. The countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

Protesters argue that Trump’s order discriminates against Muslims and defies the American tradition of welcoming immigrants.

But Parker cautions against seeing Trump’s action as illegal. He points out that the Supreme Court has historically permitted the president and Congress a good deal of authority to regulate immigration.

And, he notes, President Obama also signed an executive order related to immigration. That order aimed to protect the families of undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born children.

However, Parker says, “Something that is legal might be very problematic.”

Both Parker and legal scholar Linda Monk also note the Constitution requires both Congress and the president follow certain procedures when regulating immigration. Those procedures protect against discrimination.

“The highest law says that these actions have to be carried out fairly,” says Monk.


Immediate Impact

In reality (and with the benefit of hindsight), the bill signed in 1965 marked a dramatic break with past immigration policy, and would have an immediate and lasting impact. In place of the national-origins quota system, the act provided for preferences to be made according to categories, such as relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, those with skills deemed useful to the United States or refugees of violence or unrest. Though it abolished quotas per se, the system did place caps on per-country and total immigration, as well as caps on each category. As in the past, family reunification was a major goal, and the new immigration policy would increasingly allow entire families to uproot themselves from other countries and reestablish their lives in the U.S.

In the first five years after the bill’s passage, immigration to the U.S. from Asian countries𠄾specially those fleeing war-torn Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia)–would more than quadruple. (Under past immigration policies, Asian immigrants had been effectively barred from entry.) Other Cold War-era conflicts during the 1960s and 1970s saw millions of people fleeing poverty or the hardships of communist regimes in Cuba, Eastern Europe and elsewhere to seek their fortune on American shores. All told, in the three decades following passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, more than 18 million legal immigrants entered the United States, more than three times the number admitted over the preceding 30 years.

By the end of the 20th century, the policies put into effect by the Immigration Act of 1965 had greatly changed the face of the American population. Whereas in the 1950s, more than half of all immigrants were Europeans and just 6 percent were Asians, by the 1990s only 16 percent were Europeans and 31 percent were of Asian descent, while the percentages of Latino and African immigrants had also jumped significantly. Between 1965 and 2000, the highest number of immigrants (4.3 million) to the U.S. came from Mexico, in addition to some 1.4 million from the Philippines. Korea, the Dominican Republic, India, Cuba and Vietnam were also leading sources of immigrants, each sending between 700,000 and 800,000 over this period.


Words in This Story

executive - adj. an order by the president

origin - n. the point or place where something begins or is created

petition - v. a written document that people sign to show that they want a person or organization to do or change something

quota - n. an official limit on the number or amount of people or things that are allowed

slightly - adv. n a very small amount or degree


Since 1965

Moreover, international conflicts and changing foreign policies also continued to influence the flow of people from abroad. America’s failure to contain communist expansion in Southeast Asia created a tide of political refugees that the United States felt obligated to protect, many of whom had been U.S. allies in the defense of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Moreover, the thaw in U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China during the 1970s encouraged more open and welcoming policies.

In 1965 Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart–Celler Act, making it simpler for immigrants to come to America. It unleashed a host of unintended consequences—chief among them, it opened the doors to large migrations from Asian nations. As such, it serves as a watershed moment in this story.

In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy proposed legislation to phase out the national origins quota system, eliminate the Asia-Pacific Triangle, and institute new entry criteria based on an immigrant’s career path and family status. He sent these recommendations to Congress along with requests for the creation of a new advisory immigration board and emergency refugee authority. 83 In the aftermath of JFK’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) renewed the campaign for immigration reform. 84

Policy experts did not forecast a huge rise in immigration if national origins quotas were eliminated : 94,000 Asian immigrants could be expected during the first five years (19,000 per year). At that rate, Asian emigration would trend slightly higher than emigration from Europe. The Attorney General expected another 5,000 total would come after removing the Asia-Pacific Triangle. 86

The bill stalled in the House that year, but LBJ’s sweeping victory in the 1964 presidential elections created large Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill and set the stage for another attempt at immigration reform in the 89th Congress (1965–1967). The President urged Congress to scrap the national origins quota system and called it “incompatible with our basic American tradition.” Instead, reform proponents sought to replace it with a system that attracted skilled immigrants and those with family already in the States. The same day Johnson submitted his message, companion immigration bills were introduced in the House by Judiciary Chairman Celler and in the Senate by Philip Hart of Michigan. 87

The bill’s path through the Senate followed a similar course. Despite some lobbying resistance from the JACL, which argued that the decision to prioritize family relations would limit Asian immigration, the Senate passed it in September 1964. 90 Once again the general debate paid little attention to possible consequences other than generalized fears that America was “throwing the doors open and equally inviting people from the Orient, from the islands of the Pacific, from the subcontinent of Asia, from the Near East, from all of Africa, all of Europe, and all of the Western Hemisphere on exactly the same basis,” according to Democrat Spessard Holland of Florida. 91

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the national origins quota system, set a ceiling of 290,000 annual visas (120,000 from the Western Hemisphere 170,000 from the Eastern Hemisphere), and limited yearly emigration from any one country to 20,000. Crucially, it lifted the cap on entries for family reunification. In celebration, Johnson held the signing ceremony outdoors on October 3, 1965, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. 92

The Hart–Celler immigration bill quickly became a classic case of unanticipated consequences. Much of the debate had been over allowing more southern and eastern Europeans into the country and over the first entrance caps placed on emigration from the Western Hemisphere. Not even the JACL predicted the large impact the law’s changes would have in encouraging Asian immigration.

Total immigration grew to more than 450,000 annual entries, with only one in five coming from Europe. Much of the increase in Asian migration to the United States came through the family reunification clause, leading some Chinese Americans to call Hart–Celler the “Brothers and Sisters Act.” Ultimately, immigration officials simply miscalculated how few people it took to create an extensive network of relatives. 93 The bill’s provision opening visas for skilled and professional workers also drove a substantial part of the new immigration. 94 Although the new law affected each community in America differently, the rising immigration rates from China, India, Japan, and the Philippines, in particular, helped reshape America’s social landscape.


Thank you!

Influenced by concerns about the racial &ldquofitness&rdquo of Southern and Eastern Europeans, this legislation was also inspired by fears that so-called aliens would import poverty and disease, as well as hostile foreign ideas like anarchism, Bolshevism and Catholicism. Migrants, consulates and border agents were immediately plunged into uncertainty as soon as Harding signed quota restrictions into law. Having complied with existing regulations, thousands found themselves thrust outside the legal and administrative boundaries of the American immigration system. Hundreds abruptly fell out of legal status as they crossed the Atlantic on steamers bound for New York and Boston. Others reached Ellis Island before being told they were no longer legally entitled to admission.

In addition to distressing individual migrants, the introduction of quotas in 1921 affected American foreign relations in numerous unforeseen ways. The State Department received complaints from European governments about the discriminatory treatment of their nationals, and steamship companies from across Europe scrambled to find out whether they were liable for return trips and resettlement. American consulates expanded their reach at Mexican ports of entry in order to prevent fraud, and nativists in countries as far away as Australia began calling for increased restrictions of their own, to prevent Southern and Eastern Europeans from redirecting to those ports.

These scenes were repeated when President Calvin Coolidge signed the National Origins Act on May 24, 1924, which imposed permanent and even more severe quotas on people often referred to as &ldquoundesirables.&rdquo These tighter controls marooned thousands more at ports throughout Europe and Latin America, including some 10,000 Jewish refugees who languished in unfamiliar and often unfriendly countries for months despite being in possession of legally issued visas for entry to the United States. A new provision also stealthily banned immigration from Japan, adding that nation to the list of places in Asia from which immigration was already prohibited.

Having dramatically inflicted injury on individuals, the 1924 quota law then had calamitous consequences for American foreign relations more broadly.

For example, the Japanese government immediately protested the humiliating American proscription on immigration. Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes, the American ambassador in Tokyo (Cyrus Woods), the Japanese ambassador in Washington (Masanao Hanihara), and even President Coolidge opposed the enactment of Japanese exclusion, but public and congressional nativism triumphed over warnings about the possible diplomatic repercussions. When the Japanese exclusion clause went into effect it was followed by ambassadorial resignations, protests on the streets of Tokyo, boycotts of American goods and even suicides in Japan. This indignity is seen as a turning point in the growing estrangement of the U.S. and Japan, which culminated in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

In defending the Executive Order, Trump administration officials may turn to claims of sovereignty, as senior policy adviser Stephen Miller did during an interview on Fox & Friends on Monday, insisting that the United States has an &ldquoabsolute sovereign right&rdquo to control immigration. Yet, even if the U.S. does have such a right, such appeals will not change the fact that exercising that right without caution can materially damage American interests and relationships abroad, just as it did during the United States&rsquo prior dalliances with restriction. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have warned of the threat the Executive Order poses to ongoing counterterrorism efforts, and an extraordinary number of active State Department personnel have now joined them in making known their view that the policy will hurt American interests abroad.

As President Theodore Roosevelt observed in 1908 following an earlier bruising dispute over immigration from Japan, the United States is a nation of immigrants, and as such American immigration policies affect international relations more than they might for other countries.

&ldquoIt is our undoubted right to say what people, what persons, shall come to this country to live, to work, to become citizens,&rdquo he wrote. &ldquoIt is equally undoubtedly our duty that that right shall be exercised in a way that will be provocative of the least, and not of the most, friction with outsiders.&rdquo

Historians explain how the past informs the present

David C. Atkinson is assistant professor of history at Purdue University. He is the author of The Burden of White Supremacy: Containing Asian Migration in the British Empire and the United States, which explores the diplomatic tensions caused by immigration restriction in the early 20th century.


A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

The history of emigration to the United States since 1778 has had multiple stages and was the result of multiple factors, both within the United States, and the immigrants' country of origin. There are multiple factors that cause emigration, including war or other social upheaval, lack of employment, economic instability, and natural disasters. There are multiple distinct eras of immigration in the United States: the revolutionary era until the end of the Civil War the industrial era, the era of the World Wars, post-World War II, and post-9/11. The United States policy on immigration has varied widely throughout its history, which has created continual change in immigration law. Federal government policy has alternately been guided by public sentiment, but has also driven public perception of immigrants and immigration in the United States. 1

Revolutionary Era to the Civil War

Until the break from England, he Crown did attempt to regulate and limit immigration into the Colonies. This regulation became a source of political and social tension within the Colonies. Upon establishing its independence from England the United States Congress passed an immigration act in 1790. This Naturalization Act allowed white and free immigrants to gain naturalized citizenship after having lived within the boundaries of the United States for two years. The Naturalization Act of 1795 included the stipulation that all immigrants must reject any allegiance to any foreign head of state or government and banned British citizens who fought against the United States in the Revolutionary war. It also raised the occupancy period to five years.

Immigration and naturalization policy continued to change and evolve in response to various political and social pressures through the end of the 18th century and into the 19th century. By 1803 the geographical reach of the United States had been greatly expanded westward through the Louisiana Purchase, and its southern boundary had been expanded by the seizing of Florida from Spain. By 1845 the United States had grown to include the territory of Texas, as well as the Oregon territory. In response, the immigration policies of the United States were modified in order to promote settlement of these new territories. From 1800 - 1850, emigration from Europe increased greatly. This expansion in immigration was the result of various forms of social and political upheaval in Europe. From 1820 -1860 95% of immigrants in the United States originated from northern Europe. From the 1830s to the 1850s the total number of immigrants to the United States rose from approximately 151,000 to 1.7 million. The majority of these immigrants were Irish, German, and British. Emigration from China to the west coast also increased during this time period. By 1860 Chinese immigrants constituted approximately 9% of California's population. By 1882 Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended all emigration from China. Concurrent to this exclusion, emigration from European countries was actively solicited by the United States via the Homestead Act of 1862. This act granted land tracts to naturalized citizens for a nominal price of $1.25 per acre. In 1864 Congress passed the Act to Encourage Immigration, which established the office of Commissioner of Immigration and outlawed compulsory military service for male immigrants.

The Industrial Era

This era is also known as the "great wave" of immigration. This is due to the enormous growth in immigration, which resulted in approximately 23 million immigrants settling in the United States. The majority of immigrants were from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Scandinavia. However, large numbers of immigrants were non-European. While pale in comparison to immigration from Europe, approximately one million immigrants arrived from Japan, Turkey, and Mexico. In addition, non-Protestant religious groups, including Catholics and Jews immigrated to the United States during this time period. Immigration during the industrial era was not merely a result of favorable policies enacted by the United States government, but also of political unrest, discrimination, and fragile economies in the immigrants' home countries.

This era is also marked by the increase in anti-immigration reactions and xenophobia. Controls on immigration were proposed in Congress and there was a concurrent rise in anti-immigrant actions and demonstrations. The rate of immigration slowed briefly in the 1890s, dropping from approximately 5.2 million immigrants to 3.6 million. However, by 1910 immigration had increased to 9 million. This was followed by a constriction of immigration in the first two decades before the era of the World Wars. The Dillingham Commission released a lengthy study of the immigrant question, which differentiated between "desirable" and "undesirable" immigrants, based upon ethnicity, race, and religion, with northern European Protestants being favored over southern or eastern European Catholics and Jews, with non-European immigrants considered highly undesirable. The Immigration Act of 1917 implemented many of the recommendations of the Dillingham Commission and created the requirement of a literacy test for immigrants.

The World Wars

The first two decades of the 20th century ushered in a dramatic shift of attitude toward immigration, ending the era of mass immigration in the United States. Multiple national and international events coalesced into an increasing sense of nationalism and racial and class demarcations within American society. This nationalism greatly influenced the legislative endeavors of Congress, resulting in two acts that would set the tone for immigration in the United States. This tone has continued to the present.

The early 20th century is marked by the mass geo-political upheaval, exemplified by the Russian Revolution. This unrest influenced the social and political policy towards immigration in the United States. Europe experienced destabilization from multiple arenas, including the demise of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. World War I erupted after many years of unrest in the Balkans. In Italy, the destabilization of the economy resulting from the 1861 unification continued. Italian immigrants totaled 3.2 million from 1901 - 1920. Immigration from the Austro-Hungarian Empire totaled three million from 1901 - 1920 and approximately 2.7 million people immigrated from Russia during the same time period. This number of non-Protestant, non-northern European immigrants, along with the political upheaval capped by the inclusion of the United States into international politics during World War I, created a nationalistic and xenophobic back lash in the United States. This was reflected in two pieces of immigration legislation - the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 introduced a formulation that capped the total number of immigrants admitted into the United States to 3% of the total population of immigrants from the same home country as reported in the 1910 U.S. Census, per year. The cap on nationality did not apply to professionals or immigrants from Latin America. Asian immigration was maintained, as defined under the Immigration Act of 1917, which limited immigration to Japanese or peoples from the Philippine Islands. The Immigration Act of 1924 maintained the formulation, but lowered the percentage to 2% and based the percentage on the total number of home countries on the 1890 U.S. Census. In addition, it prohibited immigration for those who would be ineligible for naturalization, which effectively ended Japanese immigration, as well as instituted the preferences system. The Acts of 1921 and 1924 drastically reduced the number of immigrations from Eastern and Southern Europe, the countries of the former Ottoman Empire, Russia, and obliterated immigration from Asia. From 1925 - 1930 the total number of immigrants decreased to 1.7 million 53% arrived from Europe and 45% arrived from Central and South America. From 1931 - 1945 the total number of immigrants was further reduced to 669,000 57% came from Europe and 38% came from the Americas. As a result of the new restrictions on immigration and naturalization the rate of emigration out of the United States totaled over one million persons.

Immigration policy was further complicated by the end of World War II, which created an unprecedented refugee and displaced persons crisis. It is estimated that 8 million people in Europe were displaced during the war, including people in German concentration camps and prisons and large populations leaving Eastern Europe due to the specter of Russian occupation, as well as those displaced by the war itself. The United States also had to contend with peoples of the former Axis powers who had important scientific, technical, and governmental knowledge. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 attempted to address the various issues created by the end of the war.

For the purposes of the Act, a displaced person was defined by Annex I, Part 1, Section A and B of the Constitution of the International Refugee Organization. The Constitution differentiated between refugees and displaced persons. A refugee was any person who was a victim of Nazi or fascist regimes and the allies or "quislings" of such countries, or similar regimes Spanish republicans and victims of the Falangist regime persons who were considered refugees before the war. A displaced person was defined as any person who was deported from, or who was obliged to leave, his or her country of nationality or permanent residence due to the actions of Germany and the fascist regimes of Italy and Spain. The Displaced Persons Act also covered those who entered Germany, Austria, or Italy by January of 1948, or Czechoslovakians. Approximately 400,000 displaced person visas were issued to the United States preference was given to those who had particularized scientific and technological skills. Members of the former fascist regimes were eligible for visas under the program. President Harry Truman stated in his signing statement that the act continues "a pattern of discrimination and intolerance wholly inconsistent with the American sense of justice. the bill discriminates in callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith" and "excludes many displaced persons of the Catholic faith who deserve admission."

Post-War Immigration

The issue of immigration of displaced persons remained for several years after the end of World War II and it would be compounded by the fall of the Iron Curtain, which enveloped the eastern half of Germany, as well as Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Albania as Soviet satellite states, and the emergence of the Cold War and a strong anti-communist movement in the United States government. In 1952 protections against communist ideology would be memorialized in immigration policy through the McCarran-Walter Act, also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This Act allowed the United States to exclude emigration from "ideologically undesirable countries." (Cieslik, et al) However, the Act also ended the restriction of emigration from Asian and Pacific countries, as well as determinations based on race or sex and it included as natural-born citizens those persons born in the United States' territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands on or after December 24th, 1952. However, a quota system was maintained, but it did not apply to immigrants with special skills or family members of U.S. citizens. General immigration was capped at 270,000 persons per year. The Refugee Relief Act, which passed in 1953 and supplanted the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, negated the quota cap for refugees, escapees, and expellees. Under these early post war acts immigration remained low compared to the great migrations of the latter half of the 19th century, despite the massive upheaval caused by World War II. The total number of admitted legal permanent residents remained relatively low during the first decade after the War with slight increases in 1956 (321,625) and in 1957 (326,867). However, the composition of immigrants remained heavily European during the 1950s and the 1960s.

The quota system created in 1921 terminated with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. In its place a preference system was instituted, which was not defined by race, sex, gender, ancestry, or national origin. The preferences, ranked from highest to lowest, were:

  1. Unmarried children of U.S. citizens
  2. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents
  3. Professionals of exceptional ability
  4. Married children of U.S. citizens
  5. Siblings of U.S. citizens
  6. Skilled and unskilled workers in short supply
  7. Refugees

In addition, the total number of immigrant visas allowed within the preference system was capped at 170,000 for origins in the Eastern hemisphere and 120,000 for the Western hemisphere. The new scheme resulted in an increase of immigration from Asian countries. The preference system has remained, but the specifics have changed through various amendments and new iterations of immigration legislation throughout the last decades of the 20th century.

However, the issue of refugees remained at the fore of immigration debate due to the impact of the war in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s and Cuba's revolution in the late 1950s. Approximately 450,000 refugees fled Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. Of that number, approximately 147,000 were Cambodians fleeing the terror of the Khmer Rouge, which came to power after the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam in 1975. Approximately 260,000 Hmong fled from Laos and a much smaller number (approximately 40,000) Degar people fled Vietnam. In 1980 a brief period of mass migration from Cuba to the United States occurred after the announcement by President Fidel Castro of Cuba that any Cuban who wished to emigrate to the United States could do so by leaving by boat at Mariel Harbor. From April to September of 1980 approximately 124,000 Cuban refugees arrived in Florida via boat.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s refugees remained a source of contention within the discussion of immigration policy in the United States. The United States became the destination for persons fleeing from instability and civil war in Central and South America, as well as escapees and emigres from Soviet bloc countries. The problem of refugees coming to the United States was compounded by the increase of illegal immigration into the United States from South and Central America. The 1980 Census estimated the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States to be between 2 and 4 million persons.

In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which attempted to address illegal immigration through amnesty programs for illegal immigrants, as well as criminalizing the hiring of illegal aliens as workers and instituting the I-9 form for all employees. Four years after the passage of IRCA, Congress passed a new act - the Immigration Act of 1990, also known as IMMACT. IMMACT negated the immigration caps based on hemisphere and instituted a total number cap of 675,000 persons, with 480,000 spots designated for family members of United States citizens 140,000 designated for employment-based immigrants, and 55,000 for "diversity" immigrants. IMMACT also provided an 18 month period of protected status for immigrants from El Salvador. In addition, IMMACT transferred authority for naturalizations from the United States Courts to the United States Attorney's office. It expanded the number and type of deportable actions and increased border protection.

Despite the new legislation immigration rose continuously from 1989 to 1993, with a total number of immigrants of 603,000 in 1989 to 971,000 in 1993. The majority of immigrants were family members of United States citizens, with humanitarian immigrants and refugees rounding out the majority of legal immigrants. Illegal immigration remained at the fore of immigration debates throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Various acts were instituted to address illegal immigration, which increased funding for border patrol, and denied Federal services for illegal aliens, and denied states the ability to provide services to illegal immigrants. From 1994 - 2000 the total number of legal immigrants fluctuated: in 1994 the total number of legal immigrants was 803,000 in 1995 the total number had dropped to 720,000 in 1996 the number increased to 915,000 in 1997 the total number dropped to 797,000 in 1996 the total number dropped again to 653,000 and remained relatively constant at 644,000 for 1999 in 2000 the number increased to 841,000.

The first year of the new millennium ushered in a large increase in total immigration. From 841,000 immigrants in 2000, 2001 ended with a total number of one million legal immigrants. This number essentially remained unchanged in 2002, but the total number of immigrants dropped precipitously in 2003 to 703,000. This drop was a direct result of the impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response to the perceived vulnerabilities after the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania Congress quickly passed the Patriot Act. Title IV, "Protecting the Border," attempts to address the vulnerabilities posed by immigration and non-permanent residents through implementation of heightened surveillance of those in the United States under a student visa and provides the Department of State and Immigration and Nationalization Service increased access to databases maintained by other departments for the purpose of background and criminal checks. Title IV also strengthened border patrol.

In 2002 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was founded as a result of the reorganization of multiple agencies under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Many immigration and naturalization functions were brought under the umbrella of the DHS, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These new agencies use various technologies to monitor the entry of non-U.S. citizens. The preference system for legal immigration created in the 1960s remains in place. Despite further restrictions put on the eligibility requirements under the Patriot Act for legal immigration, the total number of legal immigrants grew in the two years after its passage in 2002. By 2004, the total number of immigrants had risen to 957,000 in 2005, the number had increased again to 1.1 million by 2006 the total number had risen to 1.2 million. In 2007 the number declined to one million, and has remained at approximately one million immigrants up until the last collection date available of 2014. (For more information on current immigration preference scheme see "Becoming a Citizen.")

Illegal immigration continues to be a major component of the current discussion on immigration in the United States. The Pew Research Center has reported that there are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, which constitutes 5% of the work force. The DREAM Act, originally introduced in 2001, was an attempt to provide a means by which persons who do not have a legal status, but who were brought to the United States as minors, could apply for legal permanent status, leading to naturalization. Despite multiple efforts throughout the first decade of the 21st century the Act was not passed. The state of California passed its own version of a "dream" act, which allows for undocumented students who graduated from a California high school to attend public college in California at the in-state tuition rate. For a student to participate, he or she is required to have legal immigration status, or the ability to apply for a legal status once eligible to do so.

The failure of the DREAM Act to be passed by Congress instigated action by the Executive branch. President Obama issued a policy memorandum in 2012 entitled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This policy provides a 2-year deferment from deportation action for successful applicants. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has reported that it accepted 1.5 million applications from 2012 - 2016 of that number, 667,000 were renewal applications. Of that 1.5 million, 1.3 million were approved. (See the sections within "Current Issues On Immigration and Refugees" for more information on DACA and the DREAM Act.)

1 All information gathered from Immigration: A Documentary and Reference Guide, Thomas Cieslik, David Felsen, and Akis Kalaitzidiz, eds. Greenwood Press, 2009, unless where otherwise linked or specified. Total numbers given have been rounded down to nearest 1,000.


Under Attack

Labor struggles were not the only conflicts Italian immigrants faced. During the years of the great Italian immigration, they also had to confront a wave of virulent prejudice and nativist hostility.

As immigration from Europe and Asia neared its crest in the late 19th century, anti-immigrant sentiment soared along with it. The U.S. was in the grips of an economic depression, and immigrants were blamed for taking American jobs. At the same time, racialist theories circulated in the press, advancing pseudo scientific theories that alleged that "Mediterranean" types were inherently inferior to people of northern European heritage. Drawings and songs caricaturing the new immigrants as childlike, criminal, or subhuman became sadly commonplace. One 1891 cartoon claimed that "If immigration was properly restricted, you would never be troubled with anarchism, socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!"

Attacks on Italians were not limited to the printed page, however. From the late 1880s, anti-immigrant societies sprang up around the country, and the Ku Klux Klan saw a spike in membership. Catholic churches and charities were vandalized and burned, and Italians attacked by mobs. In the 1890s alone, more than 20 Italians were lynched.


Southeast Asian immigration

There were less than four thousand Vietnamese Americans in 1970. The Vietnam War (1959–75), a war between the communist North Vietnamese and the anticommunist South Vietnamese, changed that dramatically. Despite U.S. participation on their side, the South Vietnamese were defeated in 1975. On the day the capital city of Saigon fell, at least sixty-five thousand South Vietnamese fled the country.

The first wave of about 130,000 Vietnamese arrived in the United States in 1975. That year, the United States passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act, which gave 200,000 Vietnamese refugees special status and permission to enter the United States. The situation in Vietnam deteriorated in the following years, and hundreds of thousands more fled. In the period between 1983 and 1991, 66,000 Vietnamese entered the United States legally, and 531,310 more arrived between 1991 and 2000.

In 1975, neighboring Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, a radical and brutal revolutionary group under the leadership of Pol Pot (1926–1998). The Khmer Rouge aimed to turn Cambodia back into a farming country and began by forcing Cambodians to move from the cities to the country, where many starved. The government then began killing educated and professional Cambodians and anyone connected with Americans. The death toll ran into the millions. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians took advantage of the situation to flee to Thailand. From there, tens of thousands eventually immigrated to the United States. In the 1990s, Cambodia's political situation improved, and emigration from the country slowed down. In 2000, there were an estimated three hundred thousand Cambodian Americans.

In 1975, communist forces took over Laos as well as Vietnam. Thousands of Laotians fled to the United States, entering the country as refugees. In 2000, there were 198,000 Laotian Americans.

Other groups of Asian descent, such as Thai, Hmong, Pakistani, and Taiwanese Americans, have also developed significant populations since the 1970s.