|Enacted by||the 68th United States Congress|
|Effective||May 26, 1924|
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act (Pub.L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that set quotas on the number of immigrants from certain countries while providing funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding (but hitherto unenforced) ban on non-white immigrants. The law was primarily aimed at further restricting immigration of Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, especially Italians, Slavs and Eastern European Jews. The law affirmed the longstanding ban on the immigration of non-white persons, with the exception of black African immigrants (who had long been exempt from the ban). Thus, virtually all Arabs, East Indians, and Asians were forbidden from immigrating to America under the Act (subsequent court rulings would determine that Indians and Arabs were not white and could not immigrate).
Contrary to popular belief, Latin Americans were not prohibited or limited from immigrating under the law. In most states and under federal law, persons of mixed white and Native American ancestry were considered white; this principle was interpreted under the Act to allow Latin Americans to immigrate as "white persons." Moreover, unlike Eastern and Southern Europe, no nationality-based quotas were placed on Latin American immigrants. Thus, the law allowed unlimited Latin American immigration, just as it allowed unlimited northwestern European immigration. Ironically, the 1965 immigration law that replaced the 1924 Act, though abolishing racial preferences and national quotas, would effectively place greater restriction on Latin American immigration.
According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian the purpose of the act was "to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity". But though the Act aimed at preserving American racial homogeneity, it set no limits on immigration from other countries of the Americas, including Latin America. Congressional opposition was minimal. According to Columbia University historian Mae Ngai, the 1924 Act put an end to a period where the United States essentially had open borders.
A key element of the Act was its provisions for enforcement. The longstanding ban on nonwhite immigration to the US had rarely been enforced in practice. The Act provided funding and legal instructions to courts of deportation for non-white immigrants, and Eastern and Southern European immigrants who exceeded their national quotas. Deportations of Syrian, Arabian, and East Indian immigrants were sometimes challenged in court with claims that these persons were "white." Initially these immigrants were deported, but by the postwar era, with xenophobia on the decline, all of these groups were classified as white under American law.
The Immigration Act made permanent the basic limitations on immigration into the United States established in 1921 and modified the National Origins Formula established then. In conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1917, it governed American immigration policy until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which revised it completely.
For the next four years, until June 30, 1927, the 1924 Act set the annual quota of any nationality at 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the United States in 1890. That revised formula reduced total immigration from 357,803 in 1923–24 to 164,667 in 1924–25. The law's impact varied widely by country. Immigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell 19%, while immigration from Italy fell more than 90%.
The Act established preferences under the quota system for certain relatives of U.S. residents, including their unmarried children under 21, their parents, and spouses aged 21 and over. It also preferred immigrants aged 21 and over who were skilled in agriculture, as well as their wives and dependent children under age 16. Non-quota status was accorded to: wives and unmarried children under 18 of U.S. citizens; natives of Western Hemisphere countries, with their families; non-immigrants; and certain others. Subsequent amendments eliminated certain elements of this law's inherent discrimination against women.
The 1924 Act also established the "consular control system" of immigration, which divided responsibility for immigration between the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It mandated that no alien should be allowed to enter the United States without a valid immigration visa issued by an American consular officer abroad.
It provided that no alien ineligible to become a citizen could be admitted to the United States as an immigrant. This was aimed primarily at Japanese and Chinese aliens. It imposed fines on transportation companies who landed aliens in violation of U.S. immigration laws. It defined the term "immigrant" and designated all other alien entries into the United States as "non-immigrant", that is, temporary visitors. It established classes of admission for such non-immigrants.
In the wake of the Post-World War I recession, many Americans believed that bringing in more immigrants from other nations would only make the unemployment rate higher. The Red Scare of 1919–1921 had fueled xenophobic fears of foreign radicals migrating to undermine American values and provoke an uprising like Russia’s 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The number of immigrants entering the United States decreased for about a year from July 1919 to June 1920 but also doubled the year after that.
Congressman Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed were the two main architects of the act. In the wake of intense lobbying, the Act passed with strong congressional support. There were nine dissenting votes in the Senate and a handful of opponents in the House, the most vigorous of whom was freshman Brooklyn Representative and Jewish-American Emanuel Celler. Over the succeeding four decades, Celler made the repeal of the Act his personal crusade.
Proponents of the Act sought to establish a distinct American identity by favoring native-born Americans over Jews, Southern Europeans,[who?] and Eastern Europeans[who?] in order to "maintain the racial preponderance of the basic strain on our people and thereby to stabilize the ethnic composition of the population". Reed told the Senate that earlier legislation “disregards entirely those of us who are interested in keeping American stock up to the highest standard – that is, the people who were born here”. Southern/Eastern Europeans[who?] and Jews, he believed, arrived sick and starving and therefore less capable of contributing to the American economy, and unable to adapt to American culture.
People who supported the 1924 Immigration Act often used eugenics as justification for restriction of certain races or ethnicities of people in order to prevent the spread of feeblemindedness in American society. Most proponents of the law were rather concerned with upholding an ethnic status quo and avoiding competition with foreign workers. Samuel Gompers, a Jewish immigrant and founder of the AFL, supported the Act because he opposed the cheap labor that immigration represented, despite the fact that the Act would sharply reduce Jewish immigration.
The law sharply curtailed immigration from those countries that were previously host to the vast majority of the Jews in America, almost 75 percent of whom immigrated from Russia alone. Because Eastern European[which?] immigration only became substantial in the final decades of the nineteenth century, the law's use of the population of the United States in 1890 as the basis for calculating quotas effectively made mass migration from Eastern Europe[who?], where the vast majority of the Jewish diaspora lived at the time, impossible.
Lobbyists from California,[who?] where a majority of Japanese and other East Asian immigrants had settled, were especially concerned with excluding Asian immigrants.[why?] An 1882 law had already put an end to Chinese immigration, but as Japanese (and, to a lesser degree, Korean and Filipino) laborers began arriving and putting down roots in Western states, an exclusionary movement formed in reaction to the “Yellow Peril.” Valentine S. McClatchy, founder of The McClatchy Company and a leader of the anti-Japanese movement, argued, “They come here specifically and professedly for the purpose of colonizing and establishing here permanently the proud Yamato race,” citing their supposed inability to assimilate to American culture and the economic threat they posed to white businessmen and farmers. Despite some hesitation from President Calvin Coolidge and strong opposition from the Japanese government, with whom the U.S. government had previously maintained a cordial economic and political relationship, the act was signed into law on May 24, 1924.
From United States ex. rel. Turner v. Williams:
if an alien is not permitted to enter this country, or, having entered contrary to law, is expelled, he is in fact cut off from worshipping or speaking or publishing or petitioning in the country; but that is merely because of his exclusion therefrom. He does not become one of the people to whom these things are secured by our Constitution by an attempt to enter, forbidden by law. To appeal to the Constitution is to concede that this is a land governed by that supreme law, and as under it the power to exclude has been determined to exist, those who are excluded cannot assert the rights in general obtaining in a land to which they do not belong as citizens or otherwise.
The Act controlled “undesirable” immigration by establishing quotas, and barring immigrants of some specific national origins. The nationalities barred were in the “Asia–Pacific Triangle”, which included the Middle East, the “Asiatic” Soviet Union[c] (Georgia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia), Japan, China, the Philippines (then under U.S. control), Siam (Thailand), French Indochina (Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia), Singapore (then a British colony), Korea, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Burma (Myanmar), British India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Malaya (mainland part of Malaysia). Following the Naturalization Act of 1790 and Naturalization Act of 1870, the 1924 Act declared that only people of white or African descent were eligible for naturalization, and the Act forbade further immigration of any persons ineligible to be naturalized. The Act set no limits on immigration from Latin American countries.
In 1901-1914, 2.9 million Italians immigrated, an average of 210,000 per year. Under the 1924 quota, 4,000 per year were allowed since the 1890 quota counted only 200,000 Italians in the US. By contrast, the annual quota for Germany after the passage of the Act was over 57,000 since German-born residents in 1890 numbered 2,850.000. Some 86% of the 155,000 permitted to enter under the Act were from Northern European countries, with Germany, Britain, and Ireland having the highest quotas. The new quotas for immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, and the bar on the “Asia-Pacific Triangle”, were so restrictive that in 1924 more Italians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Portuguese, Romanians, Spaniards, Polish and Russian Jews, Chinese, and Japanese left the United States than arrived as immigrants.
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