Immigration History

  • Alien and Sedition Acts

    The Alien Friends Act, passed by President John Adams and the Federalists this act allowed the president to deport aliens considered dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States. The Alien Enemies Act authorized the president to apprehend and deport aliens if their home country was at war with the United States.
  • California Gold Rush

    The discovery of gold in California brought large amounts of immigrants into the United States from all over the world.
  • Burlingame Treaty

    This treaty established formal relations between the United States and China. The treaty permitted free migration between the two countries and guaranteed the political and religious rights of the immigrants. The United States wanted free migration at this time because it sought to use Chinese labor for the construction of the trans-continental railroads.
  • Period: to

    Mexican revolution

    This began as the result of Mexico’s industrialization and the subsequent impoverishment of Mexico’s lower class. The violence and turmoil caused many Mexicans to migrate into the United States. Many sought to stay only as long as necessary to improve their economic situations and then to return to Mexico.
  • Period: to


    When the United States entered in to WWI immigration declined dramatically. People who were suspected to be enemy aliens were deported.
  • Immigration Act of 1917

    This act was passed by Congress over President Wilson’s veto. This act required all immigrants to pass a literacy test. It also barred all laborers from Asia.
  • Quota system

    The Emergency quota act of 1921 was the first quota to be enforced for all nationalities. The quotas were an attempt by the government to maintain the United States’ cultural profile to that of Northern European Stock. The quotas ensured that the level of permitted immigration from a certain nationality corresponded to the population of that nationality living in the United States in 1910.
  • Period: to

    The Great Depression

    During the time of the Great Depression, immigration remained low. President Roosevelt and the State Department shut down immigration during the Great Depression and immigration rates went from 236,000 in 1929 to 23,000 in 1933.
  • WWII

    During WWII, many of Americas were drafted into the military. Immigration rates rose during this time period because of labor shortages. The United States sought to use immigration to replenish its labor force.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act

    This act reflected anti-communism attitude of the period following World War II at the onset of the Korean War. This act reinstated the national origins quota system, limited immigration from the eastern hemisphere but not the western hemisphere, established preferences for skilled workers and relatives of U.S. citizens; and created more strict security and screening standards and procedures.
  • Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

    This act was a major landmark in U.S. immigration law in that it eliminated the national origins quotas. It set a maximum annual level of immigration at 300,000 visas and placed a per-country limit for immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere at 20,000 but set no limits on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere.
  • Naturalization Act

    Granted citizenship in the United States by other means than birth. This law allowed immigrants who were "free white persons" of "good moral character" to become citizens of the United States. It did not include Native Americans, slaves or free African Americans. Citizenship was inherited through the father, so a woman would not be considered a citizen if their father had never resided in the country.
  • Amendments to the Immigration and Naturalization Act

    This act extended per-country limitations on immigration to the Western Hemisphere
  • Refugee Act

    This act brought the United States into compliance with its international obligations in regards to refugees. It defined refugees as “an individual unable or unwilling to return to his or her country based on a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political affiliation.” It permitted the executive in consultation with Congress to set a ceiling to the number of refugees admitted into the United States each year.
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act

    The IRCA was a comprehensive reform effort that legalized aliens who had resided in the United States in an unlawful status since January 1, 1982. This act established sanctions prohibiting employers from hiring, recruiting, or referring aliens known to be unauthorized to work in the United States and created a new classification of temporary agricultural worker. This act also established a visa waiver pilot program allowing the admission of certain non-immigrants without visas.
  • Immigration Act of 1990

    This Act raised the quota ceiling to 700,000. This act also created a lottery program for citizens of countries where the U.S. did not usually grant large numbers of visas. The law also provided for the admission of immigrations from “under-represented countries” to increase the diversity of the immigrant flow.
  • Welfare Reform Act of 1996

    This made many legal immigrants ineligible for federal entitlement programs.