United States Immigration Policy from Founding (1776-Early 20th Century)

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    Open Borders

    • Early Years (1776-1800s): Initially, there were no federal restrictions on immigration. The U.S. was largely open to European immigrants, many of whom were seeking economic opportunities or fleeing political turmoil.
    • State-Level Regulations: Before federal immigration laws, some states had their own immigration policies, but these were not restrictive in the modern sense.
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    Beginnings of Restriction

    Page Act of 1875**: Often considered the first restrictive federal immigration law, it targeted Asian forced laborers, prostitutes, and convicts.
    • Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882: This significant law suspended Chinese labor immigration for ten years and marked the first time the U.S. explicitly banned a group based on ethnicity.
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    Increasing Restrictions

    • General Immigration Act of 1882: This law imposed a head tax on immigrants and barred entry to those likely to become a public charge, convicts, and people with mental illness.
    • Immigration Act of 1891: Established a federal office of immigration and added more categories for exclusion, including people with contagious diseases and polygamists.
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    Heightened Restrictions

    1903 and 1907 Acts*: Expanded the list of undesirable immigrants, including anarchists and people with physical or mental disabilities.
    • Literacy Requirement (1917): The Immigration Act of 1917 instituted a literacy requirement for immigrants over 16, requiring them to read 30-40 words in their native language.
    • World War I Influence: During and after WWI, there was increased suspicion and restriction towards immigrants, especially from enemy countries.
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    Quota Systems

    Emergency Quota Act of 1921**: Marked the introduction of numerical limits on immigration and established quotas based on national origins.
    • Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act): Further tightened quotas, severely limiting immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, and practically barred Asian immigration.