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US Immigration Policies

  • Naturalization Rule

    Congress adopts uniform rules so that any free white person could apply for citizenship after two years of residency.
  • Alien and Sedition Acts

    Alien and Sedition Acts required 14 years of residency before citizenship and provided for the deportation of "dangerous" aliens. Changed to five-year residency in 1800.
  • Reporting Rule

    Reporting rule adopted. Data begins to be collected on immigration into the United States. Ships' captains and others are required to keep and submit manifests of immigrants entering the United States.
  • Contract Labor Law

    Contract Labor Law allowed recruiting of foreign labor.
  • Exclusionary Act

    First exclusionary act. Convicts, prostitutes, and "coolies" (Chinese contract laborers) are barred from entry into the United States.
  • Immigration Act

    Immigration Act passed. The federal government moves to firmly establish its authority over immigration. Chinese immigration is curtailed; ex-convicts, lunatics, idiots, and those unable to take care of themselves are excluded. In addition, a tax is levied on newly arriving immigrants.
  • Contract laborers barred

    Contract laborers' entry barred. This new legislation reverses an earlier federal law legalizing the trade in contract labor.
  • Office of Immigration created

    Office of Immigration created. Established as part of the U.S. Treasury Department, this new office is later given authority over naturalization and moved to the U.S. Justice Department. (Today it is known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.) In the same year, paupers, polygamists, the insane, and persons with contagious diseases are excluded from entry to the United States.
  • Ellis Island opens

    Ellis Island opens. Between 1892 and 1953, more than 12 million immigrants will be processed at this one facility.
  • Literacy requirements in effect

    Literacy test introduced. All immigrants 16 years of age or older must demonstrate the ability to read a forty-word passage in their native language. Also, virtually all Asian immigrants are banned from entry into the United States
  • Quotas Set

    Quota Act. An annual immigration ceiling is set at 350,000. Moreover, a new nationality quota is instituted, limiting admissions to 3 percent of each nationality group's representation in the 1910 U.S. Census. The law is designed primarily to restrict the flow of immigrants coming from eastern and southern Europe.
  • National Origins Act

    National Origins Act. The Act reduces the annual immigration ceiling to 165,000. A revised quota reduces admissions to 2 percent of each nationality group's representation in the 1890 census. The U.S. Border Patrol is created.
  • Immigration Ceiling Lowered

    Immigration Ceiling Further Reduced. The annual immigration ceiling is further reduced to 150,000; the quota is revised to 2 percent of each nationality's representation in the 1920 census. This basic law remains in effect through 1965.
  • National Origins Act - Ceiling made permanent

    National Origins Act. The annual immigration ceiling of 150,000 is made permanent, with 70 percent of admissions slated for those coming from northern and Western Europe, while the other 30 percent are reserved for those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe.
  • Displaced Persons Act

    Displaced Persons Act. Entry is allowed for 400,000 persons displaced by World War II. However, such refugees must pass a security check and have proof of employment and housing that does not threaten U.S. citizens' jobs and homes
  • McCarran-Walter Act

    McCarran-Walter Act. The Act consolidates earlier immigration laws and removes race as a basis for exclusion. In addition, the Act introduces an ideological criterion for admission: immigrants and visitors to the United States can now be denied entry on the basis of their political ideology (e.g., if they are Communists or former Nazis).
  • Immigration Act amended

    Immigration Act is amended. Nationality quotas are abolished. However, the Act establishes an overall ceiling of 170,000 on immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere and another ceiling of 120,000 on immigration from the Western Hemisphere.
  • New Immigration Ceiling introduced.

    World-wide immigration ceiling introduced. A new annual immigration ceiling of 290,000 replaces the separate ceilings for the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
  • Refugee Act

    Refugee Act. A system is developed to handle refugees as a class separate from other immigrants. Under the new law, refugees are defined as those who flee a country because of persecution "on account of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion." The president, in consultation with Congress, is authorized to establish an annual ceiling on the number of refugees who may enter the United States. The president also is allowed to admit any group of refugees in an emergency. At the same time,
  • Penalties for employers of illegal aliens

    Stiff sanctions are introduced for employers of illegal aliens.
  • Immigration Reform and Control Act

    Immigration Reform and Control Act. The annual immigration ceiling is raised to 540,000. Amnesty is offered to those illegal aliens able to prove continuous residence in the United States since January 1,
  • Immigration Act of 1990

    Immigration Act of 1990. The annual immigration ceiling is further raised to 700,000 for 1992, 1993,and 1994; thereafter, the ceiling will drop to 675,000 a year. Ten thousand permanent resident visas are offered to those immigrants agreeing to invest at least $1 million in U.S. urban areas or $500,000 in U.S. rural areas. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 is amended so that people can no longer be denied admittance to the United States on the basis of their beliefs, statements, or associations.
  • Immigration Act

    Immigration Act. In an effort to curb illegal immigration, Congress votes to double the U.S. Border Patrol to 10,000 agents over five years and mandates the construction of fences at the most heavily trafficked areas of the U.S.-Mexico border. Congress also approves a pilot program to check the immigration status of job applicants.
  • Legal immigrants lose benefits

    Immigrants lose benefits. President Clinton signs welfare reform bill that cuts many social programs for immigrants. Legal immigrants lose their right to food stamps and Supplemental Security Income (a program for older, blind, and disabled people). Illegal immigrants become ineligible for virtually all federal and state benefits except emergency medical care, immunization programs, and disaster relief.
  • Patriot Act

    USA Patriot Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to broaden the scope of aliens ineligible for admission or deportable due to terrorist activities to include an alien who: (1) is a representative of a political, social, or similar group whose political endorsement of terrorist acts undermines U.S. antiterrorist efforts; (2) has used a position of prominence to endorse terrorist activity, or to persuade others to support such activity in a way that undermines U.S. antiterrorist efforts