Major Immigration Laws
1790- Naturalization Act restricted naturalization to "free white persons" of "good moral character" who had
resided in the country for two years and had kept their current state of residence for a year.
1795 Naturalization Act increased the naturalization requirement to five years residence and three years after
notice of intent to apply for citizenship
1798 Naturalization Act increased the naturalization requirement to 14 years residence and five years notice of
1868 Fourteenth Amendment grants citizenship to all children born in the U.S. via the phrase: "All persons born
or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of
the State wherein they reside.” In 1898 this was interpreted by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark as
covering everyone born in the U.S. regardless of the parents citizenship, with the exception of the children of
1870 the law was broadened to allow African Americans to be naturalized. Asian immigrants were excluded
from naturalization but not from living in the United States. Some states had significant restrictions against
some Asians; in California, for example, non-citizen Asians were not allowed to own land.
1882- Chinese Exclusion Act ended further Chinese immigration to the U.S. It specifically excluded Chinese
laborers from immigrating to the United States for ten years. It was the first immigration law passed by
Congress that targeted a specific ethnic group.
1882- Congress banned entry of "lunatics" and infectious disease carriers.
1884 Amendments to the Chinese Exclusion Act allowed previous immigrants to leave and return, and clarified
that the law applied to ethnic Chinese regardless of their country of origin. It was renewed in 1892 (the Geary
Act) for another ten years, and in 1902 with no terminal date.
1901- After President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist of immigrant parentage, the
Anarchist Exclusion Act was passed to exclude known anarchist agitators.
1907- Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan (never ratified by Congress) whereby Japan would stop allowing
immigration to the US and the US would recognize Japan’s action. Japan actually continued to grant passports
for immigration to the Territory of Hawaii where many Japanese resided. Once in Hawaii, they could easily
continue to the west coast. Between 1901 to 1910 about 129,000 Japanese (80% men) came to the US under 5
year work contracts; 117,000 more came from 1911-1930. About half are thought to have returned. “Postcard”
wives were sent for until the 1920s when the Japanese government finally quit issuing passports to Hawaii for
1917- Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act) was passed over President
Wilson’s veto. It added to the number of undesirables banned from entering the country, including “idiots”,
“feeble-minded persons”, "criminals", “epileptics”, “insane persons”, alcoholics, “professional beggars”, all
persons “mentally or physically defective”, polygamists, and anarchists. It also barred all immigrants over the
age of sixteen who were illiterate. The most controversial part of the law was that it designated an “Asiatic
Barred Zone”, which included much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands. It therefore added most Asians to
the banned list, from which only the Chinese had been banned.
1921- “Emergency Quota Act” set quotas on immigration to 3% of the number living in the country in 1910; no
limits were set on immigration from Latin America
1923- In U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Asian-Indians are classified as non-white.
1924- The “National Origins Quota Act” (aka Johnson-Reed Act) reduced the quota on immigration to 2% of
the number living in the country in 1890 (specifically aimed to reduce the number of southern and eastern
immigrants who came in droves after 1890). The Act also barred specific origins from the Asia-Pacific Triangle,
including Japan, China, U.S. controlled Philippines, Siam (Thailand), French Indochina (Laos, Vietnam,and
Cambodia), the British colony of Singapore, Korea, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Burma (Myanmar), India,
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Malaysia. Based on the Naturalization Act of 1790, people from these countries were
not eligible for naturalization, but now those that were forbidden to naturalize were forbidden to even enter the
1929 immigration law favored nationalities who were already established in the U.S. by restricting
immigration to 150,000 a year based on national origin quotas.
1932- FDR and the State Department limited immigration; it went from 236,000 in 1929 to 23,000 in 1933. It
was accompanied by voluntary repatriation to Europe and Mexico, and coerced repatriation and deportation of
between 500,000 and 2 million Mexican Americans, mostly citizens, in the Mexican Repatriation. Iimmigration
between 1931 to 1940 averaged less than 53,000 a year.
1943- The Chinese Exclusion Act is repealed. Large scale Chinese immigration did not occur until 1965.
1946- The Luce-Celler Act ended discrimination against Indian Americans and Filipinos, who were now given
the right to naturalize, and allowed a quota of 100 immigrants per year.
1952- The “Immigration and Nationality Act” of 1952, known as the McCarran-Walter Act, revised the quotas
again, basing them on the 1920 census. For the first time in American history, racial distinctions were omitted
from the U.S. Code. Most of the quota allocation went to immigrants from Ireland, the United Kingdom and
Germany who already had relatives in the United States. The law also altered the Immigration Act of 1917 by
extending the privilege of naturalization to Japanese, Koreans, and other Asians. Finally, it also revised all
previous laws and regulations regarding immigration, naturalization, and nationality, and collected into one
1965- The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 (the Hart-Cellar Act) abolished the system of
national-origin quotas. But there was, for the first time, a limitation on Western Hemisphere immigration
(120,000 per year), with the Eastern Hemisphere limited to 170,000. Because of the family preferences put into
immigration law, immigration is now mostly "chain immigration" where recent immigrants who are already
here sponsor their relatives.
1975- Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act was a response to the Fall of Saigon and the end of the
Vietnam War. Refugees from South Vietnam and Cambodia were allowed to enter the U.S. under a special
status; Congress granted them special relocation aid. Humanitarian and church groups sponsored refuges and
cared for them after they arrived.
1980- Refugee Act established policies for refugees (redefining "refugee" according to the UN
definition). A target for refugees was set at 50,000 and the worldwide ceiling for immigrants was
reduced to 270,000 annually.
1986- the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) created penalties for employers who knowingly hire
illegal immigrants. The IRCA also contained an amnesty for about 3,000,000 illegal immigrants already in the
U.S., and mandated the intensification of U.S. Border Patrol or INS (now part of Department of Homeland
1990 Immigration Act- (IMMACT) modified and expanded the 1965 act by increasing the total immigration
limit to 700,000; it also increased visas by 40 percent. Family reunification was retained as the main
immigration criteria, with significant increases in employment-related immigration.
1996- The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and Illegal Immigration Reform and
Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) increased the categories of criminal activity for which immigrants,
including green card holders, can be deported and imposed mandatory detention for certain types of deportation