Key Actions Relating to Immigration Restriction and Reform, 1790-2008
1790 Naturalization Act was the first federal law governing the process to become a naturalized citizen. Citizenship was limited to "aliens" who were "free white persons" and thus left out all dependents - indentured servants, slaves, and most women and to persons of "good moral character." The law required a two-year period of residence in the US prior to naturalization and one year in the state of residence when applying for citizenship. While the law was amended many times, it was not nullified in 1952.
1795 Naturalization Act of 1795 Act amended the 1790 act by increasing the period of required residence increased from two to five years in the US and from one to two years in the state of residence; and by changing the Declaration of Intention requirement. Immigrants intending to naturalize had to go to their local court and declare their intention at least three years prior to their formal application. In the declaration, the immigrant indicated his understanding that upon naturalization, he would take an oath not only of allegiance to the United States but also of renunciation of his former sovereign, that he promised to be "attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States" and tobe "well
disposed to the good order and happiness of the same."
1798 Alien and Sedition Acts required an alien to file a declaration of intention to become a citizen 5 years before becoming a citizen and increased the period of residence to 14 years; gave the president unlimited power to order out of the country any alien "whom he shall judge dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States; and in case of war, allowed male enemy aliens 14 years and older to be apprehended and confined.
1802 Naturalization Act amended the 1795 Act by declaring that an applicant must provide two witnesses who would testify, under oath, to proof of his residence in the US.
1840s-1850s Know Nothing Party gained prominence in the US by suggesting that the foreign born be banned from holding any federal, state, or local political offices. During the 1854 election, the Know Nothings emerged as the nation’s second largest party; members elected 5 senators and 43 representatives to Congress. In the 1856 election, the Party’s Presidential candidate, Millard Fillmore, won 21% of the vote.
1850 US Census statistics included the number of immigrants for the first time. Census indicated that about 2.2 million immigrants - 9.7 percent of the entire population - lived in the US.
1850s Anti-Catholicism was at its peak in America. A dozen churches were burned during the middle 1850s; countless more were attacked, their crosses stolen, their alters violated, and their windows broken. At Sidney, Ohio, and at Dorchester, Massachusetts, Catholic houses of worship were blown to pieces with gunpowder. In New York City, a mob laid siege to the prominent cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul and only the arrival of the police saved the building.
1855 From August 1, 1855 through April 18, 1890 immigrants were handled by the State of New York which opened the very first examining and processing center for immigrants on an island off the southwest tip of Manhattan - Castle Garden.
1860 US Census statistics indicate 4.1 million immigrants living in the US, representing 13.2 percent of the entire US population.
1870 US Census statistics indicate 5.5 million immigrants living in the US, representing 14.4 percent of the entire US population.
1875 Revised Federal Statutes, Section 2169, Title XXX specified that racially, only two types of aliens - persons of white or black descent - were eligible to become American citizens. All Asian immigrants, being neither white nor black, were classified as "aliens ineligible to citizenship."
1880 US Census statistics indicate 6.6 million immigrants living in the US, representing 13.3 percent of the entire US population.
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited entry to all Chinese people except teachers, students, merchants, tourists, and officials. This was the first - and only - federal law restricting immigration based upon nationality and race. Act was repealed in 1943.
Immigration Act of 1882 levied a head tax of fifty cents on each immigrant and prohibited entry to "any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge". The law was designed to exclude immigrants whose undesirable conditions might prove costly to society – including convicted criminals, the poor, and the mentally ill. It also shifted the responsibility for immigration from the state governments to the federal government by authorizing the Treasury Secretary to contract with the states for enforcement of the 1882 law.
1887 American Protective Association organized by middle-class whites to revive immigrant restriction endeavors. Members of the organization were required to take a secret oath which revealed the depth of Protestant distrust and fear of Catholics holding public office.
1890 US Census statistics indicate 9.2 million immigrants live in the US, representing 14.8 percent of the entire US population - highest percentage in the 19th Century.
1891 Immigration Act of 1891 updated the 1882 Immigration Act to deny entry to those with a "dangerous contagious disease" or were polygamists. It was now the responsibility of the commanding officer of every vessel bringing immigrants to the United States to report to the officials the "name, nationality, last residence, and destination of all such aliens."
The Act also created the Office of Immigration under the Treasury Department which allowed the Federal Government to assume the task of enforcing immigration law and inspect, admit, reject, and process all immigrants seeking admission to the United States. The Office of Immigration's first task was to collect arrival manifests (passenger lists) from each incoming ship, a responsibility of the Customs Service since 1820.
1892 Ellis Island opened as the Office of Immigration's first attempt to implement national immigration policy. It served as the nation's principal federal immigration station until its closure in 1954. More than 12 million immigrants were processed through the station which spread over 3 connected islands with numerous structures including a hospital and contagious disease wards. It is estimated that over 40% of all citizens can trace their ancestry to those who came through Ellis Island. About 2%, or 250,000, people who came to America were turned away at Ellis Island.
1894 Immigration Restriction League organized by a young Harvard graduates who wanted the nation to decide whether they wanted their country "to be peopled by British, German and Scandinavian stock, historically free, energetic progressive, or by Slav, Latin and Asiatic races historically down-trodden, atavistic, and stagnant." League members made a distinction between the "old immigrants" of English, Irish, and German stock and the "new immigrants" from Italy and Eastern Europe. They claimed that these recently arrived "undesirables" were inherently unable to participate in self-government or to adopt American values.
1895 Bureau of Immigration created to take over the Office of Immigration.
1900 US Census statistics indicate 10.3 million immigrants living in the US, representing 13.6 percent of the entire US population.
One of the great migratory movements began in 1900. Between 1900 and 1930 more than 1,000,000 Mexicans came into the United States from Mexico. During these two decades, Mexicans made up the greatest number of new immigrants to the United States.
1903 Bureau of Immigration was transferred from the Treasury Department to the newly created Department of Commerce and Labor.
1906 Basic Naturalization Law framed the rules for naturalization by proscribing standard naturalization forms, encouraging state and local courts to relinquish their naturalization jurisdiction to Federal courts, and expanding the Bureau of Immigration into the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization.
1907 Expatriot Act provided that an American woman, naturalized or native born, who married a foreigner, lost her citizenship.
1910 US Census statistics indicated 13.5 million immigrants live in the US, representing 14.7% of the entire population.
1913 Bureau of Immigration and Bureau of Naturalization became two separate bureaus operating within the Department of Labor.
1917 Immigration restriction bill expanded the legal definition of those "likely to become a public charge" to include: "all idiots, imbeciles, feebleminded persons, epileptics, insane persons... persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority... and mentally or physically defective... It also required that all future adult immigrants be literate in the language of the immigrant’s choice. If the husband were literate, the wife need not be.
1917 The first Bracero Program was an exception to 1917 Immigration Act that prohibited the entry of immigrants who were "induced ...to migrate to this country by offers or promises of employment," imposed a head tax, and excluded immigrants over 16 who could not read in any language. With "Food to Win the War" as a World War I motto, farmers and railroads persuaded the U.S. Department of Labor to suspend until 1921 the head tax and the literacy test for Mexican workers coming to the United States with contracts for up to 12 months. No Mexican worker could depart for the US without a contract signed by an immigration official specifying the rate of pay, place of employment, work schedule and other conditions. Many of these first Braceros did not return as scheduled and some U.S. employers did not pay Braceros the wages promised.
1920 US Census statistics indicated 13.9 million immigrants living in the US, representing 13.2 percent of the entire US population.
1922Cable Act revoked the citizenship of any woman who married an Asian alien. The Act was repealed in 1936.
1924 Immigration Act established the first national law designed to limit immigration through creating quotas to reduce immigration from southern and eastern Europe (especially Jews and Italians). As a result, the percentage of visas available to individuals from the British Isles and Western Europe increased, but newer immigration from other areas like Southern and Eastern Europe was limited. The Act set an annual limit of 150,000 immigrants; forbade the admission of “aliens ineligible to citizenship” - all Asians, including wives of Asians already in the US; denied all Asians naturalization rights; and prohibited Asians from marrying a Caucasian and from owning land. Upon signing the Act, President Calvin Coolidge commented, "America must remain American."
Naturalization Act amended to give American Indians citizenship.
US Border Patrol was created within the Immigration Service. Under the 1924 Immigration Act, undocumented workers were fugitives. Thus, with the advent of the Border Patrol, the definition "illegal alien" was born.
1929 to 1937. In response to the huge numbers Mexican immigrants working in American agriculture, the United States immigration Bureau worked with authorities in Los Angeles to send illegal Mexican workers back to Mexico. By 1937, half a million Mexicans were sent back to Mexico from the US.
1930 US Census statistics showed that 14.3 million immigrants live in the US, repre-senting 11.6% of the entire US population - the first significant drop in 80 years.
1933 The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was created to reunite the two immigration and naturalization bureaus into one agency operating under the Department of Labor.
1940 Naturalization Act amended to give Latin Americans citizenship.
US Census statistics showed that 11.7 million immigrants live in the US, representing 8.8% of the entire US population.
INS moved from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice. Its new war-related duties included recording and fingerprinting every alien in the US through the Alien Registration Program; organizating and operating internment camps and detention facilities for enemy aliens; guarding national borders by the Border Patrol; recording checks related to security clearances for immigrant defense workers; and administering the barcero program.
1942 The second Bracero Program began whereby Mexican contract laborers came to the U.S. with a promise to be returned to Mexico at the end of a specific term. During the war years, braceros worked in 21 (but mainly California and Texas) states where in 1944 alone, they harvested crops worth $432 million. Ranchers paid low wages and provided barely livable facilities. The program ended in 1964.
1943 Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act repealed the exclusion of Chinese immigration. Because the US allied with China during WWII, a quota of 105 per year was set for Chinese immigration (based on a formula set on one-sixth the total population of that ancestry in the 1920 census.) Japanese were still excluded.
The Zoot Suit Riots erupted in Los Angeles. White mobs, including several hundred servicemen, rioted and terrorized zoot suiters for three nights, dragging them out of movies, stores, and houses, beating them, and tearing apart their clothes. The police responded by arresting over 600 Mexican-American youths arguing that they were being taken into "preventive custody." Later that summer, the LA city council outlawed the wearing of zoot suits.1945 Naturalization Act amended to give citizenship to Filipinos and Asian Indians.
1950 US Census statistics showed that 10.4 million immigrants were living in the US, representing 6.9% of the entire US population.
1952 The McCarran-Walter Immigration and Naturalization Act nullified the Naturalization Act of 1790, thus ending racially-based naturalization ban and the 1924 ban on Asian immigration. The Act was amended to read, "The right of a person to become a naturalized citizen...shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex or because such person is married."
1953 Refugee Relief Act authorized admission of 205,000 "refugees," "escapees," and "German expellees" in "a country or area which is either Communist or Communist dominated..." Until the end of the act in 1980, more than 2.25 million persons were admitted to the US as refugees.
1954 Operation Wetback began with the goal of removing all illegal aliens from the southwestern United States, with a focus on Mexican nationals. Over one million Mexican laborers, most from the Bracero Program, were deported. Raids were carried out by INS, local law enforcement, and armed military forces. Many American citizens of Mexican descent were deported without cause.
Mid-1950s INS enforcement activities focused on two areas of national concern: public alarm over illegal aliens resident and working in the which required the Service to strengthen border controls and selected deportation programs, most notably "Operation Wetback."
1960 US Census statistics showed that 9.7 million immigrants were living in the US, representing 5.4% of the entire US population.
1965 Immigration Reform Act lifted numerical restrictions against Asian immigrants and set new restriction limits - 120,000 immigrants annually from the Western Hemisphere and 170,000 from other countries. The legislation intended to liberalize immigration policy and as such, be an extension of the civil rights movement. The Act emphasized that immigration was devoted to reunifying families of American citizens. Immigrants had to have a sponsor who in turn, had to pledge to support arriving relatives or workers. However, two major loopholes existed in the law: there was no way to legally enforce pledges of support; and the policy allowed parents, spouses, and minor children of any adult American citizen to enter the country without being subjected to numerical restrictions. Thereafter, Asian and Hispanic immigration soared.
1970 US Census statistics showed that 9.6 million immigrants were living in the US, representing 4.7% of the entire US population. In California, one-third of the population was comprised of immigrants.
1978 Immigration Reform Law was amended to allow a global ceiling of 290,000 immigrants annually. In reality, the annual numbers have been much higher.
1980 Refugee Act amended the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which had favored those fleeing communism, repealed that stipulation and accepted the United Nations' definition of "refugee" as a person unwilling or unable to return to his or her country of origin because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions. The 1980 Refugee Act also authorized federal funds to aid in the resettlement of refugees, thereby creating a new legal category of refugee, an "aslyee" or refugee who applied for entry into the US while already here either legally or illegally.
US Census statistics showed that 14.1 million immigrants were living in the US, representing 6.2% of the entire US population.1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to any illegal immigrant who entered the US before 1982 and had continuously resided here since. Of the 3.7 million eligible for amnesty, 2.6 million accepted. For the first time, employers who hired illegal aliens became subject to fines and jail sentences if a pattern of hiring illegals could be found. Employers were not obligated to verify the validity of documents. Consequently, many growers simply ignored the growing reality of counterfeit documents for illegals. The law did not make a substantial change.
1990 US Census statistics showed that 19.8 million immigrants were living in the US, representing 7.9% of the entire US population.
The H-1B visa program was created as part of the 1990 Immigration Act as a response to claims of an impending shortage or skilled labor. It allows employers to recruit skilled workers from abroad for professional “specialty occupations.” The initial H-IB visa cap was 65,000. It has been very controversial proponents argue thatCongress should increase the visa cap to relieve what employers contend is a shortage of domestic labor, while opponents claim that the shortage is a myth and an excuse for employers to displace American workers with cheaper foreign-born labor.
1994 California’s Proposition 187 made undocumented immigrants ineligible for three kinds of public services: social services including mental health and rape crisis intervention; health services except for events defined as emergencies under federal law; and education at elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools. Required employees of public agencies to report any persons they suspected of being in the US illegally to two governmental bodies. In 1998, a federal judge ruled that most of Proposition 187 was unconstitutional.
1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act increased the federal government’s border enforcement efforts by authorizing 1,000 additional Border patrol Agents each year from 1997-2001; allowed wiretaps for investigating alien smuggling operations and increased the criminal penalties for such actions; permanently barred from the US any alien convicted for an aggravated felony; reduced the number of documents employers may accept as proof of work authorization; authorizes 300 additional investigators - half who will investigate employer sanction violations each year from 1997 to 1999; added new grounds for refugee status and limited the number of such refugees to 1,000 annually; allowed the Attorney General to revoke asylum status if home-country conditions improve; and established a program to monitor foreign students.
Welfare Reform Act amendments eliminated food stamp, welfare, and supplemental security income benefits to illegal and legal immigrants. California chose not to exercise this for legal immigrants under an option allowed in the federal welfare reform bill. In 1997, Congress restored supplemental security income for almost all legal immigrants and in July 1998, food stamps were restored to about 250,000 legal immigrants.1997 Immigration Amnesty Bill gave amnesty to all Nicaraguan and Cuban immigrants. All who apply automatically receive permanent residency.
1998 The H-1B visa program increased the cap for the number of annual H-IB visas from 65,000 to 115,000 foreign workers who had training or experience in high-tech fields - especially engineering, accounting, and programming.
1999 H-1B Visa amendments attempted to close the loophole that allows Americans to be openly fired and replaced by H-1B workers in the computer industry. In these amendments, however, it remained legal to fire Americans and replace them with H-IB workers. The vast majority of H-1B workers come from China and India.
2000 Legal Immigration Family Equity Act allowed illegal immigrants married to a U.S. citizen and in the country before Dec. 21, 2000 to apply for legal permanent residency after paying a $1,000 fine.
H-1B Visa amendments increased the number of temporary visas for foreign skilled high-tech workers from 115,000 annually to 195,000 annually for the next three years. High Tech companies contended they faced a shortage of 300,000 workers and a 1.4% unemployment rate in the information technology industry. If they cannot draw the needed workers from abroad, they argued, they will be forced to move their facilities and research overseas.
US Census showed that 30.5 million immigrants lived in the U.S., over 11 million more than in 1990, representing about 15% of the total US population - the highest percentage in the 20th Century. 13.3 million immigrants arrived in the US in the 1990s - the highest number since 1930. Nationally, Mexicans and Asians comprise 28% of all immigrants. An estimated 9 million immigrants are in the US illegally, with about half being Mexican.
US Census Supplemental Survey drawn from an experimental national survey showed that California had the most foreign-born residents of any state - 25.9% of the population was comprised of immigrants, down from 33% in 1970. Of these immigrants, 44% were Mexican, 10% were from other Latin American nations, and 34% were from Asia. Fourteen other states have foreign-born populations above 10% - with New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Hawaii following. Almost 4 in 10 Californians ages 5 and older speak a language other than English at home, the highest percentage in the nation - 25% speak Spanish, 8.8% speak an Asian language. Among those who are foreign-born in California, 60% are not citizens - which mirrors the percentage for the nation as a whole and represents a decrease from 70% in 1990. The number of Mexicans in California grew from 2.5 million in 1990 to about 3.7 million in 2000 - a 52% increase.
2001 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: is a representative of a political, social, or similar group whose political endorsement of terrorist acts undermines U.S. antiterrorist efforts; 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 (or the child or spouse of such an alien under specified circumstances); or has been associated with a terrorist organization and intends to engage in threatening activities while in the United States.
2003 US Citizenship and US immigration Services (USCIS) replaced the former US Immigration and Naturalizatioin Service (INS). The USCIS, which became part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), was created to handle US immigration services and benefits, including citizenship, applications for permanent residence, non-immigrant applications, asylum, and refugee services. All US immigration enforcement functions were transferred to the Bureau of US immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
2004 Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 10.3 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States: 57% from Mexico, 24% from the rest of Latin America, 9% from Asia, 6% from Europe and Canada, and 4% from Africa and other nations. The majority live in eight states, with the largest percentages - living in order of highest concentration - in California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois, New Jersey, and North Carolina.
2005 Real ID Act imposed certain security, authentication and issuance procedures standards for the state driver's licenses and state ID cards, in order for them to be accepted by the federal government for "official purposes" as defined by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Currently, the Secretary of Homeland Security has defined "official purposes" as presenting state driver's licenses and ID cards for boarding commercially operated airline flights, entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants.
Minutemen Civil Defense Corp was created by a group of private individuals in the United States to monitor the United States–Mexico border's flow of illegal immigrants. Co-founded by Jim Gilchrist and Chris Simcox, the name derives from the Minutemen, militiamen who fought in the American Revolution.
Between January 2000 and March 2005, 7.9 million new immigrants (legal and illegal) settled in the country, making it the highest five-year period of immigration in American history.
2006 Secure Fence Act allowed over 700 miles of double-reinforced fence to be built across cities and deserts between California and Texas in areas that have been prone to illegal drug trafficking and illegal immigration. It authorized the installation of more lighting, vehicle barriers, and border checkpoints, while putting in place more advanced equipment like sensors, cameras, satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles in an attempt to watch and control illegal immigration into the United States.
Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 11 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the United States - the largest number ever documented in U.S. history.
Operation Return to Sender began to target illegal immigrants engaged in criminal activity. As of April 2007, 23,000 deportations had taken place.