Immigration Act of 1924

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During the Harding administration, a stop-gap immigration measure was passed by Congress in 1921 for the purpose of slowing the flood of immigrants entering the United States.

A more thorough law, known as the National Origins Act, was signed by President Coolidge in May 1924. It provided for the following:

College students, professors and ministers were exempted from the quotas. Initially immigration from the other Americas was allowed, but measures were quickly developed to deny legal entry to Mexican laborers.

The clear aim of this law was to restrict the entry of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, while welcoming relatively large numbers of newcomers from Britain, Ireland, and Northern Europe.

The 1921 law had used the 1910 census to determine the base for the quotas; by changing to the 1890 census when fewer Italians or Bulgarians lived in the U.S., more of the "dangerous` and "different" elements were kept out. This legislation reflected discriminatory sentiments that had surfaced earlier during the Red Scare of 1919-20.

Immigration Statistics, 1920-1926
Year
Total
Entering U.S.
Country of Origin
Great
Britain
Eastern
Europe*
Italy
1920
430,001
38,471
3,913
95,145
1921
805,228
51,142
32,793
222,260
1922
309,556
25,153
12,244
40,319
1923
522,919
45,759
16,082
46,674
1924
706,896
59,490
13,173
56,246
1925
294,314
27,172
1,566
6,203
1926
304,488
25,528
1,596
8,253
*Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (Washington, D.C., 1960), p. 56.

A provision in the 1924 law barred entry to those ineligible for citizenship — effectively ending the immigration of all Asians into the United States and undermining the earlier "Gentlemen`s Agreement" with Japan. Efforts by Secretary of State Hughes to change this provision were not successful and actually inflamed the passions of the anti-Japanese press, which was especially strong on the West Coast.

Heated protests were issued by the Japanese government and a citizen committed seppuku outside the American embassy in Tokyo. May 26, the effective date of the legislation, was declared a day of national humiliation in Japan, adding another in a growing list of grievances against the U.S.

Louis Marshall, chairman of the American Jewish Relief Committee, wrote a letter to Coolidge on May 22, 1924, urging him not to sign the National Origins bill. In addition to making salient comments about the general defects of regulating immigration by race and nationality, he made the following prescient remarks about its impact on Japanese-American relations:

... this bill, in the most offensive manner and in total disregard of the natural feelings of a sister nation, whom we have regarded as a political equal, inflicts a deep insult upon the national and racial consciousness of a highly civilized and progressive country. Such a wound will never case to rankle. It will give rise to hostility which, even when not apparent on the surface, will prove most serious. It cannot fail to be reflected upon our commerce, and in days of stress will be likely to occasion unspeakable concern.

In 1965, the Hart-Cellar Act abolished the national origins quota system that had structured America`s immigration policy since the 1920`s, replacing it with a preference system that emphasized immigrants` skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the United States.


See other domestic activities during the Coolidge administration.

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