Immigration Act of 1917

Immigration Act of 1917

On February 4, 1917, the United States Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917 (also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act) with overwhelming majority, overriding President Woodrow Wilson's December 14, 1916 veto. This act added to the number of undesirables banned from entering the country, including but not limited to, “idiots,” “feeble-minded persons,” "criminals" “epileptics,” “insane persons,” alcoholics, “professional beggars,” all persons “mentally or physically defective,” polygamists, and anarchists. Furthermore, it barred all immigrants over the age of sixteen who were illiterate. The most controversial part of the law was the section that designated an “Asiatic Barred Zone,” a region that included much of eastern Asia and the Pacific Islands from which people could not immigrate. Previously, only the Chinese had been excluded from admission to the country.

Previous laws

Anxiety in the United States about immigration has often been directed toward immigrants from China and Japan. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese manual workers from entering the U.S. This act was renewed in 1902; in 1904, all Chinese immigrants were barred from coming to the U.S. The Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907 was made with Japan to regulate Japanese immigration to the U.S.Frank Van Nuys, "Americanizing the West: Race, Immigrants, and Citizenship, 1890-1930", (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002), 19, 72.] The Immigration Act of 1917 is one of many immigration acts during this time period which arose from nativist and xenophobic sentiment.

Background and people

The plan of using a literacy test to impede immigration was not a new idea. This first literacy test was designed to impede the flow of a new wave of immigration, coming from eastern and southern Europe. [William S. Bernard, ed., "American Immigration Policy ~ a reappraisal", (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950), 14.] This concern is supported by a table in an article by Helen F. Eckerson which shows that since the late 1800s, the percentage of immigration coming from the southern and eastern parts of Europe had increased [Helen F. Eckerson, “Immigration and National Origins,” "Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science", Vol. 367, The New Immigration, (September, 1966), 6, Reproduced in JSTOR, [31 January 2007] .] Author John Higham reveals that Senator Henry Cabot Lodge was an advocate of the literacy test, along with Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor.John Higham, "Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism (1860-1925)", (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1988), 164, 202.] Senator Lodge felt “that the test would prevent immigration of many Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and Asians.” ["Immigration of Illiterates over Age Sixteen Prohibited, May 1, 1917," "DISCovering U.S. History", Gale Research, (1997), 2, Reproduced in History Research Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, Group, [31 January 2007] .] Author David J. Goldberg explains that the 1917 literacy test was pushed by Congressmen who feared “that the postwar period would bring a new deluge of immigrants.”David J. Goldberg, "Discontented America: The United States in the 1920s", (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999), 143-4, 148.] President Wilson was not pleased because “Congress has passed the literacy test over Wilson’s veto.” Before Wilson, Presidents Grover Cleveland and William Howard Taft had also vetoed the bill. This was the second time President Wilson had vetoed the bill, the first time was in 1915.

The law

This anti-Asian immigrant and previously unsuccessful literacy test resulted in the Immigration Act of 1917. It went into effect in May 1917. It stated “that there shall be levied, collected, and paid a tax of $8 for every alien, including alien seamen regularly admitted as provided in the Act, entering the United States.”Congress, U.S., “Immigration Act of 1917, Literacy Test,” Sec 2 pg 1-Sec 38 pg 22, Reproduced in History Research Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, [31 January 2007] .] The 1917 Immigration Act did exempt Mexican immigrants until 1921 because Mexican labor was important in the Southwest. As mentioned in the preview, it also barred the following from entering the country: “All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons…polygamists..prostitutes..stowaways...anarchists.” "All aliens over sixteen years of age, physically capable of reading, who can not read the English language, or some other language or dialect, including Hebrew or Yiddish" can not enter the US.

The McCarran-Walter Act

The bill was later altered, and Congress put it into a bill called the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952, the Immigration and Naturalization Act. It “extended the privilege of naturalization to Japanese, Koreans, and other Asians.” [“Commentary on Excerpt of the McCarran-Walter Act, 1952,” "American Journal Online: The Immigrant Experience", Primary Source Microfilm, (1999), Reproduced in History Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, [9 February 2007] .] “The McCarran-Walter Act revised all previous laws and regulations regarding immigration, naturalization, and nationality, and brought them together into one comprehensive statute.” ["McCarran-Walter Act," "Dictionary of American History", 7 vols, Charles Scribner's Sons, (1976), Reproduced in History Resource Center, Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, [9 February 2007] .]


External links

* [ Timeline of Asian Pacific Americans and Immigration Law]
* [ Closed Borders and Mass Deportations: The Lessons of the Barred Zone Act]
* [ Text of the Act describing the limits of the Asiatic Barred Zone]
* [ “Immigration Act of 1917, Literacy Test”]
* [ Helen F. Eckerson, “Immigration and National Origins”]
* [ Immigration of Illiterates over Age Sixteen Prohibited, May 1, 1917,"]

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