History Repeats Itself: The 1924 Immigration Act & Trump’s failed Immigration act — Mistakes Were Made
During the post World War I era in America, an anti-immigrant wave rolled over the country. There were many reasons for this effect. A recession hit the country after the war, and many Americans believed that bringing in immigrants from other countries would raise the unemployment rate. The Russian Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, fueled fears of foreign radicals starting a similar uprising in America. Immigration numbers decreased from 1919–1920 but doubled in size in 1921. During this period, America had a nearly open borders policy with Europe. Other passed laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act, The Literacy Act of 1917, and the Page act limited Immigration from other countries. Intense lobbying was done to Congress for it to do something about the Country’s Immigration “issues.”
The leading proponents of the new proposed law, used “ethnic homogeneity” as it’s rallying cry to try and get the bill passed. Senator David Reed, who ended up being one of the chief architects of the law, stated: “that earlier legislation disregards entirely those of us who are interested in keeping American stock up to the highest standard that is the people who were born here.” Reed believed that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, most of them Catholic or Jewish, arrived sick or starving and, therefore, less capable of contributing to the American economy and also unable to adapt to American culture.
The idea was for the law to be focused on national origin rather than ethnicity or race. Prescott Hall had massive input into the bill and was also co-founder of the Immigration Restriction League. Prescott stated, “Do we want this country to be peopled by British, German, and Scandinavian stock… or by Slav, Latin and Asiatic races, historically downtrodden, atavistic, and stagnant?”
Congressman Albert Johnson was the other coauthor of the bill. Johnson was also head of the Eugenics Research Association. One of Johnson’s key advisers on Immigration was Madison Grant, author of the 1916 best selling book, The Passing of the Great Race. The book degenerated Asians, blacks and split Europeans along antiquated racial lines. These thoughts were also included in the bill.
Why didn’t the law just come out and state it was barring people based on ethnicity and race? The 14th amendment had already been passed, which prohibited discrimination based on race, though segregation was alive and kicking. The politicians didn’t want the law tied up in legal battles, so it used the term nationality, which was defined as country of origin to skirt around the whole ‘racial discrimination” issue.
Samuel Gompers, who was the founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), was also for the bill because he opposed the cheap labor immigration represented, even though the act would sharply reduce Jewish Immigration. Gompers, was of Jewish descent, by the way. The Ku Klux Klan also supported the bill (surprise, surprise). Lobbyists from the West Coast, where a majority of Japanese, Korean, and other east Asian immigrants had settled, were keen on getting Asian immigrants included in the bill.
The bill passed with strong Congressional Support. There were only nine dissenting votes in the Senate and only a handful of dissenting votes in the House. Despite some hesitation from President Calvin Coolidge and strong opposition from the Japanese Government, who had previously maintained a cordial economic and political relationship with the U.S., the act was signed into law on May 24, 1924.
The Immigration Act of 1924 limited the annual number of new immigrants by country to just 2% of the number of immigrants from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890. Why 1890? 1890 was picked as the target date because it would exclude most of the Italian, Eastern European, and other Southern European who were dominating the new immigrant numbers since 1890. The law also stated that “no alien ineligible to become a citizen could be admitted to the United States as an immigrant.” This part was explicitly aimed at Japanese aliens.
The law set a total Immigration number of 165,000 for Countries outside the western hemisphere (an 80% reduction from pre-world war one averages). The law barred immigrants from Asia, including Japan and the Philippines, which was under U.S. control at the time. The new quotas were set to last till 1927, and there were no quotas on immigrants from the western hemisphere.
The law also established the U.S. border patrol. The patrol was used to guard the U.S. Mexico border. A $ 10 tax was imposed on Mexican immigrants who were allowed to keep immigrating on the belief of their willingness to provide “cheap labor.”
As a result of the law, the total number of immigrants fell from 357,803 between 1923 and 1924 to 164,667 between 1924 and 1925. The law’s impact varied significantly by country. Immigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell only %19 while Immigration from Italy fell more than 90%.
The law was so restrictive that in 1924, more Italians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians, Spaniards, Chinese, and Japanese left the U.S. then immigrated into the U.S.
Most Jewish immigrants immigrated from Eastern European countries into the U.S. The new law made it impossible for new Jewish immigrants to immigrate to the U.S. The law was not modified to aid the flight of Jewish Immigrants in the 1930’s and 40’s despite the rise of Nazi Germany.
Some of the worst provisions of the law were changed in 1952, and the rest of the law was put to rest in 1965. The 1924 Immigration act had racist and ignorant justifications. The law also brought terrible consequences that took years to reverse. The law is another chapter in America’s ugly dealings with race throughout history.
Mistakes Were Made:
Though this is a footnote of the past, this law still holds meaning today. In 2018, when Trump was trying to get his Immigration bill passed, the bill proposed reducing Immigration to the U.S.by 35% or by more than 350,000 people per year. Where would these 350,000 excluded people hail from? Mostly from Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Where did the rational from the bill come from? The 1924 Immigration act and other former laws like it.
The Trump bill was not as overtly racist as the 1924 act, but the racial undertones are not hard to see. The law did not pass, but, it’s not the last time the Republican party will try to pass some similar measure on Immigration.
Remember back in 2018 when President Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and African Countries as “Shithole countries?” And, that the U.S. should be getting more immigrants from countries like Norway ! Let us overlook the fact that someone from Norway would probably view the U.S. as a shit hole country. Those words sound an awful lot like a new-age version of what Senator David Reed was saying to help get the 1924 Immigration Act passed. Replace Eastern Europeans and Asians with Africans, El Salvadorians, and Haitians and viola! Same old racist rhetoric mixed in with a 2018 touch.
There is nothing new under the sun, All the people riled up about Trump’s comments and proposed bills (and rightfully so), Should know that talk like this has been going on since the founding of the United States. The Alien and Sedition Acts, the 1924 Immigration act, etc. All proposed and passed based on racist and stereotypical viewpoints and thoughts, mixed with fear.
Originally published at https://mwmblog.com on December 9, 2019.