Immigration Law Post World War II

Abogado Aly immigration law reform

Abogado Aly Immigration Law

The passage of the Walter-McCarran Act in 1952 was the next major piece of immigration legislation. This act implemented a quota not on the origins of the U.S. population, but extended the quota to people with high skilled labor that the United States felt like they needed in their labor force. It also set up preferences towards relatives of U.S. residents. This was a fundamental change, implemented by the Truman administration, in immigration policy from national origins to family unification and labor needs. Finally, in 1965, President Kennedy amended the 1952 act as part of the civil rights legislation to completely eliminate the inherent racism in the old immigration policy. This new policy completely eliminated the national origins quota and granted  complete priority to family members of American citizens and other immigrants that had complete U.S. residence. This immigration policy was on a first come first serve basis, and annually allowed no more than 20,000 immigrants per country with a global limit of 290,000 immigrants. Eighty percent of the 290,000 limit were saved for close relatives of American citizens or residents, so it is obvious that family unification was the driving force for the 1965 immigration policy. This preference in family unification caused a decrease in the number of European immigrants and an increase in the number of Asian and Hispanic immigrants. This immigration policy is the policy that the United States has today, and this immigration policy is unique compared to other countries such as Canada, England and Japan.

In Canada, the early history of immigration policy is similar to that of the United States. In the mid to late 19th century, immigration policy in Canada was fairly open only restricting criminals and other extreme undesirables. There were not many immigrants coming to Canada before 1896, so Canada was actively seeking immigrants to tend to their large amounts of land. The Dominion Land Act was then established in 1872 which gave land in northwestern regions of Canada to any male over the age of 18 who in return had to promise to cultivate and take care of that land. At the turn of the century, Canada was trying to obtain low skilled labor to enter their vast agricultural sector in the Northwest region. Frank Oliver, a Canadian politician who represented a vast majority of the Northwest region, implemented the Canadian Immigration Act of 1910 that gave more power to the federal government and prohibited the entry “of immigrants belonging to any race deemed unsuited to the climate or requirements of Canada.” This new immigration policy became even more strict during and after the First World War.  Just like the United States, Canada’s immigration policy at the beginning of the 1920s became increasingly race oriented because of the rising world tensions. Canada’s immigration policy was split up into two groups: the preferred and the non-preferred. Since not many immigrants found incentives to immigrate to Canada, Canada implemented policies to incentivize immigration from England, America, and Western Europe. On the other hand, Canada also implemented numerous policies to keep the so-called “undesirable races,” in the eyes of the Canadians, out of their country.


Immigration Law Reform into the 20th Century

Abogado Aly History of Immigration ReformOpposition towards immigration began in the late 19th century as the immigrants coming into the United States (Irish Catholics, Germans, Chinese, Spanish) were ethnically different than the immigrants who had already established themselves (English Protestants). Eventually the opposition became strong enough to create   political pressures that called for immigration restrictions during the early 20th century.

Before 1875 immigration policy was never really discussed by the federal government  because there was nothing about immigration in the constitution. It was in 1875 when the US supreme court ruled that the federal government had complete control over immigration because it was the federal government’s  constitutional duty  to regulate international commerce.[1]  In 1882, the United States implemented its first two laws  to restrict immigration, The Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States, and forced Chinese non-laborers to obtain authorization from their government. Second, Congress enacted and the President signed the Immigration Act which banned “convicts, prostitutes, lunatics, idiots, and those likely to become a public charge”[2] from entering the United States.  Up until the 1920s, a few more immigration laws were passed restricting the number of Japanese, Chinese, and women; even a Bureau of Immigration was established in 1891. The third wave of immigration was a period of the heaviest immigration to the United States, so the political pressures were mounting for a change in policy.

In the 1920s the Quota Law of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 were implemented. These laws were significant in reducing the overall amount of immigration and skewed immigration towards the already settled immigrants of Britain, Ireland and other parts of northwestern Europe.[3] The Quota Law of 1921 legislated a maximum number of immigrants allowed per year. This maximum was limited at “three percent of the number of foreign-born persons of that nationality who lived in the United States in 1910”[4]. For example, if there were 100,000 immigrants from Ireland already in the United States, then only 3000 Irish people were allowed to immigrate to the United States that year. The Immigration Act of 1924 went a step further and reduced the number of foreign born to two percent for a three-year period while reducing its base year from 1910 to 1890.[5] This reduced the previous quota by half, and skewed the number of immigrants towards Irish, English, and German immigrants basically eliminating immigration from southern and eastern Europe. In 1929, immigration laws tightened again, reducing the quota even further and used the entire American population as its basis for ethnic origins causing there to be smaller percentages of immigrants from specific countries who were allowed into the United States.  By the end of the 1920s, immigration flow fell drastically from about 1 million per year to between 200,000 to 300,000 per year.[6] These quotas were implemented for the Eastern Hemisphere, whereas there was no real need for a quota on the Western Hemisphere because there was such a small amount of immigration from the West at this time.

A History of the United States Immigration Policy

Abogado Aly Immigration History“What do the American people want immigration to do for the United States”[1]? According to George Borjas, one of the leading labor economists who specialize in immigration issues, this should be the fundamental question in the modern immigration debate. Technically, everyone who now lives in the United States has some ancestor that immigrated to the United States from abroad and there was a point in time where there was no immigration policy. As the United States became wealthier and wealthier, an immigration policy became necessary to keep overpopulation and major wealth divisions from happening. Typically, when policy makers of the world focus on the immigration debate, they seem to use economics as their main basis for policy change. This is how immigration policy is implemented in most countries. If immigration were to make the native people economically worse off, why wouldn’t a country impose a strict immigration policy? On the other hand, if immigration were to make the native population economically better off, why wouldn’t a country impose a more lose immigration policy? This paper will describe the political forces in Canada and the United States that led to their different historic approaches to immigration, and then analyze their respective current policies in both political and economic terms.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. During the colonial era, from 1607 to 1820, a little less than one million people arrived and settled in the United States which comprised of about 600,000 Europeans, about 300,000 African slaves, and a small mix of Scots, Irish, Dutch, Germans, Swedes, and French.[2] This was considered the first wave of immigration to the United States. The second wave occurred from the years between 1840 and 1870 where about 15 million immigrants entered the country. Most of the immigrants came from Ireland (because of the Irish Potato Famine) and Germany while some Spanish speakers were coming through the southwest region and Chinese laborers were coming to California (because of the California gold rush).[3] The third wave of immigration, during the years between 1880 and 1920, was really when immigration opposition began and the need for an immigration policy became apparent. During the third wave, there were about 25 million immigrants. Most came in from England, Ireland, and Germany; but this time around, there was an abundance of immigrants coming in from southern and eastern Europe: Italy, Poland, Greece, Russia, Hungry, and other smaller nations.[4] Immigration public policy was marginally discussed by the mid-19th century. There were minimal attempts to keep criminals and other extreme undesirables out, but other than that, immigration did not affect people’s lives enough for there to be public discussion about it.


[1]George J Borjas, Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999) xvi.

[2] John Isbister, The Immigration Debate: Remaking America (West Hartford, CT: Kumarian, 1996)32.

[3] Isbister 32.

[4] Isbister 32.