Immigration Policy in the 1920s

Abogado Aly Immigration 1920Immigration policy rose in national importance in the 1920s for a couple of reasons. “Economic concerns, nationalism brought about by World War I, and a tilt toward a smaller percentage of new immigrants with English as their native language contributed to moving public sentiment towards restricting immigration”. The emergence of “Eugenics” as a public policy tool in policy circles and Western philosophy also played a role. “Eugenics is the belief in improving the qualities of the human race by preventing the reproduction of people deemed to have genetic defects or undesirable characteristics and/or encouraging increased reproduction by those with supposed desirable inheritable characteristics.” According to Anderson, this widespread belief in eugenics was a decisive factor in creating the restrictive immigration laws in the 1920s. Natives in Canada and the United States were in favor of the status quo of their countries, so they did not want a large amount of immigrants they deemed as “undesirable” tainting their countries national structure.

This word “undesirables” is funny in this context because the factors in which made a person undesirable were two different types of people: criminals and people of different races. Racism, therefore, was a major aspect in creating the immigration policy of the 1920s. The Ku Klux Klan started in 1915 to “control minority groups which it identified with moral and political nonconformity”. There was strong support for anti-Jewish sentiments. A quote from U.S. consuls abroad said that “by barring legislative action the United States would face an onslaught of Jews who were “abnormally twisted,” “inassimilable,” “Filthy, un-American, and often dangerous in their habits”.  These were times of tense national identity, or, as we like to call it in the progressive era, racism, so of course the immigration policies of the 1920s for both Canada and the United States were to keep their national identity and therefore their morals, values, traditions, and most importantly there so called “intellectual level”.

US Immigration Law in Politics

Abogado Aly Immigration law in politicsStuart Anderson said, “The surest way to change the law in America is not by lobbying Congress but by convincing enough of the public the laws must be changed.”  When talking about the immigration debate in politics, there seems to be many political pressures felt by  policy makers to make the immigration policies we see today. Political pressures that cause policy, however, are different for every country because of geographical location, wealth, and beliefs and values. For example, in 1924, the United States Congress was forced to establish the U.S. Border Patrol to catch illegal Hispanic immigrants who were trying to run across the border to the United States. This is an example of the United States’ geographic location causing policy change. Canada does not have an illegal immigration problem because it only boarders the United States, so they do not need to put a lot of political resources in containing illegal immigration.

Throughout the history of Immigration Policy in both the United States and Canada, we can see different political pressures that affected both immigration policy. The opposition towards immigration to Canada and the U.S. was borne mostly by the Chinese during the mid to late 19th century. Not only was immigration rising during the mid to late 19th century, but diversity in the immigration groups was also on the increase. There were still English, Irish, and Germans coming into the United States and Canada; however, new ethnic groups, like Hispanics and Asians, were taking advantage of the great opportunities that these countries offered. This brought about a sense of national identity to the already settled natives, and their distrust and dislike for different ethnic groups were becoming greater and greater as the threat of an ethnic takeover was a possibility. What the natives felt threatened by was the different traditions, values, and loyalties that the diverse immigrant population would bring to what the natives  thought was an already great nation. There was even Protestant opposition towards the Catholics; however, there were already too many Catholics groups settled and not a big enough ratio of opposition towards them for legislation to be passed restricting Catholics. The Chinese came to the United States because of the gold rush and they were willing to work for lower wages than the natives. The natives did not feel like this was fair, so with extreme pressure from the West Coast and the Democratic party, the Republican Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.



Canadian Immigration Policy vs. US Immigration Policy

Abogado Aly US immigration policy vs. CanadaAfter the Second World War, Canadian immigration policy became a little less race oriented and geared more toward economic profitability. Finally in 1962, Ellen Fairclough, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration basically eliminated racial discrimination by implementing a new Canadian immigration policy. This new immigration policy stated that if an immigrant wanted to come to Canada and was not sponsored, as long as that immigrant proved his educational skill or quality that seemed desirable for Canada, he or she was allowed to immigrate without racial bias. Whereas the United States took a more humanitarian approach to immigration policy reform in the 1960s, Canada’s immigration reform was geared more towards the economic needs of Canada, as evidenced by its point based system.

This point system was implemented in 1967 where there was no quota for the amount of people who could come into Canada. Instead, anyone who wanted to come into Canada had to take a test which tested immigrants on specific qualities that the Canadian government was looking for. These qualities included language proficiency in English and French (which are Canada’s main languages), whether or not they had a job set up in Canada, whether or not they had family members in Canada, their level of education, and the area of Canada to which they wanted to immigrate too. Just like in the United States, this caused there to be a shift in the type of people who immigrated to Canada from Europeans to Asians.

Finally in 1976, a new Canadian Immigration Act, that Canada still uses today, was implemented. This act separated Canadian immigrants into four separate categories, or as they call them, classes:  a humanitarian class (which included refugees, persecuted or displaced persons), an independent class, a family class, and an assisted relative class. Just like in the United States, Canada implemented a very strong family immigration policy, but what makes Canadian immigration policy different from American immigration policy is the strong emphasis on the independent class which is run by the point system. Canada’s immigration policy therefore is using immigration more for economic profitability purposes, whereas the United States’ seems geared more to a humanitarian or familiar goals. This fundamental difference in immigration policy between the two countries illustrate strong political differences between the two countries which result in differing economic impacts of immigration.




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.