Question on US Immigration Policy

Drawing on readings and lectures account for both the sources of continuity and change in U.S. immigration policy between the founding of the Republic and the mid-1920s. What were the initial conditions that shaped the path that immigration policy followed during this period? How and why did these initial conditions influence the outcome of later controversies, leading efforts to restrict immigration from Europe to fail during the 19th century, but leading efforts to restrict migration from China and Japan to succeed? What subsequent exogenous changes led to the restriction of migration from Europe in the mid-1920s? Use specific examples from lecture, readings, and section.


The United States Immigration policy and its outcomes between the founding of the Republic and the mid-1920s were not consistent. While original naturalization provisions were generous and liberal, they were racist in nature, since these favorable provisions applied only to free white immigrants. Despite widespread anti-immigration sentiments and numerous initiatives to limit immigration, governmental initiatives aimed at restricting the inflow of immigrants remained ineffective until the mid-1920s.

The exception was a successful restriction of Chinese, Japanese, and other Asian immigrants. However, after the 1920s, the combination of internal and external factors led to changes in immigration policy, limiting the influx of immigrants. The analysis demonstrates that the US immigration policy between the founding of the Republic and the mid-1920s can be characterized as non-democratic. It was driven by

  • (a) such internal factors as racism, anxiety towards immigrants, and anti-immigrant ideology, which led to controversial and inconsistent (more favorable towards white immigrants and unfavorable towards Asian ones) outcomes of immigration restrictions;
  • (b) external factors that promoted strong anti-alien attitudes.

Immigration Policy between the Founding of the Republic and the Mid-1920s

Initial Conditions That Influenced Immigration Policy

Since the founding of the Republic, there were specific initial conditions that shaped the path, which the US immigration policy followed until the mid-1920s. Reimers argues that American Founding Fathers paid little attention to immigration (1). The initial legal provisions that regulated immigration were liberal and generous. The author explains that according to the Naturalization Act of 1790, all free white persons were permitted to acquire the US citizenship after residing in the US for two years (Reimers 1).

Further analysis demonstrates that such initial democratic approach to naturalization affected outcomes of immigration politics for over a century despite numerous efforts to restrict immigration. However, first efforts to restrict immigration took place already in the 1790s. Reimers states that fear of immigration and political instability that it could bring were among early conditions that shaped the following immigration policies (2).

For example, the US Congress prolonged the naturalization period to five and fourteen years to prevent radical immigrants from altering political stability in the US (Reimers 2). Therefore, the anxiety about immigration and the desire of the state authorities to maintain stable political regime and avoid radical changes were among factors that affected immigration policy at that time.

Racism was another factor that influenced immigration policy. Lee brings up an example of Chinese immigration that the US Government wanted to restrict (5). She writes that Chinese were labeled to be a threat to American society and civilization (Lee 5). The fact that provisions of the Naturalization Act of 1790 made naturalization possible only to free white people shows that immigration policy was influenced by racist attitudes (Reimers 2). However, despite anti-immigrant ideology, several economic and social conditions made it possible for large-scale immigration to continue.

  1. First, many states desired to attract newcomers to sustain economic development and territorial expansion (Reimers 2).
  2. Second, the costs of reversing immigration dynamics were high (Topic 6 Lecture).
  3. Third, economic factors that facilitated immigration were stronger than ideology that aimed to restrict the flow of immigrants (FitzGerald and Cook-Martin 84).

Therefore, initial conditions that shaped the path that immigration policy followed from the time of founding Republic until the mid-1920s were anxiety about immigration, racist attitudes, anti-immigration ideology, factual inability of the US government to reverse immigration, and economic dynamics that facilitated immigration.

Controversial Outcomes of Efforts to Restrict Immigration

Described conditions led to mixed outcomes and resulted in controversies whereby efforts to restrict immigration from Europe failed during the 19th century while efforts to restrict migration from China and Japan succeed. The following reasons explain such controversial outcomes. First, since the Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that the US was the nation of white people, white European immigrants had easier time naturalizing in America and faced less resistance in their efforts to arrive and settle (Reimers 5).

Second, the majority of white immigrants was not subject to racial discrimination or was viewed inferior to other white Americans or a threat to American way of life and civilization (Lee 9; Reimers 6). Finally, the Congress and the US presidents did not have a united position on limiting immigration and naturalization of whites until the early 1900s (Reimers 8). Therefore, efforts to restrict immigration from Europe failed despite widespread anti-immigration attitudes among policy makers.

However, immigration of Chinese and Japanese was effectively restricted during the same period. While Chinese immigrants were in demand at first, factors such as labor competition, racial hostility, and high concentration and visibility of Chinese in skilled and unskilled labor market led to anti-Chinese hysteria and subsequent anti-Chinese immigration legislations such as Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Geary Act, and local anti-Chinese ordinances (Topic 6 Lecture: Part 2; Reimers 4).

Reimers states that racial sentiments were among the main reasons that led to the restricted inflow of Japanese immigrants and exclusion of immigrants of Asian origin (5, 11). The analysis of societal and economic dynamics that resulted in immigration restrictions demonstrates that racism and racial discrimination are the main factors that have led to a failure of efforts to restrict immigration of White Europeans and the success of efforts to restrict immigration of Chinese and Japanese immigrants.

Exogenous Changes That Led to the Restriction of Migration from Europe in the Mid-1920s

However, in the mid-1920s, restrictions were put in place to limit migration from Europe. In the early 1910s, the US Immigration Commission gave credibility to studies claiming that immigrants from Austria, Hungary, Greece, Romania, Italy, Turkey, and Russia were inferior comparing to earlier immigrants from western and northern Europe (Lee 12; Week 6 Lecture: Part 2). At the same time, the majority of Americans supported the call to restrict all immigration (Lee 12). Therefore, policymakers had the support of Americans to impose and justify immigration restrictions.

Furthermore, a number of exogenous factors led to the restriction of migration from Europe to the US in the mid-1920s. The following are the main external factors that facilitated immigration restriction. First, World War I fostered anti-alien attitudes and hostility towards immigrants (Week 6 Lecture: Part 2). Second, Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and political unrest in Europe were factors that led to immigration restriction.

For example, the US authorities were afraid to let in the country radicals, who would cause political unrest and strengthen the influence of Communism and the power of labor unions, since Communist and unions activities were considered manifestations of disloyalty to the American values, threatening the established political and economic order (Week 6 Lecture: Part 2). Moreover, growing American indifference to European politics led to the isolationism of the US.

Finally, another factor of described dynamics was disintegration of pro-immigration coalitions (Week 6 Lecture: Part 2). Therefore, the main exogenous factors that led to the restriction of migration from Europe to the US in the mid-1920s included WWI, political unrest in Europe, and Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.


The analysis of the US immigration policy between the founding of the Republic and the mid-1920s leads to the following conclusions.

  1. First, initial conditions that influenced immigration policy included racism, anxiety about immigration effects, and the role immigration played in the US economic development.
  2. Second, outcomes of efforts to restrict immigration were controversial since while immigration of Asians was successfully restricted, European immigration was not.
  3. Third, external factors played an important role in fostering anti-immigrant attitudes and shaping the US immigration policy.
  4. Finally, the racial and discriminatory character of the US immigration policy made it biased, discriminatory, and non-democratic.

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