Changes In The United States Immigration Laws Since 1790

Regulation of immigration in the United States began soon after the country won its independence from Great Britain. The legislation that have been enacted ever since independence have reflected on the migrant flow and politics of the time. Earlier legislation on immigration tended to favor Europeans, but this changed in 1965 when a sweeping law opened doors to immigrants from other parts of the world. Recently, presidential actions on immigration have been shaped by concerns about terrorism, unauthorized immigration, and refugees. Below is a breakdown of how immigration statutes have changed since 1790.


In 1790, the Naturalization Act was passed. This piece of legislation excluded non-white people from being eligible to naturalize. Under this Act, a person had to be of good moral character, a residence of the country for more than two years, and a free white person to naturalize. In 1795, the Act was amended to extend the years a person should have been a resident from two to five years. The number of years was later extended to 14 years in 1798, and then back to five in 1802.
In 1870, African-Americans were given the right of citizenship. From 1875, a number of restrictions were enacted on immigration. These restrictions included bans on importers of prostitutes, beggars, anarchists, polygamists, people with contagious diseases, and criminals. Other restrictions were enacted to address the rising number of immigrants from Asia. First, the restrictions limited the number of immigrants from China, then banning immigration from a huge number of Asian countries.
Other legislation were passed in 1921 and 1924 that tried to restore earlier immigration patterns. This was in response to the low number of immigrants from northern and western European countries and high numbers of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe. These statutes imposed numerical quotas based on immigrant nationality and favored Northern and Western Europe.
In 1943, immigration restrictions that had existed for a long time began to collapse when legislation was passed that allowed a small number of immigrants from China into the United States. Another legislation was passed in 1952 that allowed a limited number of Asians to be granted visas. It is this 1952 legislation that marked a formal removal of race as grounds for exclusion.
In 1965, the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act was passed thanks to a combination of geopolitical, social, and political factors. The Act created a new system that favors skilled immigrants and family reunification over country quotas. The Act also imposed restrictions on immigration from Latino countries. Before 1965, there were no restrictions on Latin American immigrants. Since then, immigration legislation focused on refugees. This paved way for the entrance of Indochinese refugees in the 1970s that were fleeing war. Later on, immigration law allowed for the entrance of Chinese, Nicaraguan, and Haitian refugees.

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