September 30, 2015

How U.S. immigration laws and rules have changed through history

The United States began regulating immigration soon after it won independence from Great Britain, and the laws since enacted have reflected the politics and migrant flows of the times. Early legislation tended to impose limits that favored Europeans, but a sweeping 1965 law opened doors to immigrants from other parts of the world. In more recent years, laws and presidential actions have been shaped by concerns about refugees, unauthorized immigration and terrorism.

A 1790 law was the first to specify who could become a citizen, limiting that privilege to free whites of “good moral character” who had lived in the U.S. for at least two years. In 1870, the right of citizenship was extended to those of African origin.

Starting in 1875, a series of restrictions on immigration were enacted. They included bans on criminals, people with contagious diseases, polygamists, anarchists, beggars and importers of prostitutes. Other restrictions targeted the rising number of Asian immigrants, first limiting migration from China and later banning immigration from most Asian countries.

By the early 1900s, the nation’s predominant immigration flow shifted away from northern and western European nations and toward southern and eastern Europe. In response, laws were passed in 1921 and 1924 to try to restore earlier immigration patterns by capping total annual immigration and imposing numerical quotas based on immigrant nationality that favored northern and western European countries.

Long-standing immigration restrictions began to crumble in 1943, when a law allowed a limited number of Chinese to immigrate. In 1952, legislation allowed a limited number of visas for other Asians, and race was formally removed as grounds for exclusion. Although a presidential commission recommended scrapping the national-origins quota system, Congress did not go along.

In 1965, though, a combination of political, social and geopolitical factors led to passage of the landmark Immigration and Nationality Act that created a new system favoring family reunification and skilled immigrants, rather than country quotas. The law also imposed the first limits on immigration from the Western Hemisphere. Before then, Latin Americans had been allowed to enter the U.S. without many restrictions. Since enactment of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, immigration has been dominated by people born in Asia and Latin America, rather than Europe.

Several laws since then have focused on refugees, paving the way for entrance of Indochinese refugees fleeing war violence in the 1970s and later including relief for other nationalities, including Chinese, Nicaraguans and Haitians. A 1990 law created the “temporary protective status” that has shielded immigrants, mainly Central Americans, from deportation to countries facing natural disasters, armed conflicts or other extraordinary conditions.

In 1986, Congress enacted another major law – the Immigration Reform and Control Act – that granted legalization to millions of unauthorized immigrants, mainly from Latin America, who met certain conditions. The law also imposed sanctions on employers who hired unauthorized immigrants. Subsequent laws in 1996, 2002 and 2006 were responses to concerns about terrorism and unauthorized immigration. These measures emphasized border control, prioritized enforcement of laws on hiring immigrants and tightened admissions eligibility.

The most recent changes in immigration policy have been an exception to that pattern. In 2012, President Obama took executive action to allow young adults who had been brought to the country illegally to apply for deportation relief and a work permit. In 2014, he expanded that program (known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA) and set up a new program to offer similar benefits to some unauthorized-immigrant parents of U.S.-born children. The DACA expansion and the new program (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA) are on hold because of a legal challenge by 26 states.

Topics: Immigration, Immigration Attitudes, Immigration Trends

  1. Photo of D’Vera Cohn

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on social and demographic trends at Pew Research Center.

9 Comments

  1. James ramos8 months ago

    How much influence do you think the president has over immigration policy

  2. wolf10 months ago

    yes i agree with you YARRRRR

  3. Lou11 months ago

    I don’t see the pope being concerned with giving compassion to US Citizens who are poor, uneducated, who have lost their jobs to Illegal Aliens. This effect was warned about in 1965:

    newswithviews.com/Spingola/deann…

    “In light of our 5 percent unemployment rate, our worries over the so called population explosion, and our menacingly mounting welfare costs, are we prepared to embrace so great a horde of the world’s unfortunates? At the very least, the hidden mathematics of the bill should be made clear to the public so that they may tell their Congressmen how they feel about providing jobs, schools, homes, security against want, citizen education, and a brotherly welcome… for an indeterminately enormous number of aliens from underprivileged lands.” “We should remember that people accustomed to such marginal existence in their own land will tend to live fully here, to hoard our bounteous minimum wages and our humanitarian welfare handouts…lower our wage and living standards, disrupt our cultural patterns.” Myra C. Hacker, Vice President of the New Jersey Coalition of Patriotic Societies, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act

    “Whatever may be our benevolent intent toward many people, the bill fails to give due consideration to the economic needs, the cultural traditions, and the public sentiment of the citizens of the United States.” Myra C. Hacker, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act

    Also, isn’t it interesting that the catholic church is one of the largest recipient of financial “donations” in the world? If the pope is so concerned for these migrants, then why doesn’t he exhort those countries (including his native Argentina) to take care of their citizens in need?

    washingtontimes.com/news/2015/se…
    Catholic Church collects $1.6 billion in U.S. contracts, grants since 2012

    “Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstance of Pope Francis’ first visit to Washington is the reality that the Catholic Church he oversees has become one of the largest recipients of federal largesse in America.”

  4. Lou11 months ago

    The Liberal Case AGAINST Illegal Immigration:

    thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/…

    This is the Progressive Case AGAINST Illegal Immigration:

    salon.com/2015/03/01/the_1_perce…

    krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2006/0…
    The Conscience Of A Liberal–Paul Krugman

    “First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small.
    ” But as Mr. Hanson explains in his paper, reasonable calculations suggest that we’re talking about very small numbers, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP.

    “My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand…

    “Finally, the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear. ”

    newsmax.com/Newsfront/immigrants…
    Report: Obama’s Book Says Illegals Can Hurt Americans

    beforeitsnews.com/opinion-conser…
    Didn’t anyone in the Hispanic media read Obama’s book? Or listen to when he speaks?

    youtube.com/watch?v=idvRtDDPl_4
    Barack Obama in his own words from “The Audacity of Hope”
    – Illegal Immigration hurts Black Americans and Blue Collared Workers

    Video Not Working? I wonder why?!? Here’s an Audio Link:
    dailycaller.com/2014/11/16/shock…

  5. Lou11 months ago

    There is no STEM crisis. There is in fact a surplus of US workers for STEM:

    forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2014…

    Watch Dan Rather’s Doc: No Thanks For Everything
    youtube.com/watch?v=OeoBWzIRuic

    spectrum.ieee.org/static/the-ste…
    The STEM Crisis is a Myth: An Ongoing Discussion
    Throughout the month of September, we’ll provide continuing coverage and debate

    gspp.berkeley.edu/assets/uploads…
    The Effects of High-Skilled Immigration Policy on Firms: Evidence from H-1B Visa Lotteries

    epi.org/blog/h-1b-visas-do-not-c…
    H-1B Visas Do Not Create Jobs or Improve Conditions for U.S. Workers

    The immigration attorneys from Cohen & Grigsby explain how they assist employers in running classified ads with the goal of NOT finding any qualified applicants, and the steps they go through to disqualify even the most qualified Americans in order to secure green cards for H-1b workers.

    youtube.com/watch?v=TCbFEgFajGU

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmer…

    On May 2, 2008 a civil court judge sided with the Programmers Guild in their complaint against a Pittsburgh computer consulting company and ordered it to pay $45,000 in penalties for discriminating against legal US residents by advertising only for developers on H-1B visas. The case was brought against iGate Mastech for placing an advertisement for thirty computer programmers in 2006 “that expressly favored H-1B visa holders to the exclusion of US citizens, lawful permanent citizens and other legal US workers” according to the US Department of Justice.[8]

    washingtonexaminer.com/did-you-k…

    breitbart.com/big-government/201…
    Obama Prepares Give-Away of White-Collar Jobs And Citizenship To Foreign Graduates

    thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/i…

    Obama just expanded definitions of “specialized knowledge” and no rule to hire US workers first leads to even more abuse of the L1-B Visas

    Here’s where Job Brokers abuse the H1B Visas, provide fake job histories and resumes, provide bogus training:

    revealnews.org/article/job-broke…

    wowt.com/home/headlines/Grassley…

  6. Lou11 months ago

    Here’s where Obama and his administration has already defied the injunction by giving previous DACA recipients benefits under his EO (Memo):

    bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015…

    washingtonexaminer.com/did-the-a…

    fairus.org/legislative-updates/l…

    Here’s where the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed another “Advisory” with U.S.
    District Judge Andrew Hanen, confessing that the Department of Homeland
    Security (DHS) had given three year DACA permits to 2,000 applicants
    even after Judge Hanen issued an injunction on February 16 blocking all such approvals.
    scribd.com/doc/264593994/Texas-v…

  7. lou11 months ago

    nytimes.com/2014/11/18/us/by-usi…
    For Obama, Executive Order on Immigration Would Be a Turnabout
    “President Obama is poised to ignore stark warnings that executive action on immigration would amount to “violating our laws” and would be “very difficult to defend legally.”

    Those warnings came not from Republican lawmakers but from Mr. Obama himself.”

    factcheck.org/2014/11/obamas-imm…
    Obama’s Immigration Amnesia

    “…, Obama said he lacked the legal authority to suspend deportation of family members. Now, he says he has just such legal authority.”

  8. CalvinCoolidge isGOAT11 months ago

    Again, Republicans are seen as bad, yet everyone agrees with us on the issues lmfao. People are just so stupid. People agree that our current immigration increases crime, that our current immigration is bad for the economy, and that they want to decrease our current immigration. But then, lol, 2 seconds before all that, they say that immigrants coming to the US is better for America… WHERE IS THE LOGIC IN THAT??? People are just so stupid. And the way this article is written by Pew is just so biased against Republicans. Smh… Society is just too stupid to understand we need to control immigration, as well as illegal immigration.

  9. rakesh kumar11 months ago

    Article has no mention about legal immigrants …that is still like old days .. Growth technology sector us its impact but still rules like country wise quota force discrimination..
    People from all over the world get GC in 1 year but for Highly skilled Indian with US degrees wait for more than decade ..they work like modern day slaves they are not allowed take promotion or any changes they need to restart the process which takes 2 yr …
    legal life matters