The American Constitution of 1788 (Article 1, Section 8) left it to Congress to regulate naturalization. The word "naturalization" clearly meant the allocation of citizenship to immigrants. This constitutional provision eventually gave the federal government sole authority to deal with immigration issues. Even before acquiring full citizenship, immigrants in the United States were always entitled to full protection of their basic rights under the constitution, such as: freedom of speech and religion, and the right to trial by jury. The following is a chronological list of selected federal laws dealing with the regulation of immigration. It allows an appraisal as to when and how certain problems appeared in the view of federal lawmakers to be particularly in need of codification or refinement. A step-bystep increase of regulations into an evertightening net is clearly evident. With the immigration quota law of 1921, the age of practically unlimited immigration for most Europeans, the age of the "wideopen doors," had come to an end.
1795 The minimum residency requirement in the United States before naturalization was fixed at five years.
1798 The minimum residency requirement for citizenship was extended to 14 years; a separate Alien Act valid only until 1800 empowered the President to punish traitorous activity on the part of non-naturalized individuals by deportation.
1802 The minimum residency requirement for citizenship was reduced permanently to five years.
1819 Congress for the first time set minimum standards for the room and board of passengers on the high seas.
1864 A Bureau of Immigration was established for the promotion of immigration during the Civil War.
1875 For the first time, a federal immigration law excluded certain groups of immigrants: Prostitutes, persons previously sentenced to jail in their homeland, and "involuntarily traveling orientals," by which was meant primarily Chinese contract workers, derogatorily called "Coolies."
1885 Upon the urging of American labor unions, the import of contract laborers [with contracts in hand before immigration] was forbidden. Domestic servants, doctors and certain hard-to-get workers were exempted.
1891 Excluded from immigration were criminals, the mentally ill, epileptics and people who were not capable of earning their own living. For the first time, every immigrant had to pay a head tax of fifty cents. This fee was raised to $2.00 in 1903 and to $4.00 in 1907.
1896 A literacy test in the immigrant's native language passed Congress but was vetoed by President Cleveland.
1903 Anarchists, pimps, and prostitutes were barred from immigration. American immigration officials were dispatched to European harbors to inspect ships and passengers before departure.
1907 Under American pressure, the Japanese government made a gentlemen's agreement not to issue any more sailing permits for Japanese workers.
1913 The California legislature limited the right of Japanese immigrants to acquire land.
1913 A literacy test for immigration failed due to President Taft's veto.
1915 A literacy test failed again due to President Wilson's veto.
1917 A literacy test for immigrants over 16 years passed the Senate and the House with a 2/3 majority.
1918 Excluded from immigration were proponents of the violent overthrow of the American government.
1920 Citizens of countries with which the United States was at war could be deported.
1921 The first quota law was passed. It limited the annual number of immigrants to a total of 357,803, permitting about 200,000 from northwestern Europe (including Germany), and about 155,000 from eastern and southern Europe. For the whole of Asia and Africa, only 1,000 visas were available.
1924 A second quota law further limited the annual number of immigrants to 164,667. The criterion for issuing a visa was the country of birth. The number of visas allocated for each European nation corresponded to two percent of that nation's immigrants already living in the United States as of 1890. U. S. consuls were directed to deny visas to those who might become a welfare burden.
1929 A third quota law now limited the annual total to 153,714. Examples for the maximum distribution of visas were as follows: Great Britain and Northern Ireland: 65,721; Germany: 25,957; Poland: 6,524; Italy: 5,802; the Soviet Union: 2,784; and Turkey: 226.
1940 The Alien Registration or Smith Act demanded that foreigners be finger-printed. The President was empowered to deport foreigners who were suspected of espionage or were a security risk.
1943 Immigration of Chinese workers was made possible according to the criteria of the quota law of 1924, by virtue of which 105 visas were allowed annually.
1946-7 Two war bride laws made it possible for about 180,000 foreign-born women and their children to immigrate above and beyond the quota system.
1948 The Displaced Persons Act and its update of 1950 permitted until 1952 the immigration of over 400,000 Europeans in fulfillment of past or future immigrant quotas. With this act, Congress permitted, in principle, exceptions for refugees in dire need.
1952 The McCarran-Walter Act confirmed the quota principle of 1924. It lifted the exclusion of Japanese and other immigrants from the Pacific area. It denied an immigration visa to persons "who at present or previously were members or adherents of an organization which advocated violent or other unconstitutional means for the overthrow of the United States Government." By preference for highly qualified professionals in the allocation of visas, the regulation contributed to the postwar brain drain from Europe.
1953 The Refugee Relief Act made possible the immigration, over and above the quota system, of about 210,000 persons persecuted by communist governments.
1956-7 By order of the President, the quota system was lifted for 38,000 Hungarian refugees following the ill-fated uprising against the Soviet-backed puppet regime.
1965 A new immigration law broke with the principle of visa allocation on the basis of one's nation of birth in favor of an international waiting list. It limited the annual total of legal immigrants to 170,000 from countries outside the Western Hemisphere. A maximum of 20,000 persons could come from one country. Annual immigration from Canada and Latin America, for the first time, was limited to 120,000 annually.
1980 A new refugee law put the maximum annual arrivals at 50,000 and raised the annual total ceiling for immigrants to 320,000. A refugee in the eyes of the law is "one who justifiably is in fear of being persecuted on account of his race, religion, nationality, or membership in a social group, or for his political opinion." From 1946 to 1987 the United States accepted over two million people from Europe and Asia in the "refugee" and "asylum" categories. The largest such group were the 473,000 from Cuba, while the second largest were the 411,000 from Vietnam.
1986 The immigration reform law kept the annual immigration limit at 270,000; but it was very generous in matters of reuniting families, with the result that in 1987 there were 601,516 legal immigrants. While illegal immigrants were now offered amnesty, employers of illegals were threatened with a $10,000 fine, which resulted in massive counterfeiting of identification documents.
1990 For the first time since 1965 the annual quota was drastically raised to 700,000. Of these 140,000 are reserved for professionally highly-qualified people (engineers, etc.) and 10,000 for those willing to invest at least $500,000 in the United States. The words "communist" and "homosexual" as grounds for exclusion were stricken.