The (First) Thirty Years War For Immigration Reform – Timeline

Great graph on U.S. immigration ebb and flow

1607-1875 Immigration
responsibility of states, which repeatedly
legislate against paupers, criminals etc.


1875 U.S. Supreme Court rules
immigration federal, not state, responsibility.

1880 Treaty with China gives
US right to restrict, but not exclude Chinese

1881 President Chester Alan
Arthur sends message to Congress stating
immigration problem and requesting legislation.

1882 First Immigration Law
passed. Chinese immigration effectively excluded –
i.e. before the 1880-1925 “Great Wave” from
Southern, Eastern Europe.

1885 Legislation restricts
importation of

contract labor.

Reflects labor unions` historic concerns.

1889 Standing Committee on
Immigration and Naturalization established in

House of Representatives.

1889 In 

Chae Chan Ping v. United States,
the Supreme
Court explains that there is no constitutional
right to immigrate.

1890 Committee determines
that no radical change in legislation is necessary
but current laws should be better enforced. But
elected officials in 23 states demand better
regulation of immigration.

1891  Act of 1891 federalizes
immigration, especially that by sea. Office of
Superintendent of Immigration established.

1892 Steerage passengers from
Hamburg bring cholera epidemic to New York.

Quarantine imposed.

1892 Immigration station
opens at

Ellis Island
in New York . Of the 37 million
who entered between 1880 and 1920, 20 million will
enter through Ellis Island.

1893 Cholera epidemic in New
York brought by steerage passengers.


 Immigration Restriction League
formed in
Boston by Robert DeCourcey Ward.Century

1895 Thomas Bailey Aldrich

The Unguarded Gates.

Explicit opposition to Lazarus poem.


Henry Cabot Lodge
, a supporter of the
Immigration Restriction League, sponsors a bill
that would require immigrants to read 40 words in
any language. Grover Cleveland vetoes it.

1897 Grover Cleveland vetoes
Immigration Act due to literacy test.

1901 McKinley shot by
anarchist Leon


1903 Years after the erection
of the

Statue of Liberty
,  New York
philanthropist Georgina Schuyler, a friend of Emma
Lazarus , has Lazarus` sentimental poem, The
New Colossus,
engraved on a bronze plaque and
placed inside pedestal on Bedloe`s  Island.

1903 Congress

anarchists from entering.

1903 Immigration transferred
to newly created Department of Commerce and

1905 A commission on
Naturalization procedure reports little or no
uniformity among the nation`s 5,000 naturalization

1906 Basic Naturalization Act
sets nation-wide rules.

1907 Senator William P.
Dillingham` commission starts hearing testimony

1907 Immigration act

Attempt to reduce flow by barring undesirables.

1908 Zangwill`s

The Melting Pot
opens on Broadway.


"Gentleman`s Agreement "
with the Empire of
Japan. Immigration from Japan stopped.

1910,  Henry Cabot Lodge says
in a speech : I shall not attempt to argue the
question with you, but will merely point out the
number of persons who would have been excluded
since 1886 if the illiterates over fourteen years
of age had been thrown out. During that period the
number of illiterates who, by their own admission,
could neither read nor writer in any language,
numbered 1,829,320.

1911 Dillingham commission 
report fills 42 volumes. Many of its
recommendations will be adopted in 1917, 1921, and

1913 President Taft vetoes
immigration bill with literacy test attached.

1913 Woodrow Wilson elected.
US population will grow  by 15 percent during his
eight years in office with  6 million post-1910

1915 Woodrow Wilson vetoes
literacy test for immigrants.

1917, Congress finally passes

Immigration Act
with a literacy test and 
"Asian Barred Zone."  Wilson vetoes it again,
but Congress passes it anyway. Immigration
Restriction League has a victory dinner.

1920 January.

Palmer Raids.
Foreign radicals deported


William Walter Husband
, secretary of the
Dillingham commission, appointed Commissioner
General of Immigration.

1921 Johnson Act (vetoed by
Wilson,  then signed by Harding) introduces a
quota system.

1920 September. 500 pound

dynamite bomb
exploded in front of 23 Wall
Street. Wall Street support for immigration takes
sudden drop.


 act signed by Coolidge. National
Origins and Quota

in place. Great Pause begins. The
Immigration Restriction League.

Immigration Restriction
League disbands.
Immigration Reformers let their guard

November 17, 2001