Time To Take Action America

Federal Immigration Laws

Below you will find a concise primer of all Federal Immigration Laws and Acts from 1760 through 2006.

Colonial Period: Legal Authority over Immigration

In the Declaration of Independence the founding fathers grievances against King George III included his denial to allow immigrants and colonists the opportunity to migrate westward. Item 7 of the Declaration of Independence states that [King George III] "has endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands." The founding fathers felt strong enough about King George's Proclamation of 1763 that prevented further westward expansion that they listed it as one of the grievances against the king.

Colonial Attitudes toward Immigration

The Colonial attitude toward immigration was contradictory. On the one hand, the colonial leaders encouraged immigrants to come to the new world for several reasons. New immigrants could alleviate the chronic labor shortage, develop new resources, and increase the revenues of colonial government. In addition, immigrants could also help protect the colony against attacks from the French and Indians. Colonial laws were enacted to encourage immigrants to come the new colonies. Liberal land grants, the headright system, and exemption from taxes and debts made it easier for immigrants to settle in the new colonies.

However, even with these needs, most of the colonies did not establish a open arms immigration policy. In most of the colonies, certain groups of immigrants were generally not welcome. The group targeted by most of the colonies were the Roman Catholics. Maryland was one of the few colonies that encouraged Roman Catholic immigration. Most of the colonies "levied discriminatory head taxes upon ship captains landing Roman Catholics, and even the colonies which attempted to promote immigration were careful to specify that only Protestants could qualify for the bounties or other inducements offered." Likewise, the poor were discouraged from immigrating to the colonies and as we have seen convicted felons and convicts were not welcomed to the colonies as well.

Founding Fathers' Attitudes toward Immigrants

The founding fathers were aware of the benefits of encouraging immigrants to settle in the American colonies, but even with the benefits, many of our political leaders had their suspicions concerning immigrants.

Benjamin Franklin had his concerns over the rising number of German immigrants who were pouring into Pennsylvania. He had "misgivings about Germans because of their clannishness, their little knowledge of English, the German press, and the increasing need of interpreters. Speaking of the latter he said, "I suppose in a few years they will also be necessary in the Assembly, to tell one-half of our legislators what the other half say."

On July 7, 1775, the General Washington had issued a General Order that no man should be appointed a sentry who was not a "native of the country," and three days later he approved an order to the recruiting service "not to enlist any person who is not an American-born, unless such person has a wife and family and is a settled resident in this country." For service in his own military guard the General permitted only native-born Americans. He inveighed against the relatively large number of foreign officers and adventurers among his troops. "My opinion, with respect to emigration," he advised John Adams, "is that except of useful mechanics and some particular descriptions of men or professions, there is no need of encouragement, while the policy or advantage of its taking place in a body (I mean the settling of them in a body) may be much questioned; for by so doing, they retain the language, habits, and principles (good or bad) which they bring with them."

Thomas Jefferson favored immigration restriction. In 1782 he stated in part in his Notes on Virginia:

"But are there no inconveniences to be thrown into the scale against any advantage expected form a multiplication of numbers by the importation of foreigners? It is for the happiness of those united in society to harmonize as much as possible in matters which of necessity they must transact together. Civil government being the sole object of forming societies, its administration must be conducted by common consent. Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours, perhaps, are more peculiar than those of any other. It is a composition of the freest principles of the English Constitution with others derived from natural right and reason. To these nothing can be more opposed than the maxims of absolute monarchies. Yet, from such we are to expect the greatest number of immigrants. They will bring with them the principles of governments they leave, or if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as usual, from one extreme to the other. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their numbers they will share legislation with us. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp or bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass."

Once the Revolutionary War began with Great Britain, the Continental Congress assumed political authority for the thirteen colonies. The Continental Congress approved in 1781 The Articles of Confederation, the first constitution of the United States.

In regards to immigration laws, the Continental Congress, under the Articles of Confederation, did not claim its authority to regulate immigration. The authority for immigration continued to be at the state level. "Under Article 4 of the Articles of Confederation adopted in 1778, the citizens of each state were made citizens of every other state, but each state retained its own naturalization and immigration laws and standards. This resulted in continued confusion and ineffective legislation concerning immigration."

Federal Period: Legal Authority over Immigration 1789-1800

Under the Articles of Confederation no central authority could regulate the immigration of foreigners. The authority rested with the states and each state established its own naturalization and citizenship requirements. Confusion resulted from the myriad rules and requirements.

The confusion did not go unnoticed by political leaders such as Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. When government leaders met in Philadelphia to revise the Articles of Confederation, in May of 1787, the issue of immigration was settled with the adoption of the Constitution of the United States in 1789. With the adoption of the Constitution of the United States, state authority over immigration was ceded to the federal government. The United States Congress became the national authority to pass laws which governed immigration to the United States. In Article I, Section 8 Clause 3 of the Constitution provides that Congress shall have the power to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States and with the Indian Tribes."

Another area that falls under the control of Congress was the issue of the slave trade. The southern states refused to ratify the new constitution and even threatened to secede from the union if the slave trade was not continued. John Rutledge and Charles Cotesworthy Pinckney "insisted that his state and Georgia could not 'do with out slaves' and therefore the slave trade should be continued. In a rebuttal to this argument, George Mason replied ""Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. They prevent the immigration of whites, who really enrich and strengthen a country. They produce the most pernicious effect on manners. Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant." A compromise was reached with the acceptance of Article I Section 9 of the Constitution of the United States.

Article 1 Section 9 states: "The migration or importation of such persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year 1808; but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding $10 for each person."

Federal Immigration Laws between 1790-1819

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first law passed by Congress that attempted to regulate on a national level the naturalization of immigrants. The law allowed for an immigrant to become a citizen of the United States after a relatively short time of two years. In 1795, congress amended the act of 1790 by increasing the length of time from two years to five years.

The Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798 (the Naturalization Act of 1798, Aliens Act of 1798, and Alien Enemy Act of 1798) were a series of laws passed at the height of the threat of war with France. The Federalist party was in power, led by President John Adams, who was alarmed at the increasing number of immigrants who joined the Republican opposition n party. The Republicans were led by Adams's old friend, Thomas Jefferson. The Federalists saw the influx of foreigners as evidence of a relationship between foreigners and disloyalty - as a result the Federalists argued for greater restrictions against foreigners and the critics of federalist policies.

The Naturalization Act of 1798 increased the residency requirement for American citizenship from five to fourteen years, required aliens to declare their intent to acquire citizenship five years before it could be granted, and made persons from "enemy" nations ineligible for naturalization. The act deprived Republicans of an important source of political support. Aliens were specifically affected by two other acts, which authorized their deportation if they were deemed "dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States" and their wholesale incarceration or expulsion by presidential executive order during wartime.

With the election of Thomas Jefferson as president, the new congress allowed the Naturalization Act of 1798 to expire. Congress quickly acted and passed the Naturalization Act of 1802 which restored citizenship requirements to five years rather than the fourteen as was required by the Act of 1798.

After passing the Naturalization Law of 1802, the United States passed sporadic but meaningful legislation that was not restrictive in character. Much of the legislation, until 1875, was designed to encourage immigrants to come to the United States. In fact in President Tyler's message to Congress on June 1, 1841, stated that "we hold out to the people of other countries an invitation to come and settle among us as members of our rapidly growing family."

The Steerage Act of 1819 has been identified as the first basic piece of federal legislation that addresses the subject of immigration. The Steerage Act of 1819 required ships captains to keep a list of immigrants who landed in the United States. Since September 30, 1820, there has been maintained under that act a record of all legal arrivals of immigrants. From 1820 to 1875, a period of state regulation of immigration or free immigration so far as the Federal Government was concerned, 9,104,034 aliens arrived in the country.

Federal Immigration Laws between 1820-1870

Immigrants from all over northern Europe began migrating to the United States after 1820. The lure of economic opportunity, religious, and political freedoms encouraged thousands of people to leave their native lands and emigrate to the United States. News of the great economic opportunities in America was sent back to those remaining in the old country in the form of letters, emigrant guidebooks, and cheap newspapers. These accounts encouraged new immigrants to leave and travel to America to capture the opportunities the new country had to offer.

Travel to the United States, though, was not an easy affair. The ships were very crowded and dirty which led to outbreaks of disease and many immigrants died on the journey. The journey took between one and three months and the success of the journey was dependent on the cooperation of the weather and the skill and ability of the ship captain. Sanitary conditions were poor at best and cooking facilities were not sufficient for the hundreds of passengers on the sailing ships. Immigrants had to deal with ship fever and cholera outbreaks while on board and many did not survive and those that did were in a much weakened condition when they arrived in the United States. In response to the terrible conditions, the United States government passed the Passenger Act of 1847 and 1855. In 1854, the New York Legislature issued a "Protest against the Suffering of Emigrant Passengers" by stating:

  • "WHEREAS, During the last twelve months great and increasing mortality has occurred on board of vessels engaged in the business of carrying emigrants to various ports of the United States, and undoubted evidence exists that such suffering and deaths results from insufficient ventilation; and
  • WHEREAS, The existing laws are inadequate to secure the emigrants from these calamities: Therefore
  • Resolved, That we respectfully ask the Congress of the United States to investigate this important subject and enact such laws as may be necessary to secure the health of passengers on emigrant vessels." (Joint Resolution of the New York Assembly and Senate, passed January 6, 1854. New York State Laws 1854, 1105 as cited in Abbott 1924, 42)

State of Maryland Immigration Laws:

Although the federal government's attitude toward immigration during this period of time (1820-1875) was fairly relaxed, the state governments were very active in passing legislation that greatly affected newly arriving immigrants. The states regulated immigration especially in the case of paupers or poor immigrants who came to the United States. The state assembly of Maryland passed a law that required the ship captains to ensure that his passengers were not paupers, and if they were, he would be responsible for them.

In 1833, the Maryland Assembly passed "An Act Relating to the Importation of Passengers" on March 22, 1833. The act:

  • "WHEREAS, The frequent arrivals of passengers at the port of Baltimore have introduced into that city a great number of paupers who have become charges upon the city and county and upon the several associations in said city, incorporated by the State, for the relief of foreign emigrants to the United States; and
  • WHEREAS, A large proportion of the passengers in the various ships are paupers, and are, as such paupers, embarked, it is believed, under the direction of public authorities of foreign countries; and
  • WHEREAS, It is right that the evil in question should be remedied or alleviated as far as practicable: Therefore

Section I. Be it enacted by the general assembly of Maryland, That from and after the lst day of September next, every master or commander of every vessel arriving from a foreign country or from any other of the United States, who shall enter said vessel at the custom-house in the city of Baltimore shall, within twenty-four hours after such entry, make a report in writing on oath to the mayor or register of said city of the name, age, and occupation of every alien who shall have been brought or carried as passenger in such vessel on the voyage whence said vessel shall have, as aforesaid, arrived, upon pain of forfeiture for every neglect or omission to make such report, of the sum of twenty dollars for every such passenger neglected or omitted to be so reported.

Section 7. And be it enacted, That each and every master or commander of any vessel coming from a foreign country, or from any other of the United States, shall prior to her landing any alien passenger at any place in any county in this State, pay in respect of each and every passenger aforesaid, who shall be above the age of five years, the sum of one dollar and fifty cents to the clerk of the county in which such alien is landed, or at the option of said master or commander, he may prior to such landing in lieu of such payment as to all or any of said passengers become bound to the clerk of such county with two sufficient sureties to be approved by such clerk of such county and the trustees of the poor for such county from all and every expense or charge which shall or may be incurred at any t time within two years from such landing for the maintenance and support of any such passenger as aforesaid so imported and if any alien passenger brought by such vessel shall be permitted or suffered to land within any county in this State before payment m made or bond given as aforesaid, in respect of any such passenger, the master or commander of any such vessel shall forfeit and pay the sum of one hundred dollars for every person so suffered or permitted to land as aforesaid, one-half to the use of the St ate, and the other to the use of the informer, to be recovered in an action of debt or indictment in any county court of any county in this State, where such master or commander shall be arrested: Provided, That nothing in this section shall be construed to extend to any such passenger landed in the city of Baltimore."

During the Civil War, the federal government actually encouraged immigration through several laws:

The Homestead Act of 1862 (12 Stat. 392) indirectly encouraged immigrants to come to the United States because it promised land grants to small farmers. The act provided that any adult citizen (or person intending to become a citizen) who headed a family could qualify for a grant of 160 acres of public land by paying a small registration fee and living on the land continuously for five years." The Homestead Act was passed during the Civil War. The South had repeatedly opposed the granting of free public land because it would directly encourage immigrants to settle in on those lands and the states would come in as free states rather than slave states. The federal government, under Abraham Lincoln, passed the act in 1862 when southern opposition was no longer a problem and it was enthusiastically passed by the Republican congress.

During the Civil War, political leaders, including president Abraham Lincoln became aware of the need for additional laborers. The war effort had effectively reduced the surplus labor supply and new laborers were needed. Lincoln asked congress for legislation that would encourage immigrants to come to the United States. On July 4, 1864, Congress passed the Act to Encourage Immigration. (13 US Statutes at Large) The Homestead Act had the effect of encouraging immigrants to leave the industries and take up farming. The Union needed laborers in the factories for the war effort.

The Act of 1864 was designed to address this problem. This Act made pre-emigration contracts binding. The government hoped that by making pre-employment contract binding it would encourage employers to hire more immigrant laborers and this would also make the laborers more reliable. The President of the United States, under the act of 1864, appointed a new commissioner of immigration. Immigrants pledged their wages to repay the travel expenses incurred by employers. The popularity of the law w as immediately seen with the creation of the American Emigrant Company. The American Emigrant Company worked with employers who wanted to recruit foreign laborers. Employers agreed to pay the transportation costs of recruited foreign workers. Thousands of foreign workers were signed to these pre-emigration contracts and emigrated to the United States during the Civil War.

Initial Attempts to Restrict Immigration to the United States (1871-1900)

After the Civil War, the United States enacted legislation that began to restrict and prohibit immigration. The first such piece of restrictive legislation, the Act of March 3, 1875 targeted Chinese immigrants, who had been encouraged by industrialists, mine owners, and officials of the railroad, to emigrate to the United States as early as the 1850s. Anti-Chinese prejudice, always present during the 1850s and 1860s, erupted during the 1870s when the country suffered an economic depression. Violent mob attacks against Chinese immigrants broke out in California during the 1870s. The Chinese were the first non-European group to immigrate to the United States and few Americans understood their culture, customs, or language. Domestic whites also believed, quite mistakenly, that the Chinese immigrants were "coolies" who represented an inferior or servile class of people and thereby threatened free labor and higher wages.

During President Grant's Administration, the first attempts at restricting certain groups into the United States was considered. The Act of March 3, 1875 was Congress's attempt at solving the perceived problem of Chinese labor. Chinese immigrants had been settling in the United States since 1850 to help build the railroad in the western states. Their labor was cheap and available and both mine owners and railroad builders imported many Chinese to work in the mines and to build the railroads. As a result, wages were kept low and this contributed to heightened racial tensions between white settlers and Chinese immigrants. In addition, many of the Chinese immigrants both male and female had been forcibly brought to the United States to work as prostitutes or as forced laborers. Complaints by domestic workers reached a high pitch of hysteria in the mid-1870s when a general economic depression hit the western states.

The complaints were heard by Washington and the first restrictive piece of federal legislation was enacted on March 3, 1875. (18 Stat. 477) The law denied prostitutes and criminals admission to the United States. In addition the act prohibited the importation of Chinese "coolie" laborers into t he United States and American citizens who were caught transporting Chinese and Japanese laborers without their free consent were fined. The law also authorized consular officers to investigate the contracts of both Chinese and Japanese immigrants who were being brought into the United States for lewd or immoral purposes.

Political leaders from both parties (Republican and Democrat) accepted the racial prejudices against the Chinese and enacted legislation that was designed to limit or prohibit further Chinese immigration into the United States. The primary obstacle in enacting restrictive legislation was the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 which gave to China the right of unrestricted immigration to the United States and in return the United States received commercial advantages. The Chinese government responded by offering to renegotiate the treaty to protect the Chinese immigrants already in the United States and to voluntarily reduce the numbers of Chinese who wanted to migrate to the United States. The Chinese government did not ratify the treaty in time to satisfy Congress with the result that many of the provisions in the revised treaty were enacted in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first piece of legislation that targeted a specific ethnic group. The Chinese were prohibited from immigrating to the United States for the next ten years and it further denied them the right to citizenship. This racial policy of exclusion lasted until 1952. The effect of the 1882 Act was to stop all new Chinese immigrant labor for the next 10 years. Chinese laborers already here were allowed to leave and then re-enter provided they showed that they had a certificate of eligibility. Those who were not eligible were deported.

Later legislation, the Act of July 5, 1884 amended the earlier act of May 6, 1882. This act extended the prohibition against Chinese immigrants for another ten years and denied access to all Chinese except government officials. Altogether, Chinese immigrants were denied entry to the United States for the next twenty years.

The first general federal immigration law was a further reaction against the new immigrant groups - Southern and Eastern Europeans (Italians, Slavs, Poles, Russians) pouring into the United States for the first time. The federal law was a compromise with state and local authorities who had been forced to deal with the great influx of immigrants. Port of entry states faced economic hardships when indigent, poor, and sick immigrants landed at their doors. States governments had been forced to pay for these immigrants by providing medical care and housing for the new arrivals. The economic burden on the State's treasury was greatly resented. The Eastern state governments wanted the federal government to provide economic support to ease the financial burdens of immigration.

The federal government responded by passing the Immigration Act of 1882. The law, for the first time, imposed a 50 cent head tax on all immigrants that entered the United States. The collected moneys were used to pay inspectors who were responsible for determining who would and would not be allowed to enter the United States. The law excluded specific immigrants groups who were identified as convicts, lunatics, and anyone that was unable to provide for themselves and thereby become a dependent to the state government. The Immigration Act of 1882 ended the period of federal inaction toward immigration and took control over the issue.

The Alien Contract Labor Law of February 26, 1885 (23 Stat. 332) restricted immigration even further. Congress learned that, since 1869, employers had been running advertisements in foreign newspapers describing great wages and employment opportunities in the United States. Immigrants, attracted by the promise of jobs and high wages, arrived in the United States to find few jobs and low wages. The surplus labor, however, had the tendency to push down wages for domestic laborers. Domestic laborers were particularly upset with industrialists who frequently brought in immigrants to break strikes and to keep wages low. The Knights of Labor urged Congress to deal with the situation by restricting contract labor. The rising surplus labor supply coupled with an severe economic depression of 1883-1886 led Washington to regulate further the flow of immigrants into the United States. The legislation passed in the Alien Contract Labor Law was designed to make it illegal to import "aliens or to assist in the ir importation or migration into the United States under any contract made prior to the importation or migration for the performance of labor or service of any kind." Exceptions to the law included professional actors, singers, artists, lecturers, and relatives and personal friends already residing in the United States.

The Chinese Exclusion Act and the Alien Contract Labor Law, however, did not prevent European immigration from increasing during the 1880s and into the early 1890s. New calls for restricting immigrants were heard during the late 1880s and early 1890s. Unlike earlier times, the immigrants came not from Northern Europe but from Southern and Eastern Europe - Italians and Slavs were increasing in numbers.

In 1888, congressional hearings were held and later published as the Ford Committee Report. The report concluded that undesirable immigrants (anarchists, convicts, and the poor) were coming into the United States unheeded. Congressmen declared that it was time to slow down unrestricted immigration and to protect American workingmen from the ill effects of cheap immigrant labor. The Federal Census also reported in 1890 that because of the flow of unrestricted immigration, the vast open lands of the United States, the frontier, had disappeared. Responding to this news, alarmed political and social leaders encouraged Congress to deal with the situation with the passage of the Immigration Act of 1891. Later all three major political parties, the Republicans, Democrats, and the Populists, all adopted platforms that endorsed further immigration restrictions.

The Immigration Act of 1891 added to the list of those who were denied entry into the United States - paupers, idiots, and the insane, as well as diseased persons, convicts, polygamists, and those whose passage had been paid by another. In addition, the authority of the Immigration Bureau was increased at the expense of the state boards. The Immigration Bureau now had jurisdiction over medical examinations and inspections of immigrants. The immigration officers determined who could and who could not enter the United States. Their decisions were final, subject to administrative appeals.

Federal Immigration Laws between 1901 - 1930

The Beginning of Restrictions:

By the turn of the century, the dramatic increase in both the number of immigrants and the mix of nationalities had begun to encourage legislation supporting restrictions to entry. In the period between 1900 and 1914, nearly 13 million people entered the United States, fueling concerns about unsuitable classes immigrants. The report of the Dillingham Commission (1911) supported the popular belief that certain immigrants from northwestern Europe were more "desirable" than those from southern or eastern Europe. Discrimination continued on the west coast against the Japanese, who were prohibited by law from buying or leasing land in California and Texas. During World War I, legislation continued to bar Oriental's from entry as immigrants; this policy of discrimination continued until 1965. World War I also provided the impetus for tightened control of alien seamen, and strengthened the law against aliens considered to be subversive.

  • Act of February 14, 1903. (32 Statutes-at-Large 825)
  • Immigration Act of March 3, 1903 (32 Statutes-at-Large 1213) Immigration law was consolidated. Polygamists and political radicals were added to the exclusion list.
  • Naturalization Act of June 29, 1906 (34 Statutes-at-Large 596) Procedural safeguards for naturalization were enacted. Knowledge of English was made a basic requirement.
  • Immigration Act of February 20, 1907 (34 Statutes-at-Large 898) A bill increased the head tax on immigrants, and added people with physical or mental defect s or tuberculosis and children unaccompanied by parents to the exclusion list. Japanese immigration became restricted.

The Flow of Immigrants is Stopped:

  • Immigration Act of February 5, 1917 (39 Statutes-at-Large 874) Added to the exclusion list were illiterates, persons of psychopathic inferiority, men as well as women entering for immoral purposes, alcoholics, stowaways, and vagrants.

In 1921, Congress passed its first quota act, designed both to restrict overall immigration and to limit immigration from certain areas.

  • Quota Law of May 19, 1921 (42 Statutes-at-Large 5) set temporary annual quotas according to nationality.

In May 1924, Congress passed the first permanent limitation on immigration, establishing the "national origins quota system." This legislation not only placed limits over all the immigration into the United States, but also set quotas on immigration from Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and Asia. Many of the parts of Europe most dramatically affected by the statute also had the largest Jewish populations, a fact that would lead to tragic consequences from 1933 to 1945, when Jews of all social and economic classes and political persuasions would attempt to emigrate from Nazi Germany and countries that were under Nazi control.

  • The Immigration Act of May 26, 1924 (43 Statutes-at-Large 153), together with the Immigration Act of 1917, governed American immigration policy until 1952. At the same time, Congress established the Border Patrol in response to the concern with increased illegal movement across the borders with Canada and Mexico.

Federal Immigration Laws between 1931 - 1950

The War Years:

In 1940, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was transferred from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice. A 1940 act required the registration and fingerprinting of aliens and required that they report any change of address. However, the early 1940s also saw some liberalization of the immigration statutes in December, 1943 the Chinese exclusion laws were repealed, and in 1942 the Bracero Program was begun to allow entry to agricultural workers from Mexico, Barbados, Jamaica, and British Honduras on a temporary basis. In December, 1945, the War Brides Act was passed, waiving the visa requirements and provisions of immigration law excluding physical and mental defectives for those who entered the country as brides of members of the American armed forces serving abroad.

Displaced Persons Act of June 25, 1948 (62 Statutes-at-Large 1009) The first U.S. policy was adopted for admitting persons fleeing persecution. It permitted 205,000 refugees to enter the United States over two years (later increased to 415,000).

Concerns about National Security:

By 1950, however, concerns about national security began to dominate the political agenda, and the fear of the spread of communism generated new, restrictive legislation.

  • Act of June 16, 1950. (64 Statutes-at-Large 219)
  • Internal Security Act of September 22, 1950 (64 Statutes-at-Large 987) The grounds for exclusion and deportation of subversives were expanded. All aliens were required to report their address annually.

Federal Immigration Laws between 1951 - 1970

In 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed by Congress over President Truman's veto. Although it has been extensively amended, this act is still the basis for much of current immigration law. Both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy urged Congress to revise the national origins quota system, but it was not until 1965, under President Johnson, that any major changes were made.

Immigration and Nationality Act of June 27, 1952 (INA) (66 Statutes-at-Large 163) The multiple laws that governed immigration and naturalization were brought into one comprehensive statute. It:

  • reaffirmed the national origins quota system;
  • limited immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere while leaving the Western Hemisphere unrestricted;
  • established preferences for skilled workers and relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens; and
  • tightened security and screening standards and procedures.

Act of July 14, 1960 (74 Statutes-at-Large 504) Amended and extended the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, adding possession of marijuana to the sections concerning excludable and deportable offenses.

Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of October 3, 1965 (79 Statutes-at-Large 911) Thanks to U. S. Senator Ted Kennedy (Massachusetts), the national origins quota system was abolished. Skilled workers from developed nations were no longer favored, but instead unskilled immigrants from the Third World. Kennedy's bill promptly cut the number of European immigrants in half and increased Third World immigrants to 85 percent of the total. Still maintained was the principle of numerical restriction by establishing 170,000 Hemispheric and 20,000 per country ceilings and a seven-category preference system (favoring close relatives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens, those with needed occupational s kills, and refugees) for the Eastern Hemisphere and a separate 120,000 ceiling for the Western Hemisphere.

Federal Immigration Laws between 1971 - 2000

In the mid 1970's, Congress began considering a variety of major amendments and modifications to existing immigration legislation. Following a series of hearings, Congress established the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy in 1978 "to study and evaluate existing laws, policies, and procedures governing the admission of immigrants and refugees to the United States and to make such administrative and legislative recommendations to the President and to the Congress as are a appropriate" (P.L. 95-412: 1978).

Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of May 23, 1975 (89 Statutes-at-Large 87) Established a program of domestic resettlement assistance for refugees who have fled from Cambodia and Vietnam.

Refugee Act of March 17, 1980 (94 Statutes-at-Large 102) The Refugee Act removed refugees as a preference category and established clear criteria and procedures for their admission. It also reduced the world-wide ceiling for immigration from 290,000 to 270,000.

Immigration Reform and Control Act of November 6, 1986 (IRCA) (100 Statutes-at-Large 3359): The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was a comprehensive reform effort. It:

  • legalized aliens who had resided in the United States in an unlawful status since January 1, 1982;
  • established sanctions prohibiting employers from hiring, recruiting, or referring for a fee aliens known to be unauthorized to work in the United States;
  • created a new classification of temporary agricultural worker and provided for the legalization of certain such workers; and
  • established a visa waiver pilot program allowing the admission of certain nonimmigrant's without visas. Separate legislation stipulated that the status of immigrants whose status was based on a marriage be conditional for two years, and that they must apply for permanent status within 90 days after their second year anniversary.

Immigration Act of November 29, 1990 (104 Statutes-at-Large 4978): Comprehensive immigration legislation provided for:

  • increased total immigration under an overall flexible cap of 675,000 immigrants beginning in fiscal year 1995, preceded by a 700,000 level during fiscal years 1992 through 1994;
  • created separate admission categories for family-sponsored, employment-based, and diversity immigrant s;
  • revised all grounds for exclusion and deportation, significantly rewriting the political and ideological grounds and repealing some grounds for exclusion;
  • authorized the Attorney General to grant temporary protected status to undocumented alien nationals of designated countries subject to armed conflict or natural disasters, and designated such status for Salvadoran's;
  • revised and established new nonimmigrant admission categories,
  • revised and extended through fiscal year 1994 the Visa Waiver Program;
  • revised naturalization authority and requirements; and
  • revised enforcement activities.

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of September 30, 1996 (IIRIRA) (110 Statutes-at-Large 3009)

2005-2006 Proposed Immigration Reform Bills

The coming immigration reform debate will focus on at least seven major bills. One was passed by the House of Representatives in December while the rest are pending in the Senate.

Senate Bills

Chairman's Mark: Filed by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill takes proposals from other Senate bills and creates a comprehensive legislation.

S.2454: Filed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), the bill is titled Securing America’s Borders Act (SABA). SABA focuses on border security and interior law enforcement.

Sen. Hagel/Martinez Amendment: A compromise amendment building on the consensus in the Senate which places illegal immigrants in a three tired system.

Sen. Alexander Amendment: Based on Alexander’s Strengthening American Citizenship Act which encourages legal immigrants who are prospective citizens to become American by learning English, American history and our way of government.

S.1033: Filed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Would offer temporary work permits inside the United States if undocumented residents pay $1,500 fine. Temporary workers could apply for green cards.

S.1438: Filed by Republican Sens.John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona. Would resemble President Bush's proposal for temporary worker program, but would require illegals to obtain permits outside the country and would not let them apply for green cards. This is bill is probably the most similar to President's Bush initial blueprint. The guest worker program does not provide any path for permanent residency and eventual citizenship to those that apply. The main thing that this bill is lacking is sufficient amendments to the existing permanent immigration system to provide those that participate in the guest worker program, that wish to immigrate permanently, a reasonable path for permanent residency and eventual citizenship.

S.1919: Filed by Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Would offer green cards, but to qualify migrants would have to meet stringent requirements.

S.2075: Filed by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Titled Development, Relief and Education For Alien Minors or DREAM Act, it would offer legal residence to children of illegals so they can go to college and get a job.

House Bill

H.R. 4437: Submitted by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis.

The following is a summary of the major provisions of H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. The legislation passed the House of Representatives 239-182 on Friday, December 16, 2005

  • “Unlawful presence” would now be considered a crime and a felony, meaning that undocumented immigrants may have to serve jail time and would be barred from future legal status and from re-entry into the country.
  • 191 Democrats in the house voted to keep this a felony instead of a misdemeanor. (See roll call on this failed amendment to the bill).
  • Immigrants, including asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic abuse, and children who are apprehended along an international border or at a port-of-entry would be detained until such time as they are removed from the nation or otherwise provided immigration relief.
  • Anyone or any organization who “assists” an individual without documentation “to reside in or remain” in the United States knowingly or with “reckless disregard” as to the individual’s legal status would be liable for criminal penalties and five years in prison. This could include church personnel who provide shelter or other basic needs assistance to an undocumented individual. Property used in this act would be subject to seizure and forfeiture.
  • The use of expedited removal, which would permit DHS enforcement personnel to remove a potential asylum-seeker without providing an opportunity to appear before an immigration judge or qualified adjudicator, would be mandated within 100 miles of the border and within 14 days of a person’s entry into the country.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be required to erect up to 700 miles of fencing along the Southwest border at points with the highest number of immigrant deaths.
  • State and local law enforcement are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws. State and local governments which refuse to participate would be subject to the loss of federal funding.
  • Asylum seekers and refugees who are convicted of a minor offense, such as petty theft, would be barred from permanent legal residence and eventual citizenship.
  • Document fraud would be considered an aggravated felony and would subject an asylum-seeker to deportation and bars to re-entry.
  • Nationals from countries who do not accept the return of aliens who commit crimes in this country would not be admitted to the United States. This would include countries such as China, Vietnam, and Cuba.
  • DHS would be given the authority to continue to detain individuals who have served their sentences based upon a determination that they are a “dangerous alien,” contrary to Supreme Court rulings barring indefinite detention.
  • The diversity visa lottery program, which allows 50,000 immigrants each year from countries around the world to permanently reside in the United States, is eliminated.