The History of U.S. Immigration
The federal government established a standard for immigration reporting in 1819. Over the next 100 years, laws came into effect that excluded certain populations (prostitutes, convicts, “lunatics,” “idiots,” and people of Chinese descent, for example) from immigrating, but it wasn’t until 1924 that the permanent quota and the border patrol were established.
The 1924 law added restrictions specific to people from some parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Passed after World War I amid increased uncertainty about national security, the law included a literacy test, a tax just for new immigrants, and more discretionary power for immigration officials.
In 1965 there was a shift in policy that lifted some of the restrictions based on country of origin; it also focused more on keeping families together and bringing in people with skills seen as valuable to the U.S. Other amendments around that time opened the doors for those fleeing hardship or persecution in their home countries, which we now refer to as amnesty and asylum. Natalia Bronshtein has created a memorable and easy-to-understand graphic of the history of immigration into the United States. The graphic is a histogram, using the width of each band of color to represent the rate of immigration during specific periods. It’s easy to see how the immigration of different population groups has changed over time, and that immigration laws affected the flow of different nationalities differently.
Understanding Immigration Law
The Federation for American Immigration Reform offers a law-by-law breakdown of the legislation that affected immigration between 1790 and 1990. Bronshtein’s graphic offers a straightforward way to compare this list of laws with the effect each had on immigration. There’s never been an easier way to visualize and understand the history of immigration law.
Even still, these laws are complicated and change frequently. For all but the most straightforward cases, most people who want to immigrate to the U.S. should consult with a lawyer to avoid unnecessary (and often heartbreaking) delays in the process.