1952 Immigration Act - History

1952 Immigration Act - History

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Immigratns in Manhattan

With growing fears of foreigners spawned by the Cold War, Congress passed the most restrictive immigration bill ever. It based quotas on the 1920 census of the American population, limiting entry to those foreigners who had high levels of education, technical skills, or financial assets. President Truman vetoed the bill, stating that it would "intensify the repressive and inhuman aspects of our immigration procedure."

Two days later the Congress overrode the presidential veto.

In the shadow of the Cold War, America's immigration policies were revised. There were two schools of thought, those who thought the US had to change its policies and not only follow the restrictive immigration laws of 1924 which limited immigration primary to Western Europe and those who believed considering the threat of communism that model had to be reaffirmed. Those who wanted to expand immigration thought it was important to show that American values were open to people from throughout the world. They felt that open the borders to a broader group of people would help the US in its fight for the heart and mind of people of the world.

Fear won out over hope, and the Congress passed a new immigration law that reaffirmed the restrictive nature of the 1924 law that limited entry to the United States based on the population of the country in 1880. This resulted in 85 percent of the 154,277 visas available annually were allotted to individuals of northern and western European. The bill also created a system of preferences for people who had skills that were in demand in the United States. Until the passage of the law, there was no way for Asians to gain admittance into the United States, the new bill provided a token number of immigrants from Asian countries.

President Truman vetoed the act on June 25th, 1952 stating that the law would hurt American interests. However the Congress overrode the veto, and it came into effect on one 27, 1952

President Coolidge signs Immigration Act of 1924

President Calvin Coolidge signs into law the Immigration Act of 1924, the most stringent U.S. immigration policy up to that time in the nation’s history.

The new law reflected the desire of Americans to isolate themselves from the world after fighting World War I in Europe, which exacerbated growing fears of the spread of communist ideas. It also reflected the pervasiveness of racial discrimination in American society at the time. Many Americans saw the enormous influx of largely unskilled, uneducated immigrants during the early 1900s as causing unfair competition for jobs and land.

Under the new law, immigration remained open to those with a college education and/or special skills, but entry was denied to Mexicans, and disproportionately to Eastern and Southern Europeans and Japanese. At the same time, the legislation allowed for more immigration from Northern European nations such as Britain, Ireland and Scandinavian countries.

Overview of the 1952 Act

The 1952 Act was a product of the Cold War, shaped by Washington's overriding obsession with containing Communism at home and in overseas sites like Asia. The legislation's co-sponsors—House Republican Francis Walter (R-PA) and Senate Democrat Pat McCarran (D-NV)—were well-known anti-Communists and restrictionists. Both of these tendencies were reflected in the Act's provisions, which gave the appearance of liberalization while actually circumscribing the civil rights and liberties of foreign-born Americans, particularly those suspected of holding subversive beliefs.

In the area of immigration, the Act retained the controversial national origins quota system, while introducing a system of preferences based on skill and family reunification that served as the basis for the 1965 Immigration Act. While the Asia-Pacific Triangle did extend nominal immigration quotas (in most cases, 100 per year) to all of Asia, the racial basis of the Asian immigration quotas ensured that the number of immigrants entering the U.S. from Asia would never increase significantly. The race-based nature of the Asian quotas was different from the nationality-based quotas assigned to European groups. Under this system, a person of Chinese ancestry entering the U.S. from Latin America would still count toward the Chinese quota regardless of nationality and place of birth.

Building upon the national security provisions of the 1950 McCarran Law, the 1952 Act expanded the power of the federal government to exclude, deport, and detain aliens deemed subversive or seen as holding subversive views. Even as the Act struck down race as a basis for citizenship eligibility, it strengthened the requirements for citizenship in other ways and made it easier for the government to denaturalize persons on the grounds of national security.

While broad-based in scope, the Act disproportionately benefited Japan, which received the largest annual immigration quota of 185 per year (compared to 100 for other Asian powers). At the time of its passage, more than 90% of the aliens made eligible for U.S. citizenship were Issei , or first-generation immigrants of Japanese descent. Committed to securing naturalization for aging Issei, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) played an active role in lobbying for the bill's passage, a decision for which it came under heavy criticism by other civil liberties and ethnic/racial organizations, including the NAACP, the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA), and the second-generation Japanese American group, the Nisei Progressives . Presumptive racial ties linking Japanese Americans to Japan amplified the voice of Nisei lobbyists active in Washington, DC, including JACL Washington representative Mike Masaoka , who was seen by many U.S. officials as uniquely qualified to speak about the Act's significance for U.S.-Japan relations.

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Significance: This federal law upheld the national origins quota system established by the Immigration Act of 1924, which gave preference to individuals of northern and western European lineage. It also created a system of preferences for skilled workers and relatives of citizens and permanent residents, repealed the last of the existing measures to exclude Asian immigration, and enacted strict security provisions over suspected subversives and &ldquoundesirable aliens.&rdquo

Named for its congressional sponsors and passed by Congress over President Harry S. Truman&rsquos veto, the McCarran-Walter Act, or Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, reaffirmed the quota system designed during the 1920&rsquos that favored northern and western Europeans. At the same time, however, it also removed a racist restriction&mdash &ldquoaliens ineligible for citizenship&rdquo&mdashthat had been used against Asian immigration for generations, while keeping the small number of quotas in place. It gave first preference to highly qualified immigrants with skills urgently needed in the United States, along with the spouses and children of such immigrants. Other preferences depended on family relationships.

Preferences Under the 1952 Law

  • First: highly qualified professionals with desirable skills
  • Second: parents of U.S. citizens
  • Third: spouses and unmarried adult children of resident aliens
  • Fourth: other relatives, brothers, sisters, and married children of resident aliens

The law&rsquos quota numbers for European immigrants were raised slightly from the 1920 base of 154,000, to 158,000, and northwestern Europe was allocated 85 percent of these slots, with Great Britain (65,000), Germany (26,000) and Ireland (18,000) receiving two-thirds of the total. The number for Asian nations was set at 2,000 visas annually. No quota restrictions were placed on spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and on immigrants from the Western Hemisphere. During the ensuing decades, the law would have a significant impact on immigration from Mexico and other Latin American nations. The legislation also made deportation easier and provided for fines and imprisonment for any person convicted of harboring an undocumented alien.

The legislation also sought to raise legal barriers, even preventing temporary visitor visas, against suspected subversives and persons regarded as &ldquoundesirable aliens.&rdquo Section 212(a) of the law listed thirty-one categories of inadmissible aliens, including those

who write or publish . . . or who knowingly circulate, distribute, print, or display, any written or printed matter, advocating or teaching opposition to all organized government, or advocating or teaching . . . the economic, international, and governmental doctrines of world communism.

President Truman and his supporters thought that any political litmus test of that nature was against America&rsquos traditions of freedom of thought and expression, and political belief.

During the 1970&rsquos and 1980&rsquos, a number of highprofile cases highlighted the &ldquoundesirable aliens&rdquo section of the McCarran-Walter Act. Under this provision, visas were denied to such &ldquoundesirable aliens&rdquo as Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez, British author and later Nobel laureate Doris Lessing, Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, British author Graham Greene, and Canadian writer Farley Mowat. All these distinguished persons were denied normal visas to enter the United States because they did not meet the ideological-exclusion provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.

1945: Presidential Directive on Displaced Persons

Under a Presidential Directive dated December 22, 1945, President Truman authorized the expedited admission of displaced persons and refugees within the framework of existing immigration law.

At the President’s request, the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization traveled to Europe to investigate and develop a plan for processing displaced persons. Ultimately, the INS, the military, the Public Health Service, the Department of State, and numerous charitable organizations collaborated to facilitate the entry of over 40,000 displaced persons under the existing quota regulations.

Additionally, the President’s directive allowed approximately 1,000 refugees already in the U.S. to adjust to lawful permanent resident status.

Thank you!

By the next decade, however, things had changed. The Cold War was far from over, but the Red Scare had peaked. At the same time, another mass movement else had risen: the civil-rights movement. (The beginning of the end of McCarthyism came in 1954, a year that culminated in McCarthy’s fellow Senators voting to censure him.)

By the early 1960s, at the same time that African-Americans and others protested systematic racism, Asian-Americans and those of Eastern European descent protested the 1952 law’s racist restrictions.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed an amendment to the 1952 law that changed the composition of immigration into the U.S. by eliminating discriminatory quota imbalances&mdasha move that also led to the first limits placed on Latin American immigration&mdashand stipulating that immigrants could not be denied a visa because of their race, sex, nationality or place of birth. “For over four decades, the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system,” Johnson said when he signed the law on New York’s Liberty Island.

The new law, however, did not create a wide-open door. It also did not specifically get rid of a clause that allows the president to deny anybody entry to the U.S. under special circumstances. “The way the law is written, it doesn&rsquot matter what the reason is,” Mae Ngai, an immigration historian at Columbia University, explains.

There’s only a 13-year difference between 1952 and 1965, yet two very different Americas existed during those years. The American Society for Legal History’s Rebecca Scott calls the world that produced the 1965 legislation much more “inclusive” and “rights-conscious” than that of the early 󈧶s.

Some legal scholars argue that it’s not up to Trump to decide which of those periods is the best parallel for today. If Congress restricted the president’s ability to block immigration based on national origins in 1965, they contend, then Trump’s executive order must be illegal, though he is certainly not the first president to make use of Section 212(f) after 1965. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan used it to bar &ldquoany undocumented aliens arriving at the borders of the United States from the high seas,” while in 1986, he used it to bar Cuban nationals, with some exceptions. In 1994, Bill Clinton used it to bar anyone in the Haitian military or government affiliated with the 1991 coup d&rsquoétat that overthrew the democratically-elected president. Ten years later, George W. Bush used it to bar corrupt members of the government of Zimbabwe from entering the U.S. And in 2012, Barack Obama used it to bar hackers aiding Iran and Syria.

Trump, however, appears to be the first president to apply a blanket ban to everyone from a specific country (more than one, in this case) since President Jimmy Carter used the provision to keep out Iranians during the Iran hostage crisis.

Whatever the upshot of the legal challenges to Trump’s order, some scholars say there’s nothing new about his recent actions.

“We&rsquove always been an immigrant nation and an anti-immigrant nation,” argues Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, a professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan. For much of the 20th century, he says, “there’s been tension between domestic politics that are trying to restrict in the name of populism, and it comes into conflict with a foreign policy agenda about engagement with the world.”

Immigration Law (U.S.) Research Guide

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (PL 82-414) provides the foundation for U.S. immigration law. It was passed in 1952 and has been amended many times since. The INA is codified in Title 8 of the United States Code. Citations to federal immigration statues may take the form of direct citations to the U.S. Code (e.g. 8 U.S.C. Section 1158) or as citations to the INA (e.g. INA Section 208).

Other U.S. Code sections relevant to immigration law may be found in various other areas of the code, such as in Title 18 (Crimes and Criminal Procedure Chapter 69 - Nationality & Citizenship Chapter 75 - Passports & Visas), Title 6 (Domestic Security), Title 22 (Foreign Relations), and Title 29 (Labor).

The U.S. Code (as well as the annotated versions, the USCA and the USCS) can be found in print in the Law Library as well as in various electronic and online sources. For more on finding the U.S. Code, refer to our other research guides:

The following resources may also be useful when getting started with research on federal immigration statutes:

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

The history of emigration to the United States since 1778 has had multiple stages and was the result of multiple factors, both within the United States, and the immigrants' country of origin. There are multiple factors that cause emigration, including war or other social upheaval, lack of employment, economic instability, and natural disasters. There are multiple distinct eras of immigration in the United States: the revolutionary era until the end of the Civil War the industrial era, the era of the World Wars, post-World War II, and post-9/11. The United States policy on immigration has varied widely throughout its history, which has created continual change in immigration law. Federal government policy has alternately been guided by public sentiment, but has also driven public perception of immigrants and immigration in the United States. 1

Revolutionary Era to the Civil War

Until the break from England, he Crown did attempt to regulate and limit immigration into the Colonies. This regulation became a source of political and social tension within the Colonies. Upon establishing its independence from England the United States Congress passed an immigration act in 1790. This Naturalization Act allowed white and free immigrants to gain naturalized citizenship after having lived within the boundaries of the United States for two years. The Naturalization Act of 1795 included the stipulation that all immigrants must reject any allegiance to any foreign head of state or government and banned British citizens who fought against the United States in the Revolutionary war. It also raised the occupancy period to five years.

Immigration and naturalization policy continued to change and evolve in response to various political and social pressures through the end of the 18th century and into the 19th century. By 1803 the geographical reach of the United States had been greatly expanded westward through the Louisiana Purchase, and its southern boundary had been expanded by the seizing of Florida from Spain. By 1845 the United States had grown to include the territory of Texas, as well as the Oregon territory. In response, the immigration policies of the United States were modified in order to promote settlement of these new territories. From 1800 - 1850, emigration from Europe increased greatly. This expansion in immigration was the result of various forms of social and political upheaval in Europe. From 1820 -1860 95% of immigrants in the United States originated from northern Europe. From the 1830s to the 1850s the total number of immigrants to the United States rose from approximately 151,000 to 1.7 million. The majority of these immigrants were Irish, German, and British. Emigration from China to the west coast also increased during this time period. By 1860 Chinese immigrants constituted approximately 9% of California's population. By 1882 Congress had passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which suspended all emigration from China. Concurrent to this exclusion, emigration from European countries was actively solicited by the United States via the Homestead Act of 1862. This act granted land tracts to naturalized citizens for a nominal price of $1.25 per acre. In 1864 Congress passed the Act to Encourage Immigration, which established the office of Commissioner of Immigration and outlawed compulsory military service for male immigrants.

The Industrial Era

This era is also known as the "great wave" of immigration. This is due to the enormous growth in immigration, which resulted in approximately 23 million immigrants settling in the United States. The majority of immigrants were from Southern and Eastern Europe, as well as Scandinavia. However, large numbers of immigrants were non-European. While pale in comparison to immigration from Europe, approximately one million immigrants arrived from Japan, Turkey, and Mexico. In addition, non-Protestant religious groups, including Catholics and Jews immigrated to the United States during this time period. Immigration during the industrial era was not merely a result of favorable policies enacted by the United States government, but also of political unrest, discrimination, and fragile economies in the immigrants' home countries.

This era is also marked by the increase in anti-immigration reactions and xenophobia. Controls on immigration were proposed in Congress and there was a concurrent rise in anti-immigrant actions and demonstrations. The rate of immigration slowed briefly in the 1890s, dropping from approximately 5.2 million immigrants to 3.6 million. However, by 1910 immigration had increased to 9 million. This was followed by a constriction of immigration in the first two decades before the era of the World Wars. The Dillingham Commission released a lengthy study of the immigrant question, which differentiated between "desirable" and "undesirable" immigrants, based upon ethnicity, race, and religion, with northern European Protestants being favored over southern or eastern European Catholics and Jews, with non-European immigrants considered highly undesirable. The Immigration Act of 1917 implemented many of the recommendations of the Dillingham Commission and created the requirement of a literacy test for immigrants.

The World Wars

The first two decades of the 20th century ushered in a dramatic shift of attitude toward immigration, ending the era of mass immigration in the United States. Multiple national and international events coalesced into an increasing sense of nationalism and racial and class demarcations within American society. This nationalism greatly influenced the legislative endeavors of Congress, resulting in two acts that would set the tone for immigration in the United States. This tone has continued to the present.

The early 20th century is marked by the mass geo-political upheaval, exemplified by the Russian Revolution. This unrest influenced the social and political policy towards immigration in the United States. Europe experienced destabilization from multiple arenas, including the demise of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. World War I erupted after many years of unrest in the Balkans. In Italy, the destabilization of the economy resulting from the 1861 unification continued. Italian immigrants totaled 3.2 million from 1901 - 1920. Immigration from the Austro-Hungarian Empire totaled three million from 1901 - 1920 and approximately 2.7 million people immigrated from Russia during the same time period. This number of non-Protestant, non-northern European immigrants, along with the political upheaval capped by the inclusion of the United States into international politics during World War I, created a nationalistic and xenophobic back lash in the United States. This was reflected in two pieces of immigration legislation - the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 introduced a formulation that capped the total number of immigrants admitted into the United States to 3% of the total population of immigrants from the same home country as reported in the 1910 U.S. Census, per year. The cap on nationality did not apply to professionals or immigrants from Latin America. Asian immigration was maintained, as defined under the Immigration Act of 1917, which limited immigration to Japanese or peoples from the Philippine Islands. The Immigration Act of 1924 maintained the formulation, but lowered the percentage to 2% and based the percentage on the total number of home countries on the 1890 U.S. Census. In addition, it prohibited immigration for those who would be ineligible for naturalization, which effectively ended Japanese immigration, as well as instituted the preferences system. The Acts of 1921 and 1924 drastically reduced the number of immigrations from Eastern and Southern Europe, the countries of the former Ottoman Empire, Russia, and obliterated immigration from Asia. From 1925 - 1930 the total number of immigrants decreased to 1.7 million 53% arrived from Europe and 45% arrived from Central and South America. From 1931 - 1945 the total number of immigrants was further reduced to 669,000 57% came from Europe and 38% came from the Americas. As a result of the new restrictions on immigration and naturalization the rate of emigration out of the United States totaled over one million persons.

Immigration policy was further complicated by the end of World War II, which created an unprecedented refugee and displaced persons crisis. It is estimated that 8 million people in Europe were displaced during the war, including people in German concentration camps and prisons and large populations leaving Eastern Europe due to the specter of Russian occupation, as well as those displaced by the war itself. The United States also had to contend with peoples of the former Axis powers who had important scientific, technical, and governmental knowledge. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 attempted to address the various issues created by the end of the war.

For the purposes of the Act, a displaced person was defined by Annex I, Part 1, Section A and B of the Constitution of the International Refugee Organization. The Constitution differentiated between refugees and displaced persons. A refugee was any person who was a victim of Nazi or fascist regimes and the allies or "quislings" of such countries, or similar regimes Spanish republicans and victims of the Falangist regime persons who were considered refugees before the war. A displaced person was defined as any person who was deported from, or who was obliged to leave, his or her country of nationality or permanent residence due to the actions of Germany and the fascist regimes of Italy and Spain. The Displaced Persons Act also covered those who entered Germany, Austria, or Italy by January of 1948, or Czechoslovakians. Approximately 400,000 displaced person visas were issued to the United States preference was given to those who had particularized scientific and technological skills. Members of the former fascist regimes were eligible for visas under the program. President Harry Truman stated in his signing statement that the act continues "a pattern of discrimination and intolerance wholly inconsistent with the American sense of justice. the bill discriminates in callous fashion against displaced persons of the Jewish faith" and "excludes many displaced persons of the Catholic faith who deserve admission."

Post-War Immigration

The issue of immigration of displaced persons remained for several years after the end of World War II and it would be compounded by the fall of the Iron Curtain, which enveloped the eastern half of Germany, as well as Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Albania as Soviet satellite states, and the emergence of the Cold War and a strong anti-communist movement in the United States government. In 1952 protections against communist ideology would be memorialized in immigration policy through the McCarran-Walter Act, also known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. This Act allowed the United States to exclude emigration from "ideologically undesirable countries." (Cieslik, et al) However, the Act also ended the restriction of emigration from Asian and Pacific countries, as well as determinations based on race or sex and it included as natural-born citizens those persons born in the United States' territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands on or after December 24th, 1952. However, a quota system was maintained, but it did not apply to immigrants with special skills or family members of U.S. citizens. General immigration was capped at 270,000 persons per year. The Refugee Relief Act, which passed in 1953 and supplanted the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, negated the quota cap for refugees, escapees, and expellees. Under these early post war acts immigration remained low compared to the great migrations of the latter half of the 19th century, despite the massive upheaval caused by World War II. The total number of admitted legal permanent residents remained relatively low during the first decade after the War with slight increases in 1956 (321,625) and in 1957 (326,867). However, the composition of immigrants remained heavily European during the 1950s and the 1960s.

The quota system created in 1921 terminated with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. In its place a preference system was instituted, which was not defined by race, sex, gender, ancestry, or national origin. The preferences, ranked from highest to lowest, were:

  1. Unmarried children of U.S. citizens
  2. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents
  3. Professionals of exceptional ability
  4. Married children of U.S. citizens
  5. Siblings of U.S. citizens
  6. Skilled and unskilled workers in short supply
  7. Refugees

In addition, the total number of immigrant visas allowed within the preference system was capped at 170,000 for origins in the Eastern hemisphere and 120,000 for the Western hemisphere. The new scheme resulted in an increase of immigration from Asian countries. The preference system has remained, but the specifics have changed through various amendments and new iterations of immigration legislation throughout the last decades of the 20th century.

However, the issue of refugees remained at the fore of immigration debate due to the impact of the war in Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 1970s and Cuba's revolution in the late 1950s. Approximately 450,000 refugees fled Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s. Of that number, approximately 147,000 were Cambodians fleeing the terror of the Khmer Rouge, which came to power after the withdrawal of the United States from Vietnam in 1975. Approximately 260,000 Hmong fled from Laos and a much smaller number (approximately 40,000) Degar people fled Vietnam. In 1980 a brief period of mass migration from Cuba to the United States occurred after the announcement by President Fidel Castro of Cuba that any Cuban who wished to emigrate to the United States could do so by leaving by boat at Mariel Harbor. From April to September of 1980 approximately 124,000 Cuban refugees arrived in Florida via boat.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s refugees remained a source of contention within the discussion of immigration policy in the United States. The United States became the destination for persons fleeing from instability and civil war in Central and South America, as well as escapees and emigres from Soviet bloc countries. The problem of refugees coming to the United States was compounded by the increase of illegal immigration into the United States from South and Central America. The 1980 Census estimated the total number of illegal immigrants in the United States to be between 2 and 4 million persons.

In 1986 Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which attempted to address illegal immigration through amnesty programs for illegal immigrants, as well as criminalizing the hiring of illegal aliens as workers and instituting the I-9 form for all employees. Four years after the passage of IRCA, Congress passed a new act - the Immigration Act of 1990, also known as IMMACT. IMMACT negated the immigration caps based on hemisphere and instituted a total number cap of 675,000 persons, with 480,000 spots designated for family members of United States citizens 140,000 designated for employment-based immigrants, and 55,000 for "diversity" immigrants. IMMACT also provided an 18 month period of protected status for immigrants from El Salvador. In addition, IMMACT transferred authority for naturalizations from the United States Courts to the United States Attorney's office. It expanded the number and type of deportable actions and increased border protection.

Despite the new legislation immigration rose continuously from 1989 to 1993, with a total number of immigrants of 603,000 in 1989 to 971,000 in 1993. The majority of immigrants were family members of United States citizens, with humanitarian immigrants and refugees rounding out the majority of legal immigrants. Illegal immigration remained at the fore of immigration debates throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Various acts were instituted to address illegal immigration, which increased funding for border patrol, and denied Federal services for illegal aliens, and denied states the ability to provide services to illegal immigrants. From 1994 - 2000 the total number of legal immigrants fluctuated: in 1994 the total number of legal immigrants was 803,000 in 1995 the total number had dropped to 720,000 in 1996 the number increased to 915,000 in 1997 the total number dropped to 797,000 in 1996 the total number dropped again to 653,000 and remained relatively constant at 644,000 for 1999 in 2000 the number increased to 841,000.

The first year of the new millennium ushered in a large increase in total immigration. From 841,000 immigrants in 2000, 2001 ended with a total number of one million legal immigrants. This number essentially remained unchanged in 2002, but the total number of immigrants dropped precipitously in 2003 to 703,000. This drop was a direct result of the impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In response to the perceived vulnerabilities after the attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania Congress quickly passed the Patriot Act. Title IV, "Protecting the Border," attempts to address the vulnerabilities posed by immigration and non-permanent residents through implementation of heightened surveillance of those in the United States under a student visa and provides the Department of State and Immigration and Nationalization Service increased access to databases maintained by other departments for the purpose of background and criminal checks. Title IV also strengthened border patrol.

In 2002 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was founded as a result of the reorganization of multiple agencies under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. Many immigration and naturalization functions were brought under the umbrella of the DHS, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These new agencies use various technologies to monitor the entry of non-U.S. citizens. The preference system for legal immigration created in the 1960s remains in place. Despite further restrictions put on the eligibility requirements under the Patriot Act for legal immigration, the total number of legal immigrants grew in the two years after its passage in 2002. By 2004, the total number of immigrants had risen to 957,000 in 2005, the number had increased again to 1.1 million by 2006 the total number had risen to 1.2 million. In 2007 the number declined to one million, and has remained at approximately one million immigrants up until the last collection date available of 2014. (For more information on current immigration preference scheme see "Becoming a Citizen.")

Illegal immigration continues to be a major component of the current discussion on immigration in the United States. The Pew Research Center has reported that there are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States, which constitutes 5% of the work force. The DREAM Act, originally introduced in 2001, was an attempt to provide a means by which persons who do not have a legal status, but who were brought to the United States as minors, could apply for legal permanent status, leading to naturalization. Despite multiple efforts throughout the first decade of the 21st century the Act was not passed. The state of California passed its own version of a "dream" act, which allows for undocumented students who graduated from a California high school to attend public college in California at the in-state tuition rate. For a student to participate, he or she is required to have legal immigration status, or the ability to apply for a legal status once eligible to do so.

The failure of the DREAM Act to be passed by Congress instigated action by the Executive branch. President Obama issued a policy memorandum in 2012 entitled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This policy provides a 2-year deferment from deportation action for successful applicants. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has reported that it accepted 1.5 million applications from 2012 - 2016 of that number, 667,000 were renewal applications. Of that 1.5 million, 1.3 million were approved. (See the sections within "Current Issues On Immigration and Refugees" for more information on DACA and the DREAM Act.)

1 All information gathered from Immigration: A Documentary and Reference Guide, Thomas Cieslik, David Felsen, and Akis Kalaitzidiz, eds. Greenwood Press, 2009, unless where otherwise linked or specified. Total numbers given have been rounded down to nearest 1,000.

H-2 Guestworker Visa Program

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 authorized a nonimmigrant visa category, known as H-2, permitting the recruitment of foreign farmworkers to the United States on a temporary basis.

Discussion Questions

What is a “nonimmigrant”? What requirements for potential guestworkers were incorporated into the H-2 program?

What person within the federal government was given authority over issuing H-2 visas?

What problems might arise from giving employers control over workers’ visas?


The H-2 visa program built on World War II-era arrangements established by the War Food Administration that brought guestworkers in from the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados and other Caribbean islands to labor under contracts similar to those established in the U.S.-Mexico Bracero program. Through the 1940s, thousands of Caribbean guestworkers labored on east coast farms, from Florida to the northeast. The 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act provided the statutory language to make these arrangements permanent within a nonimmigrant visa category. Unlike previous government-to-government labor agreements, the H-2 visa program allowed U.S. employers to recruit workers directly from any country once the Attorney General accepted their petitions, which gave employers direct control over guestworkers’ visas.

Between 1960 and 1980, an average 12,000 H-2 workers were admitted, and most harvested sugar cane in Florida and performed supplemental seasonal work like apple picking along the eastern seaboard. Poor working and living condition and abuses like wage theft in the sugar cane industry were widespread, generating critical press coverage and several lawsuits. As employers controlled the visas of H-2 workers, when H-2 workers protested their conditions, they were regularly threatened with the cancellation of their visas and deportation. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act divided the H-2 program into two visa programs: H-2A for agricultural workers and H-2B for non-agricultural workers.


(15) The term “immigrant” means every alien except an alien who is within one of the following classes of nonimmigrant aliens—

(H) an alien having a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning (i) who is of distinguished merit and ability and who is coming temporarily to the United States to perform temporary services of an exceptional nature requiring such merit and ability or (ii) who is coming temporarily to the United States to perform other temporary services or labor, if unemployed persons capable of performing such service or labor cannot be found in this country or (iii) who is coming temporarily to the United States as an industrial trainee . . . .

SEC. 102. Except as otherwise provided in this Act . . . the provisions of this Act relating to ineligibility to receive visas and the exclusion or deportation of aliens shall not be construed to apply to nonimmigrants . . . .

SEC. 214. (a) The admission to the United States of any alien as a nonimmigrant shall be for such time and under such conditions as the Attorney General may by regulations prescribe . . . .

The question of importing any alien as a nonimmigrant under Section 101 (a) (15) (H) in any specific case or specific cases shall be determined by the Attorney General, after consultation with appropriate agencies of the Government, upon petition of the importing employer. Such petition shall be made and approved before the visa is granted. The petition shall be in such form and contain such information as the Attorney General shall prescribe . . . .


Historian Cindy Hahamovitch uses the term “deportable labor” to describe guestworkers as a migrant “designed to balance employers demands for contingent, less expensive, and presumably pliant foreign labor and native populations’ antipathy toward those same workers.”

See: Cindy Hahamovitch, No Man’s Land: Jamaican Guestworkers in America and the Global History of Deportable Labor, (Princeton University Press, 2013), 2.


National origins quota system

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 modified the national origins quota system introduced by the Immigration Act of 1924, rescinding the earlier law's prohibition on Asian immigration. Under the 1952 law, national origins quotas were set at one-sixth of 1 percent of each nationality's population the United States as of the 1920 census. At the time of enactment, the law provided for the issuance of 154,277 visas under the quota system. Immigrants from the Western Hemisphere continued to be excluded from the quota system, as were the non-citizen husbands of American citizens (non-citizen wives of American citizens had been exempted from the quota system earlier). The national origins quota system was eliminated in 1965 with the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Ζ] Η]

Section 212

Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 granted the President of the United States the following authority: Ώ] ⎖]

Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. Β]
—Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, Section 212

Other provisions

The act established preferences for certain visa applicants, including those with specialized skills and those who families already resided in the United States. Ώ] Ζ]

The Armed Forces Naturalization Act of 1968 amended the Immigration and Nationality Act "to provide for the naturalization of persons who have served in active-duty services in the Armed Forces of the United States." ⎗]

Watch the video: 1952: The McCarran-Walter Immigration Act (May 2022).


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