Immigration Act of 1924

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Immigration Act of 1924
Great Seal of the United States
Long titleAn Act to limit the immigration of aliens into the United States, and for other purposes.
NicknamesJohnson-Reed Act
Enacted bythe 68th United States Congress
EffectiveMay 26, 1924
Public lawPub.L. 68–139
Statutes at Large43 Stat. 153
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 7995
  • Passed the House on April 12, 1924 (323-71)
  • Agreed to by the House on May 15, 1924 (308-62) and by the Senate on May 15, 1924 (69-9)
  • Signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge on May 24, 1924

The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act (Pub.L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that prevented immigration from Asia, set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and provided funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding ban on other immigrants.

The 1924 act supplanted earlier acts to effectively ban all immigration from Asia[1][2] and set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from the average before World War I.[1] Quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the US population from that country recorded in the 1890 census.[2] As a result, populations poorly represented in 1890 were prevented from immigrating in proportionate numbers—especially affecting Italians, Greeks and Eastern European Jews, as well as Poles and other Slavs.[1][3][4] According to the US Department of State's Office of the Historian, the purpose of the act was "to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity."[2] Congressional opposition was minimal.

A key element of the act was its provisions for enforcement by providing funding and legal instructions to courts of deportation for immigrants whose national quotas were exceeded. Also, the formation of the US Border Patrol was authorized by the act.

The act's provisions were revised in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.


The Naturalization Act of 1790 declared that only people of white descent were eligible for naturalization, but eligibility was extended to people of African descent in the Naturalization Act of 1870.[5] Chinese and Japanese people were barred from immigrating to the US in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, and the (unenforced) Gentlemen's Agreement of 1907, respectively.[2]

A limitation on Southern and Eastern European immigration was first proposed in 1896 in the form of the literacy test bill. Henry Cabot Lodge was confident the bill would provide an indirect measure of reducing immigration from these countries, but after passing both Congress and the Senate, it was vetoed by President Cleveland.[6] Another proposal for immigration restriction was introduced again in 1909 by US Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.[7] The Immigration Act of 1917 restricted immigration further in a variety of ways. It increased restrictions on Asian immigration, raised the general immigrant head tax, excluded those deemed to be diseased or mentally unwell, and in light of intense lobbying by the Immigration Restriction League, introduced the literacy test for all new immigrants to prove their ability to read English.[8] In the wake of the post-World War I recession, many Americans believed that bringing in more immigrants would worsen the unemployment rate. The Red Scare of 1919–1921 had fueled xenophobic fears of foreign radicals migrating to undermine American values and provoke an uprising like the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.[9] The number of immigrants entering the United States decreased for about a year from July 1919 to June 1920 but doubled in the year after that.[10]

US Representative Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed were the two main architects of the act, which in the wake of intense lobbying, passed with strong congressional support.[11] There were nine dissenting votes in the Senate[12] and a handful of opponents in the House of Representatives, the most vigorous of whom was freshman Brooklyn Representative and Emanuel Celler, a Jewish American. Decades later, he pointed out the act's "startling discrimination against central, eastern and southern Europe."[13]

Proponents of the act sought to establish a distinct American identity by preserving its ethnic homogeneity.[14][15] Reed told the Senate that earlier legislation "disregards entirely those of us who are interested in keeping American stock up to the highest standard—that is, the people who were born here."[16] He believed that immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, most of whom were Catholics or Jews, arrived sick and starving, were less capable of contributing to the American economy, and were unable to adapt to American culture.[14] Eugenics was used as justification for the act's restriction of certain races or ethnicities of people to prevent the spread of perceived feeblemindedness in American society.[17] Samuel Gompers, himself a Jewish immigrant from Britain and the founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), supported the act because he opposed the cheap labor that immigration represented even though the act would sharply reduce Jewish immigration.[18] Both the AFL and the Ku Klux Klan supported the act.[19]

US President Calvin Coolidge signs the Immigration Act on the White House South Lawn along with appropriation bills for the Veterans Bureau. John J. Pershing is on the right.

Lobbyists from the West Coast, where a majority of Japanese, Korean, and other East Asian immigrants had settled, were especially concerned with excluding Asian immigrants. An 1882 law had already put an end to Chinese immigration, but as Japanese and, to a lesser degree, Korean and Filipino laborers began arriving and putting down roots in Western United States, an exclusionary movement formed in reaction to the "Yellow Peril." Valentine S. McClatchy, the founder of The McClatchy Company and a leader of the anti-Japanese movement, argued, "They come here specifically and professedly for the purpose of colonizing and establishing here permanently the proud Yamato race." He cites their supposed inability to assimilate to American culture and the economic threat that they posed to white businessmen and farmers.[9]

Opposing the act, US Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes said, "The legislation would seem to be quite unnecessary, even for the purpose for which it is devised."[20] The act faced strong opposition from the Japanese government with which the US government had maintained a cordial economic and political relationship.[9] In Japan, the bill was called by some the "Japanese Exclusion" act.[21] Japanese Foreign Minister Matsui Keishirō instructed the Japanese ambassador to the United States, Masanao Hanihara, to write to Hughes:

the manifest object of the [section barring Japanese immigrants] is to single out Japanese as a nation, stigmatizing them as unworthy and undesirable in the eyes of the American people. And yet the actual result of that particular provision, if the proposed bill becomes law as intended, would be only to exclude 146 Japanese per year.... I realize, as I believe you do, the grave consequences which the enactment of the measure retaining that particular provision would inevitably bring upon the otherwise happy and mutually advantageous relations between our two countries.[22]

Members of the Senate interpreted Hanihara's phrase "grave consequences" as a threat, which was used by hardliners of the bill to fuel both houses of Congress to vote for it. Because 1924 was an election year and he was unable to form a compromise, President Calvin Coolidge declined to use his veto power to block the act,[23] although both houses passed it by a veto-overriding two-thirds majority. The act was signed into law on May 24, 1924.[24]


The immigration act made permanent the basic limitations on immigration to the United States established in 1921 and modified the National Origins Formula, which had been established in that year. In conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1917, it governed American immigration policy until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was passed, which revised it completely.

The act provided that no alien ineligible to become a citizen could be admitted to the United States as an immigrant. That was aimed primarily at Japanese aliens[2] although they were not explicitly named them in the act.[25] It imposed fines on transportation companies who landed aliens in violation of US immigration law. It defined the term "immigrant" and designated all other alien entries into the United States as "non-immigrant," or temporary visitors. It also established classes of admission for such non-immigrants.[26]

The act set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from average before World War I,[1] and barred immigrants from Asia, including Japan.[5] However, the Philippines was then a US colony and so its citizens were US nationals and could thus travel freely to the United States.[27] The act did not include China since it was already barred under the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The 1924 act reduced the annual quota of any nationality from 3% to 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality residing in the United States in 1890.[19] A more recent census existed, but Congress used the earlier to give a greater proportion of immigrants to Northern and Western Europe and to decrease those from Eastern and Southern Europe.[28] According to Commonweal, the act "relied on false nostalgia for a census that only seemed to depict a homogenous, Northern European–descended nation: in reality, 15 percent of the nation were immigrants in 1890."[29]

The 1890-based quotas were set to last until 1927, when they would be replaced by of a total annual quota of 150,000, proportional to the national origins figures from the 1920 census.[30][31] However, this did little to diversify the nations from which immigrants came from because the 1920 census did not include Blacks, Mulattos, and Asians as part of the American population used for the quotas.[citation needed] The lowest quota per country was 100 individuals,[30] but even then only those eligible for citizenship could immigrate to the U.S. (i.e. only whites in China could immigrate).[citation needed] Establishing national origin quotas for the country proved to be a difficult task, and was not accepted and completed until 1929.[32] The act gave 85% of the immigration quota to Northern and Western Europe and those who had an education or had a trade. The other 15% went disproportionately to Eastern and Southern Europe.[31]

The act established preferences under the quota system for certain relatives of US residents, including their unmarried children under 21, their parents, and spouses at least 21 and over. It also preferred immigrants at least 21 who were skilled in agriculture and their wives and dependent children under 16. Non-quota status was accorded to wives and unmarried children under 18 of US citizens; natives of Western Hemisphere countries, with their families; non-immigrants; and certain others.

Subsequent amendments eliminated certain elements of the law's inherent discrimination against women.[citation needed]

Visas and border control[edit]

The act also established the "consular control system" of immigration, which divided responsibility for immigration between the US State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The act also mandated no alien to be allowed to enter the United States without a valid immigration visa issued by an American consular officer abroad.[33]

Consular officers were now allowed to issue visas to eligible applicants, but the number of visas to be issued by each consulate annually was limited, and no more than 10% of the quota could be given out in any one month. Aliens were not able to leave their home countries before having a valid visa, as opposed to the old system of deporting them at ports of debarkation. That gave a double layer of protection to the border since if they were found to be inadmissible, immigrants could still be deported on arrival.[28]

Establishment of Border Patrol[edit]

The National Origins Act authorized the formation of the United States Border Patrol, which was established two days after the act was passed, primarily to guard the Mexico–United States border.[34] A $10 tax was imposed on Mexican immigrants, who were allowed to continue immigrating based on their perceived willingness to provide cheap labor.[1]


Relative proportions of immigrants from Northwestern Europe[a] (red) and Southern and Eastern Europe[b] (blue) in the decades before and after the act

The act was seen in a negative light in Japan, causing resignations of ambassadors and protests.[24] A citizen committed seppuku near the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo with a note that read: "Appealing to the American people."[21] American businesses situated in Japan suffered the economic brunt of the legislation's repercussions, as the Japanese government subsequently increased tariffs on American trading by '100 per cent'.[35] According to David C. Atkinson, on the Japaneses government's perception of the act, "this indignity is seen as a turning point in the growing estrangement of the U.S. and Japan, which culminated in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor."[24]

The act's revised formula reduced total immigration from 357,803 between 1923 and 1924 to 164,667 between 1924 and 1925.[34] The law's impact varied widely by country. Immigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell 19%, while immigration from Italy fell more than 90%.[36] From 1901 to 1914, 2.9 million Italians immigrated, an average of 210,000 per year.[37] Under the 1924 quota, only 4,000 per year were allowed since the 1890 quota counted only 182,580 Italians in the U.S.[38] By contrast, the annual quota for Germany after the passage of the act was over 55,000 since German-born residents in 1890 numbered 2,784,894.[38] Germany, Britain, and Ireland had the highest representation in 1890.[38] The provisions of the act were so restrictive that in 1924 more Italians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Lithuanians, Hungarians, Poles, Portuguese, Romanians, Spaniards, Chinese, and Japanese left the United States than arrived as immigrants.[19]

The law sharply curtailed immigration from those countries that were previously host to the vast majority of the Jews in the United States, almost 75% of whom immigrated from Russia alone.[4] Because Eastern European immigration did not become substantial until the late 19th century, the law's use of the population of the United States in 1890 as the basis for calculating quotas effectively made mass migration from Eastern Europe, where the vast majority of the Jewish diaspora lived at the time, impossible.[39][40] In 1929, the quotas were adjusted to one-sixth of 1% of the 1920 census figures, and the overall immigration limit reduced to 150,000.[13][41][34] The law was not modified to aid the flight of Jewish refugees in the 1930s or 1940s despite the rise of Nazi Germany.[c][d] The quotas were adjusted to allow more Jewish refugees after World War II, but without increasing immigration overall.[41]

During World War II, the U.S. modified the act to set immigration quotas for their allies in China.[5] The immigration quotas were eased in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and replaced in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.[2][44]


The act has been characterized as the culmination of decades of intentional exclusion of Asian immigrants.[45]

Looking back on the significance of the act, Harry Laughlin, the eugenicist who served as expert advisor to the House Committee on Immigration during the legislative process, praised it as a political breakthrough in the adoption of scientific racism as a theoretical foundation for immigration policy.[46] Due to the reliance upon eugenics in forming the policy, and growing public reception towards scientific racism as justification for restriction and racial stereotypes by 1924, the act has been seen as a piece of legislation that formalized the views of contemporary U.S. society.[47] Historian Mae Ngai writes of the national origins quota system:

At one level, the new immigration law differentiated Europeans according to nationality and ranked them in a hierarchy of desirability. At another level, the law constructed a white American race, in which persons of European descent shared a common whiteness distinct from those deemed to be not white.[48]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Defined in the act as immigrants from Germany, Free City of Danzig, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, the British Isles and Scandinavia
  2. ^ Defined in the act as immigrants from the Baltic States, all Slavic nations, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Albania and Greece
  3. ^ On May 18, 1937, the Omnibus Immigration Bill entered Congress, which was intended to naturalize Jews who had entered the country illegally. It was supported by a majority, including most Republicans, such as future US President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as Southern 'Dixiecrats'.[42]
  4. ^ President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited 982 refugees, most of whom were Jewish, to stay at Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter until the war was over.[43]


  1. ^ a b c d e Murrin, John M.; Hämäläinen, Pekka; Johnson, Paul E.; Brunsman, Denver; McPherson, James M. (2015). Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People, Volume 2: Since 1863. Cengage Learning. ISBN 9781305686342.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Immigration Act of 1924 (The Johnson-Reed Act)". U.S Department of State Office of the Historian. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
  3. ^ Fisher, Marc (January 28, 2017). "Open doors, slamming gates: The tumultuous politics of U.S. immigration policy". Washington Post. Retrieved January 29, 2017.
  4. ^ a b Stuart J. Wright, An Emotional Gauntlet: From Life in Peacetime America to the War in European Skies (University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), p. 163
  5. ^ a b c Guisepi, Robert A. (January 29, 2007). "Asian Americans". World History International. Archived from the original on May 27, 2011. Retrieved March 18, 2008.[self-published source?]
  6. ^ Tichenor, Daniel J (2002). Dividing lines: the politics of immigration control in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 84. ISBN 9781400824984.
  7. ^ Lodge, Henry (1909). "The Restriction of Immigration" (PDF). University of Wisconsin. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 6, 2012. Retrieved March 2, 2012.
  8. ^ Tichenor, Daniel J (2002). Dividing Lines: the politics of immigration control in America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 138. ISBN 9781400824984.
  9. ^ a b c Imai, Shiho. "Immigration Act of 1924". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 15, 2014.
  10. ^ Cannato, Vincent J. (2009). American Passage: The History of Ellis Island. New York: Harper. pp. 331. ISBN 978-0-06-194039-2.
  11. ^ "Immigration Bill Passes Senate by Vote of 62 to 6". New York Times. April 19, 1924. Retrieved February 18, 2011.
  12. ^ "Senate Vote #126 (May 15, 1924)". Civic Impulse, LLC. Retrieved May 20, 2011.
  13. ^ a b "Immigration and Nationality Act". CQ Almanac. 1952. (subscription required)
  14. ^ a b Jones, Maldwyn Allen (1992) [1960]. American Immigration (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 237. ISBN 978-0226406336.
  15. ^ "Who Was Shut Out?: Immigration Quotas, 1925–1927". History Matters. George Mason University. Retrieved January 3, 2012.
  16. ^ Stephenson, George M. (1964). A History of American Immigration. 1820–1924. New York: Russel & Russel. p. 190.
  17. ^ Baynton, Douglas C. (2016). Defectives in the Land: Disability and Immigration in the Age of Eugenics. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-226-36433-9.
  18. ^ Gompers, Samuel. "Immigration and labor".(subscription required)
  19. ^ a b c Steven G. Koven, Frank Götzke, American Immigration Policy: Confronting the Nation's Challenges (Springer, 2010), p. 133
  20. ^ Durant, Will (1935). The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  21. ^ a b Chow, Misuzu Hanihara; Chuma, Kiyofuku (2016). The Turning Point in US-Japan Relations: Hanihara's Cherry Blossom Diplomacy in 1920–1930. Springer. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-349-58154-2.
  22. ^ "International Documents". Advocate of Peace. American Peace Society. 86: 311. 1924.
  23. ^ Duus, Masayo Umezawa (1999). The Japanese Conspiracy: The Oahu Sugar Strike of 1920. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. pp. 306–7. ISBN 9780520204850.
  24. ^ a b c Atkinson, David C. (February 3, 2017). "What History Can Tell Us About the Fallout From Restricting Immigration". Time. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  25. ^ Sohi, Seema (2013). Zhao, Xiaojian; Park, Edward J. W. (eds.). Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History. ABC-CLIO. p. 535. ISBN 978-1-59884-240-1.
  26. ^ Beaman, Middleton (1924). "CURRENT LEGISLATION: The Immigration Act of 1924". American Bar Association Journal. 10 (7): 490–492. ISSN 0002-7596. JSTOR 25709038.
  27. ^ "Milestones: 1921–1936 - Office of the Historian". Retrieved January 25, 2020.
  28. ^ a b "Outstanding Features of the Immigration Act of 1924". Columbia Law Review. 25 (1): 90–95. January 1925. doi:10.2307/1113499. JSTOR 1113499.
  29. ^ Gee, Melody S. (September 7, 2020). "Making an American". Commonweal. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  30. ^ a b Immigration Act of 1924 (43 Stat.153).
  31. ^ a b Editors, History com. "Coolidge signs Immigration Act of 1924". HISTORY. Retrieved January 25, 2020.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  32. ^ Ngai, Mae M. (January 31, 2014). Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-5023-5.
  33. ^ Beaman, Middleton (1924). "CURRENT LEGISLATION: The Immigration Act of 1924". American Bar Association Journal. 10 (7): 490–492. ISSN 0002-7596. JSTOR 25709038.
  34. ^ a b c Airriess, Christopher A.; Contemporary Ethnic Geographies in America, p. 40. ISBN 1442218576
  35. ^ Ngai, Mae (2004). Impossible Subjects: illegal aliens and the makings of modern America. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 49.
  36. ^ Murray, Robert K. (1976). The 103rd Ballot: Democrats and the Disaster in Madison Square Garden. New York: Harper & Row. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-06-013124-1.
  37. ^ Historical Statistics of the United States: 1789–1945, Series B 304–330 (p. 33). US Bureau of the Census, 1949.[original research?]
  38. ^ a b c Historical Statistics of the United States: 1789–1945, Series B 304–330 (p. 32). US Bureau of the Census, 1949.
  39. ^ Julian Levinson, Exiles on Main Street: Jewish American Writers and American Literary Culture (Indiana University Press, 2008), p. 54
  40. ^ "A Century of Immigration, 1820-1924 - From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America". Library of Congress. September 9, 2004. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  41. ^ a b "United States Immigration and Refugee Law, 1921–1980". Holocaust Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 9, 2019.
  42. ^ Smallwood, James (March 2009). "Operation Texas: Lyndon B. Johnson, The Jewish Question and the Nazi Holocaust". East Texas Historical Journal. 47 (1).
  43. ^ Bernard, Diane (May 1, 2019). "Jews fleeing the Holocaust weren't welcome in the U.S. Then FDR finally offered a refuge to some". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 3, 2019.
  44. ^ Cobb, Jelani (September 5, 2017). "Trump's Move to End DACA and Echoes of the Immigration Act of 1924". The New Yorker. Retrieved October 20, 2020.
  45. ^ Zhou, Li (May 5, 2021). "The inadequacy of the term "Asian American"". Vox. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  46. ^ Jacobson, Matthew Frye (1999). Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 85. ISBN 0674951913.
  47. ^ King, Desmond (2000). Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. p. 195. ISBN 0-674-00088-9.
  48. ^ Ngai, Mae M. (2004). Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America. Woodstock, Oxfordshire: Princeton University Press. pp. 24–25. ISBN 978-0-691-16082-5.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]