Immigration Act of 1924

During the Harding administration, a stop-gap immigration measure was passed by Congress in 1921 for the purpose of slowing the flood of immigrants entering the United States.

A more thorough law was signed by President Coolidge in May 1924. It provided for the following:

  • The quota for immigrants entering the U.S. was set at two percent of the total of any given nation`s residents in the U.S. as reported in the 1890 census;

  • after July 1, 1927, the two percent rule was to be replaced by an overall cap of 150,000 immigrants annually and quotas determined by "national origins" as revealed in the 1920 census.

College students, professors and ministers were exempted from the quotas. Initially immigration from the other Americas was allowed, but measures were quickly developed to deny legal entry to Mexican laborers.

The clear aim of this law was to restrict the entry of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, while welcoming relatively large numbers of newcomers from Britain, Ireland, and Northern Europe.

The 1921 law had used the 1910 census to determine the base for the quotas; by changing to the 1890 census when fewer Italians or Bulgarians lived in the U.S., more of the "dangerous` and "different" elements were kept out. This legislation reflected discriminatory sentiments that had surfaced earlier during the Red Scare of 1919-20.

Year
Total
Entering U.S.
Country of Origin
Great
Britain
Eastern
Europe*
Italy
1920
430,001
38,471
3,913
95,145
1921
805,228
51,142
32,793
222,260
1922
309,556
25,153
12,244
40,319
1923
522,919
45,759
16,082
46,674
1924
706,896
59,490
13,173
56,246
1925
294,314
27,172
1,566
6,203
1926
304,488
25,528
1,596
8,253
*Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.
U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1957 (Washington, D.C., 1960), p. 56.

A provision in the 1924 law barred entry to those ineligible for citizenship — effectively ending the immigration of all Asians into the United States and undermining the earlier "Gentlemen`s Agreement" with Japan. Efforts by Secretary of State Hughes to change this provision were not successful and actually inflamed the passions of the anti-Japanese press, which was especially strong on the West Coast.

Heated protests were issued by the Japanese government and a citizen committed seppuku outside the American embassy in Tokyo. May 26, the effective date of the legislation, was declared a day of national humiliation in Japan, adding another in a growing list of grievances against the U.S.

In 1965, the Hart-Cellar Act abolished the national origins quota system that had structured America`s immigration policy since the 1920`s, replacing it with a preference system that emphasized immigrants` skills and family relationships with citizens or residents of the United States.


See other domestic activities during the Coolidge administration.

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