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1st Jan, 1790
Naturalization is authorized for “free white persons”

Naturalization is authorized for “free white persons” who have resided in the United States for at least two years and swear loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. The racial requirement would remain on the federal books until 1952, although naturalization was opened to certain Asian nationalities in the 1940s.

1st Jan, 1798
Alien and Sedition Acts

The Alien and Sedition Acts authorize the President to deport any foreigner deemed to be dangerous and make it a crime to speak, write or publish anything “of a false, scandalous and malicious nature” about the President or Congress. An amended Naturalization Act imposes a 14-year residency requirement for prospective citizens; in 1802, Congress reduces the waiting period to five years, a provision that remains today.

1st Jan, 1819
Reporting Rule adopted

Reporting Rule adopted. Data begin to be collected on immigration into the U.S. Ship captains and others are required to keep and submit manifests of immigrants entering the U.S.

1st Jan, 1875
Sub Label
First exclusionary act becomes law

First exclusionary act becomes law. Convicts, prostitutes and "coolies" (Chinese contract laborers) are barred from entry into the U.S.

1st Jan, 1882
Sub Label
Chinese Exclusion Act

The Chinese Exclusion Act suspends immigration by Chinese laborers for 10 years; the measure would be extended and tightened in 1892 and a permanent ban enacted in 1902. This marks the first time the United States has restricted immigration on the basis of race or national origin. In addition, a tax is levied on newly arriving immigrants.

1st Jan, 1885
Contract laborers entry barred

Contract laborers entry barred. This new legislation reverses an earlier federal law legalizing the trade in contract labor.

1st Jan, 1891
Office of Immigration is created

To the list of undesirables ineligible for immigration, Congress adds polygamists, “persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease,” and those convicted of “a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude.” Also, the Office of Immigration is created. (Now known as U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services.)

1st Jan, 1892
Ellis Island opens

Ellis Island opens. Between 1892 and 1953, more than 12 million immigrants will be processed at this one facility.

1st Jan, 1903
Additional categories are added for persons excluded

Additional categories are added for persons excluded. Epileptics, professional beggars and anarchists are now excluded.

1st Jan, 1906
First language requirement is adopted

The first language requirement is adopted for naturalization: the ability to speak and understand English.

1st Jan, 1907
Exclusions are broadened

Exclusions are further broadened: “Imbeciles, the feebleminded,tubercular persons, persons with physical or mental defects”and persons under 16 without parents are excluded.

1st Jan, 1908
A "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Japan

Under a so-called “Gentlemen’s Agreement,” the United States promises not to ban Japanese immigration in exchange for Japan’s pledge not to issue passports to Japanese laborers for travel to the continental United States (although they remain welcome to become agricultural workers in Hawaii). By a separate executive order, President Theodore Roosevelt prohibits secondary migration by Japanese from Hawaii to the mainland.

1st Jan, 1917
New literacy requirement

Over President Wilson’s veto, Congress enacts a literacy requirement for all new immigrants: ability to read 40 words in some language. Most significant in limiting the flow of newcomers, it designates Asia as a “barred zone” (excepting Japan and the Philippines) from which immigration will be prohibited.

1st Jan, 1921
National-origins quota system goes into effect

A new form of immigration restriction is born: the national-origins quota system. Admissions from each European country will be limited to three percent of each foreign-born nationality in the 1910 census. The effect is to favor Northern Europeans at the expense of Southern and Eastern Europeans. Immigration from Western Hemisphere nations remains unrestricted; most Asians will continue to face exclusion.

1st Jan, 1924
Johnson-Reed Act preserves America’s “racial” makeup

Restrictionists’ decisive stroke, the Johnson-Reed Act, embodies the principle of preserving America’s “racial” composition. Immigration quotas will be based on the ethnic makeup of the U.S. population as a whole in 1920. The new national-origins quota system is even more discriminatory than the 1921 version. “America must be kept American,” says President Coolidge as he signs the bill into law. Another provision bans all immigration by persons “ineligible to citizenship”— primarily affecting t

1st Jan, 1927
Immigration ceiling further reduced

Immigration Ceiling Further Reduced. The annual immigration ceiling is further reduced to 150,000; the quota is revised to two percent of each nationality’s representation in the 1920 census. This basic law remains in effect through 1965.

1st Jan, 1929
National Origins Act

National Origins Act. The annual immigration ceiling of 150,000 is made permanent, with 70 percent of admissions slated for those coming from Northern and Western Europe, while the other 30 percent are reserved for those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe.

1st Jan, 1929
National Origins Act

National Origins Act. The annual immigration ceiling of 150,000 is made permanent, with 70 percent of admissions slated for those coming from Northern and Western Europe, while the other 30 percent are reserved for those coming from Southern and Eastern Europe.

1st Jan, 1943
A token quota of Chinese immigration

To appeal to a wartime ally, a token quota (105) is created for Chinese immigration. Yet unlike white immigrants, whose quotas depend on country of residence, all persons of “Chinese race” will be counted under the Chinese quota regardless of where they reside.

1st Jan, 1948
Displaced Persons Act

Displaced Persons Act. Entry is allowed for 400,000 persons displaced by World War II. However, such refugees must pass a security check and have proof of employment and housing that does not threaten U.S. citizens’ jobs and homes.

1st Jan, 1950
Internal Security Act

The Internal Security Act, enacted over President Truman’s veto, bars admission to any foreigner who might engage in activities “which would be prejudicial to the public interest, or would endanger the welfare or safety of the United States.” It excludes or permits deportation of non-citizens who belong to the U.S. Communist Party or whose future activities might be “subversive to the national security.”

1st Jan, 1952
McCarran-Walter Act

The McCarran-Walter Act retains the national-origins quota system and “internal security” restrictions, despite Truman’s opposition. For the first time, however, Congress sets aside minimum annual quotas for all countries, opening the door to numerous nationalities previously kept out on racial grounds. Naturalization now requires ability to read and write, as well as speak and understand, English.

1st Jan, 1965
US removes racial criteria from immigration laws

immigration laws. Eastern European countries receive annual quotas up to 20,000, under an overall ceiling of 170,000. Up to 120,000 may emigrate from Western Hemisphere nations, which are still not subject to country quotas (an exception Congress would eliminate in 1976).

1st Jan, 1978
World-wide immigration ceiling introduced

World-wide immigration ceiling introduced. A new annual immigration ceiling of 290,000 replaces the separate ceilings for the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.

1st Jan, 1980
Refugee Act

A system is developed to handle refugees as a class separate from other immigrants. Under the new law, refugees are defined as those who flee a country because of persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality or political opinion.” The president, in consultation with Congress, is authorized to establish an annual ceiling on the number of refugees who may enter the United States. The president also is allowed to admit anygroup of refugees in an emergency. At the same time,

1st Jan, 1986
Immigration Reform and Control Act

The Immigration Reform and Control Act regularizes the status of approximately three million undocumented residents. For the first time, the law punishes employers who hire persons who are here illegally. The aim of employer sanctions is to make it difficult for the undocumented to find employment. The law has a side effect: employment discrimination against those who look or sound “foreign.”

1st Jan, 1990
Immigration Act of 1990

Immigration Act of 1990. The annual immigration ceiling is further raised to 700,000 for 1992, 1993, and 1994; thereafter, the ceiling will drop to 675,000 a year. Ten thousand permanent resident visas are offered to those immigrants agreeing to invest at least $1 million in U.S. urban areas or $500,000 in U.S. rural areas. The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 is amended so that people can no longer be denied admittance to the United States on thebasis of their beliefs, statements or associations.

1st Jan, 1994
Violence Against Women Act

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is passed by Congress to allow spouses and children of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPR) to self-petition to obtain LPR status. The immigration provisions of VAWA allow certain battered immigrants to file for immigration relief without theabuser’s assistance or knowledge, in order to seek safety and independence from the abuser

1st Jan, 1996
Illegal Immigration Reform & Responsibility Act

A persistent recession in the U.S. in the early 90s, among other reasons, leads to calls for new restrictions on immigration. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act is passed, toughening border enforcement, closing opportunities for undocumented immigrants to adjust their status, and making it more difficult to gain asylum. The law greatly expands the grounds for deporting even long-time lawful permanent residents.It strips immigrants of many due process rights and the

1st Jan, 1997
Nicaraguan Adjustment & Central American Relief Act

A new Congress mitigates some of the overly harsh restrictions passed by the previous Congress. In the Balanced Budget Agreement with the President, some public benefits are restored for some elderly and disabled immigrants who had been receiving them prior to the 1996 changes. With the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act, Congress provides an opportunity for certain war refugees living in legal limbo to become permanent residents.

1st Jan, 1998
Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act

Congress continues to mitigate some of the nativist provisions passed by the Congress in 1996 by partially restoring access to public benefits for additional groups of legal immigrants. The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act resolves the legal limbo status of certain Haitian refugees, and allows them to become permanent residents. Responding to the pleas of powerful employer groups, Congress passes the American Competitiveness andWorkforce Improvement Act, which significantly raises the n

1st Jan, 2000
Legal Immigration Family Equity Act

Congress continues to move incrementally in a pro-immigrant direction, passing the compromise Legal Immigration Family Equity Act, which creates a narrow window for immigrants with family or employer sponsors to adjust to legal status in the U.S.; resolves the legal limbo of certain immigrants denied legalization in the mid-1980s; and provides temporary visas for certain family-sponsored immigrants waiting for their green cards. For the second time in three years, Congress significantly raises t

1st Jan, 2002

After the attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress enacts that USA PATRIOT Act, which expands the authority to detain, prosecute and remove foreigners suspected of terrorism. The executive branch issues a series of new regulations and policies targeting non-citizens. Immigration appeals are restricted,detention policies are expanded and the refugee resettlement system is temporarily halted while new security procedures are implemented.