Immigration remains controversial in America's political discourse. Partly, this debate can be traced back to the Immigration Act of 1924. The Act introduced a quota system in which entry of immigrants into the United States was pegged at 2% of Americans or their forebears who originated from the nationality in consideration. Annually, the law required that only 150,0000 immigrants can be allowed into the United States(Ngai 67). Due to the discriminatory nature of the Act, the immigration law should have been kept as it was before 1924.
The law sought to perpetuate the racial discrimination of people that were considered unsuitable in the composition of the identity of America. It was a manifestation of racist policies as it introduced quotas that favored people of Western and Northern European Aryan race and restricted Southern and Eastern Europeans such as Italians and Jews. Immigrants from Asian countries including Japanese who were barred entirely from entering the US (Ngai 67-69; Lehtinen 1-5).Additionally, the law elevated immigrants from Northern and Western Europe to a level that was regarded them as the desirable race in American society. Nativists and many politicians argued that such action was critical in maintaining American homogeneity and that new immigrants from Southern and Eastern countries were racially and culturally inferior compared to Western and Northern European immigrants (Ngai 69-70; Lehtinen 5).The quotas further annulled earlier laws that based the quotas of immigrants on the 1910 census and changed to the 1890 census as a reference to determine the number of migrants from certain nationalities(Lehtinen 1-2). This was discriminatory in the sense that a majority of American immigrants before the 1890 census were of European origin and this gave the members of the Aryan race a huge advantage over other ethnicities in terms of their ability to gain entry into the US.
Economic arguments against the law did not match realities of the period that preceded the enactment of the 1924 Immigration Act. Historically, America had relied on immigrant labor (Fairchild 528), and migrants played a significant role in the economic boom that propelled the country for industrialization after the Civil War. Between 1830 and 1924, more than 35 million migrants arrived from Europe (Lehtinen 1).At the time, immigrants were seen as a necessity to strengthen the image of America as a land of opportunity where individuals could thrive alongside benefiting the country with new skills (Lehtinen 1-2).As evidence suggests, immigrants from Asian countries and Eastern Europe had skills that matched the needs of the economy at the time (Ngai 69-72). Therefore, the justification of immigration on the basis of skilled labor from Western and Northern Europe held little significance.
Despite the racial attributes of the 1924 Immigration Act, regulation of immigration at the time was not entirely a bad thing. The US, like other organized democracy, needed broad control over who entered its borders and the origins of the people trying to make such entries (Oshima).From an economic perspective, unregulated immigration can affect the economy and the livelihoods of citizens in many ways. Although the economic impact of immigration had been appreciated for years among Americans, the period of the 1890s represented a time of economic problems that made society to rethink about the issue of immigration and its negative effects. Republicans, Black leaders, New Englanders, labor unionists, Klansmen, eugenists and industrialists united in agreement that there should be some form of regulation of entry of people into the United States. For example, the influx of migrants lowered wages and strained recourses (Lehtinen 2-4). As such, immigration negatively affected the lives of Americans. In this respect, the enactment of this law was necessary to protect the interests of American citizens.
Regulation of immigration should have been left the way it was before the Immigration Act of 1924 since there was an existing legislation that controlled immigration. Despite the economic benefits that are associated with regulating the number of people entering a country, the 1924 Immigration Act should not have been implemented as it used race as a basis for barring immigrants from entering the United States. Notably, the law gave a lot of privilege to immigrants from Western and Northern Europe in a well-calculated strategy to lock out darker races while it sought to maintain a huge stock of members of the Aryan race in the United States.
Fairchild, Amy L. "Policies of Inclusion." American Journal of Public Health, vol. 94, no. 4, 2004, pp. 528-539.
Lehtinen, Vilja. "America Would Lose Its Soul": the Immigration Restriction Debate, 1920-1924. Helsingin yliopisto, 2002.
Ngai, Mae M. "The Architecture of Race in American Immigration Law: A Reexamination of the Immigration Act of 1924." The Journal of American History, vol. 86, no. 1, 1999, p. 67-92.
Oshima, Shotaro. "Why the 1920s U.S. Ban on Japanese Immigrants Matters Today."The Huffington Post, [New York], 2015.
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