On this dayFeb 05, 1917

Immigration Act of 1917 Restricts Asians, Other Non-White People from Entering U.S.

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On February 5, 1917, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act. Intended to prevent “undesirables” from immigrating to the United States, the act primarily targeted individuals migrating from Asia. Under the act, people from “any country not owned by the U.S. adjacent to the continent of Asia” were barred from immigrating to the United States. The bill also utilized an English literacy test and an increased tax of eight dollars per person for immigrants aged sixteen years and older.

The new bill was not meant to impact immigrants from Northern and Western Europe but targeted Asian, Mexican, and Mediterranean immigrants in an attempt to curb their migration. One author of the bill, Alabama Congressman John Burnett, estimated it would exclude approximately forty percent of Mediterranean immigrants, ninety percent of those from Mexico, and all Indian and non-Caucasian immigrants.

The bill also restricted the immigration of people with mental and physical handicaps, the poor, and people with criminal records or suspected of being involved in prostitution. Proponents claimed the bill would keep burdensome immigrants from entering the country and thus “promote the moral and material prosperity” of new immigrants permitted to enter.

The bill remained law for thirty-five years, until the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1952 eliminated racial restrictions in immigration and naturalization statutes.

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