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Timeline

Key Dates and Landmarks in United States Immigration History

  1789 The Constitution of the United States of America takes effect, succeeding the Articles of Confederation that had governed the union of states since the conclusion of the Revolutionary War (March 4, 1789).  
  1790 The Naturalization Act of 1790 establishes a uniform rule of naturalization and a two-year residency requirement for aliens who are "free white persons" of "good moral character" (March 26, 1790).  
  1798 Considered one of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Naturalization Act of 1798 permits Federalist President John Adams to deport foreigners deemed to be dangerous and increases the residency requirements to 14 years to prevent immigrants, who predominantly voted for the Republican Party, from becoming citizens (June 25, 1798).  
  1802 The Jefferson Administration revises the Naturalization Act of 1798 by reducing the residency requirement from 14 to five years.  
  1808 Importation of slaves into the United States is officially banned, though it continues illegally long after the ban.  
  1819 Congress passes an act requiring shipmasters to deliver a manifest enumerating all aliens transported for immigration. The Secretary of State is required to report annually to Congress the number of immigrants admitted.  
  1821–1830 143,439 immigrants arrive  
  1831–1840 599,125 immigrants arrive  
  1840s Crop failures in Germany, social turbulence triggered by the rapid industrialization of European society, political unrest in Europe, and the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1851) lead to a new period of mass immigration to the United States.  
  1841–1850 1,713,251 immigrants arrive  
  1848 The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War and extends citizenship to the approximately 80,000 Mexicans living in Texas, California, and the American Southwest.  
  1848 Gold is discovered in the American River, near Sacramento, California.  
  1849 The California gold rush spurs immigration from China and extensive internal migration.  
  1850 For the first time, the United States Census surveys the "nativity" of citizens (born inside or outside the US).  
  1851–1860 2,598,214 immigrants arrive  
  1854 The Know-Nothings, a nativist political party seeking to increase restrictions on immigration, win significant victories in Congress, a sign of popular dissatisfaction with growing immigration from Catholic Ireland. Protestant Americans feared that growing Catholic immigration would place American society under control of the Pope.  
  1855 Castle Garden is established as New York's principal point of entry.  
  1861–1870 2,314,825 immigrants arrive  
  1861 Outbreak of the American Civil War (April 12, 1861).  
  1862 The Homestead Act provides free plots of up to 160 acres of western land to settlers who agree to develop and live on it for at least five years, thereby spurring an influx of immigrants from overpopulated countries in Europe seeking land of their own.  
  1862 The "Anti-Coolie" Act discourages Chinese immigration to California and institutes special taxes on employers who hire Chinese workers.  
  1863 Riots against the draft in New York City involve many immigrants opposed to compulsory military service (July 13–16, 1863).  
  1863 The Central Pacific hires Chinese laborers and the Union Pacific hires Irish laborers to construct the first transcontinental railroad, which would stretch from San Francisco to Omaha, allowing continuous travel by rail from coast to coast.  
  1869 The First Transcontinental Railroad is completed when the Central Pacific and Union Pacific lines meet at Promontory Summit, Utah (May 10, 1869).  
  1870 The Naturalization Act of 1870 expands citizenship to both whites and African-Americans, though Asians are still excluded.  
  1870 The Fifteenth Amendment is ratified, granting voting rights to citizens, regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude."  
  1870 Jacob Riis, who later pioneered photojournalism and authored How the Other Half Lives, emigrates from Denmark to the United States.  
  1871–1880 2,812,191 immigrants arrive  
  1881–1890 5,246,613 immigrants arrive  
  1881–1885 1 million Germans arrive in the peak of German immigration  
  1881–1920 2 million Eastern European Jews immigrate to the United States  
  1882 The Chinese Exclusion Act restricts all Chinese immigration to the United States for a period of ten years.  
  1882 The Immigration Act of 1882 levies a tax of 50 cents on all immigrants landing at US ports and makes several categories of immigrants ineligible for citizenship, including "lunatics" and people likely to become public charges.  
  1885 The Alien Contract Labor Law prohibits any company or individual from bringing foreigners into the United States under contract to perform labor. The only exceptions are those immigrants brought to perform domestic service and skilled workmen needed to help establish a new trade or industry in the US.  
  1886 The Statue of Liberty is dedicated in New York Harbor.  
  1886 Emma Goldman, Lithuanian-born feminist, immigrates to the United States, where over the next 30 years she will become a prominent American anarchist. During the First World War, in 1917, she is deported to Russia for conspiring to obstruct the draft.  
  1889 Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr found Hull-House in Chicago.  
  1890 The demographic trends in immigration to the United States shift as immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe substantially increases, while the relative proportion of immigration from Northern and Western Europe begins to decrease.  
  1891–1900 3,687,564 immigrants arrive.  
  1891 Congress makes "persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease," those convicted of a "misdemeanor involving moral turpitude," and polygamists ineligible for immigration. Congress also establishes the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration within the Treasury Department.  
  1892 The Geary Act extends the Chinese Exclusion Act for ten more years, and adds the requirement that all Chinese residents carry permits, as well as excluding them from serving as witnesses in court and from bail in habeus corpus proceedings.  
  1892 Ellis Island, the location at which more than 16 million immigrants would be processed, opens in New York City.  
  1901–1910 8,795,386 immigrants arrive  
  1901 After President William McKinley is shot by a Polish anarchist (September 6, 1901) and dies a week later (September 14, 1901), Congress enacts the Anarchist Exclusion Act, which prohibits the entry into the US of people judged to be anarchists and political extremists.  
  1902 The Chinese Exclusion Act is again renewed, with no ending date.  
  1906 The Naturalization Act of 1906 standardizes naturalization procedures, makes some knowledge of the English language a requirement for citizenship, and establishes the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in the Commerce Department to oversee national immigration policy.  
  1907 The Expatriation Act declares that an American woman who marries a foreign national loses her citizenship.  
  1907 Under an informal "Gentlemen's Agreement," the United States agrees not to restrict Japanese immigration in exchange for Japan's promise to voluntarily restrict Japanese emigration to the United States by not issuing passports to Japanese laborers. In return, the US promises to crack down on discrimination against Japanese-Americans, most of whom live in California.  
  1907 The Dillingham Commission is established by Congress to investigate the effects of immigration on the United States.  
  1911–1920 2 million Italians arrive in the peak of Italian immigration  
  1911–1920 5,735,811 immigrants arrive  
  1911 The Dillingham Commission, established in 1907, publishes a 42-volume report warning that the "new" immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe threatens to subvert American society. The Dillingham Commission's recommendations lay the foundation for the Quota Acts of the 1920s.  
  1913 California's Alien Land Law prohibits "aliens ineligible for citizenship" (Chinese and Japanese) from owning property in the state, providing a model for similar anti-Asian laws in other states.  
  1917 Congress enacts a literacy requirement for immigrants by overriding President Woodrow Wilson's veto. The law requires immigrants to be able to read 40 words in some language and bans immigration from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines.  
  1917 The US enters the First World War.  
  1917 The Immigration Act of 1917 restricts immigration from Asia by creating an "Asiatic Barred Zone."  
  1917 The Jones-Shafroth Act grants US citizenship to Puerto Ricans, provided that they can be recruited by the US military.  
  1919 The First Red Scare leads to an outbreak of fear and violence against people deemed to be political radicals and foreigners considered to be susceptible to communist propaganda and more likely to be involved in the Bolshevik Revolution.  
  1921–1930 4,107,209 immigrants arrive.  
  1921 The Emergency Quota Act restricts immigration from a given country to 3% of the number of people from that country living in the US in 1910.  
  1922 The Cable Act partially repeals the Expatriation Act, but declares that an American woman who marries an Asian still loses her citizenship.  
  1923 In the landmark case of United States v. Bhaghat Singh Thind, the Supreme Court rules that Indians from the Asian subcontinent cannot become US citizens.  
  1924 The Immigration Act of 1924 limits annual European immigration to 2% of the number of people from that country living in the United States in 1890. The Act greatly reduces immigration from Southern and Eastern European nationalities that had only small populations in the US in 1890.  
  1924 The Oriental Exclusion Act prohibits most immigration from Asia, including foreign-born wives and the children of American citizens of Chinese ancestry.  
  1924 The Border Patrol is created to combat smuggling and illegal immigration.  
  1929 The National Origins Formula institutes a quota that caps national immigration at 150,000 and completely bars Asian immigration, though immigration from the Western Hemisphere is still permitted.  
  1931–1940 532,431 immigrants arrive.  
  1933 To escape persecution by the Nazis, Albert Einstein, the greatest theoretical physicist of the century, immigrates to the United States from Germany.  
  1934 The Tydings-McDuffe Act grants the Philippines independence from the United States on July 4, 1946, but strips Filipinos of US citizenship and severely restricts Filipino immigration to the United States.  
  1940 The Alien Registration Act requires the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens in the United States over the age of 14.  

Sources

Calavita, Kitty. US Immigration Law and the Control of Labor: 1820-1924. London, Orlando: Academic Press, 1984.

Digital History: Ethnic Voices.

LeMay, Michael and Robert Barkan Elliott, eds., US Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999.

Smith, Marian L. Overview of INS History to 1998.