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Immigration Policy and the Shaping of U.S. Culture

Becoming America

Roger White

The author examines the relationships between immigration policy, observed immigration patterns, and cultural differences between the United States and immigrants’ source countries. The entirety of U.S. immigration history (1607-present) is reviewed through a recounting of related legislative acts and by examining data on immigrant inflows and cross-societal cultural distances.
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Chapter 3: The Southern and Eastern European wave: qualitative restrictions, 1875–1920

Becoming America

Roger White

Extract

We review U.S. immigration history during the 1875–1920 period, when federal legislation imposed explicit qualitative restrictions on immigration. The Page Act of 1875 prohibited the entry of forced laborers, Asian women who might engage in prostitution, and convicted criminals. The Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) halted Chinese immigration to the U.S. for ten years and prohibited Chinese residents of the U.S. from becoming citizens. In 1892, the Geary Act extended the ban for an additional decade, and required all Chinese living in the U.S. to carry permits. As expiration of the Geary Act neared, the Scott Act was passed, further extending the ban. Two years later, the ban on Chinese immigration to the U.S. was made permanent. Additional legislation also limited immigration, with arrivals from Northern and Western Europe continuing to receive preferential treatment. Even so, during this period, we see large numbers of immigrants arrive from Southern and Eastern Europe.

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