Immigration Control Initiatives from 1882 to 1924

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  • 0:00 Immigration
  • 0:51 Chinese Exclusion &…
  • 2:13 1917 Immigration Act
  • 2:56 Immigration Act of 1924
  • 3:34 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson explains U.S. immigration controls from 1882 to 1924. It highlights the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892, Ellis Island, and the Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924.


We humans tend to have some pretty unattractive traits. For instance, we don't like to share. To prove this point, let's take a look at the United States' immigration controls from 1882 to 1924.

Now most of us in the U.S. can trace our heritage to other countries. For instance, my family is from England and my husband's family is from Germany. Putting it plainly, America is really a nation of immigrants, people who leave their home country and settle in another. Despite this, U.S. history books are full of instances when America treated immigrants rather poorly. A great example of this is the 19th century treatment of Chinese immigrants.

Chinese Exclusion & Ellis Island

During the 19th century, Chinese immigrants flooded into the U.S. Many came to the Western U.S. in search of gold and employment. Sadly, the people of the West saw the Chinese as interlopers out to steal their jobs. Whether true or not, they felt the large supply of Chinese workers had caused wages to drop.

When the complaints of these people reached Washington, it responded with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As the first noteworthy law limiting immigration into the United States, it limited Chinese immigration into the U.S. for 10 years. It also declared that Chinese immigrants could not become citizens. Although the Chinese living in America tried to challenge the law, things just got worse. In 1902, Chinese immigration became permanently illegal. This prejudiced act remained in force until 1943!

Immigration control didn't stop with the Chinese Exclusion Act. By the end of the 1880s, immigrants into the U.S. totaled over 5 million. As a means to control these numbers, the early 1890s saw Ellis Island commissioned as the federal immigration station. No longer were immigrants allowed to enter at any port. They had to register at Ellis Island.

1917 Immigration Act

In order to restrict immigration even further, the U.S. adopted the 1917 Immigration Act. It imposed a higher tax on immigrants entering the country. In addition, it forced immigrants over the age of 16 to pass a literacy test.

Hitting the Eastern Hemisphere hard, the 1917 Immigration Act also made immigration from certain latitudes and longitudes bordering Asia illegal. With this, the act also went by the name, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act. Regardless of what it's called, it centered on keeping so-called 'undesirables' out of the country. It also set the stage for the Immigration Act of 1924.

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