Digital History

The Jazz Age: The American 1920s

Immigration Restriction Previous Next
Digital History ID 3388



Before World War I, American industry, steamship companies, and railroads promoted immigration and financed groups opposed to immigration restriction. The United States did institute registration and literacy requirements for immigrants; yet, opponents of restriction succeeded in blocking efforts to establish immigration quotas.

World War I revealed that the economy could function effectively without foreign immigration; opposition to immigration restriction withered away. Not only had World War I demonstrated that immigrants had become "Americanized," but with the establishment of new European nation states, interest in European politics faded away. While some opponents of immigration argued that it threatened the nation's culture, most of the arguments advanced against immigration were economic. Among the chief proponents of immigration restriction were the unions of the American Federation of Labor. Organized labor feared that American workers' wages would decline if unskilled immigrant workers flooded the labor market. Meanwhile, many businessmen feared dangerous foreign radicals.

During the 1920s, most ethnic groups agreed that the overall volume of immigration should be reduced. The issue remained: how to distribute the immigration quotas. A compromise was easily reached: make the quotas proportionate to the current population, so that future immigration would not change the balance of ethnic groups.

In 1924, Congress reduced the number of immigrants allowed into the United States each year to two percent of each nationality group counted in the 1890 census. It also barred Asians entirely.

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