Timeline of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Law
I’m going to skip over about 100 years. Before 1868, there were a few changes made, but for the most part to be a citizen you had to be a white man. Women were citizens too, but their citizenship was coupled to their husband’s and they couldn’t vote.
1868- 14th Amendment gives former slaves citizenship
1870- 15th Amendment gives African American men the right to vote; People of African descent may become citizens
1875- Page Act of 1875 becomes the first act to limit the immigration of “undesirable” people. Sorry, Lady Liberty. Sorry, people who want to think that U.S. law has evolved linearly toward the greater good. So, on one hand this law did prohibit human trafficking as it placed a fine of up to $2,000 and maximum jail sentence of one year on anyone who brought a person from China, Japan, or any “oriental country” to the United States “without their free and voluntary consent, for the purpose of holding them to a term of service.” It also, however played into the “Yellow Peril,” growing anxiety about the immigration of laborers from East Asia.
1882- Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years as well as the naturalization of Chinese people already in the country. It also put in place deportation measures for Chinese people.
1887- Dawes Act gives American Indians citizenship if they have accepted land allotments.
1891- Immigration Act the first comprehensive immigration law in U.S. history, birth of the Bureau of Immigration, given the power to deport “illegal” immigrants.
1898- United States vs Wong Kim Ark- “A child born in the United States, of parents of Chinese descent, who, at the time of his birth, are subjects of the Emperor of China, but have a permanent domicile and residence in the United States, and are there carrying on business, and are not employed in any diplomatic or official capacity under the Emperor of China, becomes at the time of his birth a citizen of the United States, by virtue of the first clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.” So, interestingly, after the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, a bunch of people of Chinese descent were able to immigrate by claiming that they were born in San Fran before 1906, when the city’s birth and immigration records were destroyed in the post-earthquake fires.
1917- Citizens of Puerto Rico become U.S. Citizens
1917 Immigration Act puts in place a literacy test for all immigrants over age 16 and raises the tax on new immigrants. It also excluded from entry anyone born in a geographically defined “Asiatic Barred Zone,” except for Japanese and Filipino immigrants
1920- 19th Amendment gives women the right to vote.
1921- Emergency Quota Act limited the immigration of people to 3% of the people from their country already in the U.S. based on the 1910 census. This act was largely a response to anxiety over the labor market.
1922- Married women’s citizenship no longer tied to their husband’s.
1924- Immigration Act of 1924 excludes “aliens not eligible for citizenship” from entering and establishes the nation-of-origin quota system that pretty heavily favors Western European immigrants. It totally excludes people from Asia.
1924- American Indians granted full citizenship
1934- Tydings-McDuffie Act gives the Philippines independence.
1940 Alien Registration Act (Smith Act) “required all alien residents in the United States over 14 years of age to file a comprehensive statement of their personal and occupational status and a record of their political beliefs” (hi, McCarthyism)
1952 Immigration and Nationality Act (McCarran–Walter Act) abolished racial restrictions back to 1790 but retained nation of origin quotas, preferring those who had relatives in the country or those who had needed labor skills. The age of naturalization also drops from 21 to 18.
1965- Immigration and Nationality Acts (Hart-Celler Act) repeal the quota system in favor of a visa system.
1986- Immigration Reform and Control Act gave amnesty to undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. while also enacting sanctions for companies who knowingly hired undocumented workers and increasing border security
1990s-2000s Legislation such as the Illegal Immigration Act, Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, and Real ID Act move to secure borders while cracking down more on undocumented immigration. An estimated 3.1 million people immigrate from Mexico after 9/11, but tighter border security and an increasingly militarized border leads to a still on-going stand-off in Congress over reforms to immigration law, including such provisions as the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. Especially given the recession and a surge in patriotism after 9/11, anti-immigrant sentiment swells.