The Immigration Act of 1924
The Immigration Act of 1924 created a permanent quota system (that of 1921 was only
temporary), reducing the 1921 annual quota from 358,000 to 164,000. In addition, the
Act reduced the immigration limit from 3 percent to 2 percent of each foreign-born group
living in the United States in 1890. Using 1890 rather than 1910 or 1920 excluded the
new wave of foreign-born from southern and eastern Europe from quotas truly
proportionate to their new numbers in the population. Finally, the act provided for a
future reduction of the quota to 154,000.
The new law cut the quota for northern and western European countries by 29 percent,
but slashed that for southern and eastern Europe by 87 percent. Italy's quota, for example,
was reduced from 42,057 to 3,845 persons.
In addition, all immigrants now had to obtain a visa from an American consul in their
country of origin. Since part of the thrust of the 1924 law was to select those best suited
to American society, this system permitted an initial screening of immigrants.
The quota system did not apply to countries in the Western Hemisphere. The United
States did not want to alienate its neighbors, and it needed workers, especially those from
Mexico. During World Wars I and II, the U.S. recruited thousands of temporary workers
from Mexico to harvest crops in our labor-short farmland.
In 1929 the quota system based on national origin went into effect. In the 1930s,
immigration to the United States markedly decreased, in part because of the 1929 Act,
but also because of worldwide economic depression. Large portions of most quotas were
therefore unfilled. At the same time, thousands of persons sought to flee totalitarian
regimes like that in Nazi Germany. Since American immigration policies failed to
distinguish between immigrants and refugees in the quota counts, most of the refugees
(principally Jews) were barred from coming to the United States.
From 1924 to 1947, only 2,718,006 immigrants came to the United States, a total equal to
the number entering during any two-year period before World War I. In the 1930s, for the
first time in U.S. history, those leaving the United States outnumbered those entering.
"An act to limit the migration of aliens into the United States.
.." (approved May 26,
1924). The Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from December, 1923
to March, 1925. Vol. XLII, Part 1, pp. 153-169 (Washington, D.C.: Government
Printing Office, 1925.)
SIXTY EIGHTH CONGRESS. SESS.I. Ch. 185, 190. 1924.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America
in Congress assembled, That this Act may be cited as the "Immigration Act of 1924"