Restrictive Immigration Policies

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The Americanese Wall, as Congressman Burnett Would Build It (1916)

Library of Congress

In 1916, thoughts of literacy tests, a way for the federal government to accept or reject immigrants based on their reading and writing skills, at immigration stations were circulating. Raymond O. Evans created a political cartoon depicting how that would unfold. The drawing appeared in the magazine Puck, and it depicted a family of immigrants being unable to enter the country as Uncle Sam, serving as a symbol for the federal government, stands behind a towering wall labeled “Literacy Test”. The literacy tests were put in place in 1917 by Congress, and they served as a way to limit immigration as the population was skyrocketing much faster than what the country was able to handle. These tests resulted in only educated and wealthy immigrants being able to make it through the immigration stations. This is significant because the federal government worked to keep out immigrants unless they were wealthy and previously educated.

President Coolidge signing the Johnson-Reed Act (1924)

Library of Congress

On May 24, 1924, a photograph of President Calvin Coolidge signing the Johnson-Reed Act to limit the amount of immigrants allowed into the country was taken by an unknown photographer. This act set a quota on the percent of immigrants of each race that are permitted to enter the country, after the literacy tests of 1917 proved unsuccessful at cutting the immigration numbers as low as the federal government wanted. The Johnson-Reed Act referenced the 1890 census data, restricting incoming immigrants to just two percent of each nationality’s foreign-born immigrants that were recorded in the United States’ 1890 census. This act strongly favored European immigrants as they had a much higher population in the United States when the act was implemented and hindered the growth of the Asian population in America as they were being heavily restricted by the federal government.