United States Immigration Laws Timeline

  • United States

United States Immigration Laws Timeline

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1790
Naturalization Act (An act to establish an uniform rule of naturalization)

This act established that “any alien being a free white person of a good character” could apply for US citizenship if he had lived for at least two years in the USA. Black and Asian immigrants were not eligible to naturalization. 

1875
Immigration Act of 1875

This act prohibited specified immigrants from entering the USA (criminals, prostitutes, immigrating contract workers and Chinese labourers). The Immigration Act of 1875 also contained an important part, known as Page Laws, that also prohibited Chinese women from entering the Unites States.

1882
Chinese Exclusion Act

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese migration for 10 years. Chinese nationals had no right to become American citizens. It was largely considered that the Chinese were stealing scarce jobs from Americans, a reason that can explain the adoption of this act.

1887
The Scott Act

This amendment to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited Chinese workers into coming to the USA. In other words, Chinese people living in the USA couldn’t leave the country, as they wouldn’t be able to come back even if they had necessary immigration documents.

1889
Chinese expulsion case in Chae Chan Ping v. United States

The Supreme Court established that the USA, as an independent and sovereign nation, should be able to protect itself against foreign nationals and that it should have all the necessary immigration power to do that. 

1890
re Chung Toy and Wong Choy Sin (U.S Court decision of 1890)

This decision claimed that the right to family unity was a natural right.

1891
Immigration Act of 1891

This act excluded all aliens with communicable diseases from entering the USA.

1903
Anarchist Exclusion Act

This act banned anarchists and political extremists from entering the USA.

1900-1907
The Gentlemen’s Agreements of 1900 and 1907

According to this act, Japan had an obligation not to issue passports to Japanese emigrants. As to the USA, it would only allow immigration for the wives, children and parents of current Japanese already residing in the United States. This act opened a door to the “picture brides” phenomenon (Japanese women were paired with US citizens via photographs and family recommendations).

1917
Immigration Act of 1917

The Immigration Act of 1917 prohibited all Asian immigration as well “Psychopaths, Inferiors, and people with abnormal sexual instincts” (which included lesbian and gay).

1921
Emergency Quota Act

This act put quotas on the number of foreigners coming to the United States. The adoption of the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 can be explained by the fact that it was considered that foreign workers were stealing American jobs, and it was thus necessary to stop this kind of migration.

1924
Immigration Act of 1924

The goal of this law was to restrict immigration from Eastern Europe and Russia, mainly because of the fear of cheap labour. The Immigration Act of 1924 put the wives of US citizens into the non-quota category. Asian women were still Asian ineligible for naturalisation.

1934
The Tydings-McDuffie Act

This act qualified all Filipino immigrants residing in the United States as “aliens” and fixed the quota of Filipino Immigration at 50 per year. In 1945 Filipino immigration was increased from 50 to 100 persons per year.

1945
War Brides Act

This act offered an easy reunification between U.S. Armed Forces soldiers and their spouses and children, who had a non-quota status. In 1947, the Congress adopted an amendment to the War Brides Act and finally allowed entry to the Asian spouses of U.S. soldiers.

1952
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (McCarran-Walter Act)

This law granted Green Card priority to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens. Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens included the following categories: spouses of U.S. citizens, their children (unmarried and under 21) and their parents. This act gave a rather broad definition of the terms “spouse”, “wife”, and “husband”.

1965
The Immigration Act of 1965

The Immigration Act of 1965 abolished the race and nationality quota systems. This act introduced the concept of “psychopathic personality”, according to which LGBT immigrants were forbidden admission in the USA, since the term was considered to include homosexuality. Thus, same-sex families didn’t have any right to immigrate to the United States and American citizens couldn’t sponsor their same-sex partners.

1986
The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 (a.k.a the Simpson-Mazzoli Act)

This act featured a provision aimed at legislating illegal immigration. However, it also established that illegal immigrants who were parents of US citizens couldn’t be deported.

1986
The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment (IMFA) of 1986

Cet acte a imposé un statut conditionnel de deux ans pour les conjointes étrangères, et prévoyait que pour le retirer, une femme étrangère devait déposer une demande commune avec son conjoint américain, une fois écoulée une période d’attente de deux ans.

1990
The Immigration Act of 1990

The Immigration Act of 1990 revised the concept of family-based preference, adding to it the following categories: sons and daughters of U.S. citizens over the age of 21 (first preference), spouses and minor children of permanent residents and their unmarried adult children (second preference), married children of U.S. citizens (third preference) and brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens (fourth preference). This act also created the “battered spouse waiver” that could waive the conditional residence requirement if a marriage was entered into in good faith.

1994
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994

Le VAWA a proposé de l’aide additionnelle dans les cas où un époux refuserait de déposer une pétition au nom de son épouse, ou alors retirerait une pétition en attente. Par contre, le fardeau de la preuve incombait toujours aux femmes étrangères

1996
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

This act stipulated that non-immigrants who overstayed their visas by one to 365 days would be ineligible for a three-years period regarding any other immigrant or non-immigrant visas. Those who overstayed their visas by more than 365 days would be ineligible for an additional 10 years.

1996
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

The DOMA expressly excluded same-sex married couples from the term “marriage.

2000
Legal Immigration Family Equity, or LIFE

This document created a temporary V visa category for family members of US permanent residents that would allow them to stay in the USA for a certain period of time while waiting for their visas.

2004
A fraud sheet

This act contained different potential indications of fraud that immigration officers should be able to notice when they examine mixed couples’ application. The list includes, but is not limited to: lateness for an interview, eye contact, extreme nervousness, short time between entry and marriage, unusual marriage history, unusual number of children and large discrepancy in age, unusual cultural differences, previous marriages to foreign citizens.

2013
U.S. v. Windsor (June 26)

This act claimed that the same federal benefits should be granted to homosexual and heterosexual couples

2015
Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26)

This decision established that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. The final ruling proved her right: judges not only overturned Section 3 of DOMA “as unconstitutional.