To Elena, I’d suggest you go back to your history a bit more to discover the role many labor unions and related American-worker interests had in demanding limits to immigration in the 1920s. What labor wanted was a need to limit immigration in order to obtain bargaining leverage. How can any union successfully strike for lower wages without limits to the labor supply? Check out the ILGWU resolutions dating back as early as 1905.

Dan Stein

I think it is imperative, for all who discuss immigration, to understand its origins. I may not be an expert on unions, but I do understand the fear and anxiety that lives in all of us when we encounter people that are different from own small world experiences. The original, over-reaching 1924 Johnson-Reed act was in response to a changing face of America. What I found interesting was that “The 1924 Immigration Act also included a provision excluding from entry any alien who by virtue of race or nationality was ineligible for citizenship. Existing nationality laws dating from 1790 and 1870 excluded people of Asian lineage from naturalizing. As a result, the 1924 Act meant that even Asians not previously prevented from immigrating – the Japanese in particular – would no longer be admitted to the United States.” Now Really Mr. Stein, does this sound like unbiased labor union concerns, or just simply racism codified within the immigration legislation?

It is also extremely noteworthy that the KKK had great influence in working towards passage of the 1924 Johnson Reed Act. The eugenics movement was integral to the passage of the immigration act.

Local eugenics societies and groups sprang up around the United States after World War I, with names like the Race Betterment Foundation. The war had given many Americans a greater fear of foreigners, and immigration to the United States was still increasing. In 1923, organizers founded the American Eugenics Society, and it quickly grew to 29 chapters around the country. At fairs and exhibitions, eugenicists spread the word and hosted “fitter family” and “better baby” competitions to award blue ribbons to the finest human stock — not unlike the awards for prize bull and biggest pumpkin. Not only did eugenicists promote better breeding, they wanted to prevent poor breeding or the risk of it. That meant keeping people with undesireable traits in their heritage (including alcoholism, pauperism, or epilepsy) separate from others or, where law allowed, preventing them from reproducing.

These vocal groups advocated laws to attain their aims, and in 1924, the Immigration Act was passed by majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. It set up strict quotas limiting immigrants from countries believed by eugenicists to have “inferior” stock, particularly Southern Europe and Asia. President Coolidge, who signed the bill into law, had stated when he was vice president, “America should be kept American. . . . Biological laws show that Nordics deteriorate when mixed with other races.”


An “Un-American Bill”: A Congressman Denounces Immigration Quotas

At the turn of the 20th century, unprecedented levels of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe to the United States aroused public support for restrictive immigration laws. After World War I, which temporarily slowed immigration levels, anti-immigration sentiment rose again. Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921, limiting entrants from each nation to 3 percent of that nationality’s presence in the U.S. population as recorded by the 1910 census. As a result, immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe dropped to less than one-quarter of pre-World War I levels. Even more restrictive was the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act) that shaped American immigration policy until the 1960s. While it passed with only six dissenting votes, congressional debates over the Johnson-Reed Act revealed arguments on both sides of this question of American policy and national identity. For example, on April 8, 1924, Robert H. Clancy, a Republican congressman from Detroit with a large immigrant constituency, defended the “Americanism” of Jewish, Italian, and Polish immigrants and attacked the quota provisions of the bill as racially discriminatory and “un-American.”


Since the foundations of the American commonwealth were laid in colonial times over 300 years ago, vigorous complaint and more or less bitter persecution have been aimed at newcomers to our shores. Also the congressional reports of about 1840 are full of abuse of English, Scotch, Welsh immigrants as paupers, criminals, and so forth.

Old citizens in Detroit of Irish and German descent have told me of the fierce tirades and propaganda directed against the great waves of Irish and Germans who came over from 1840 on for a few decades to escape civil, racial, and religious persecution in their native lands.

The “Know-Nothings,” lineal ancestors of the Ku-Klux Klan, bitterly denounced the Irish and Germans as mongrels, scum, foreigners, and a menace to our institutions, much as other great branches of the Caucasian race of glorious history and antecedents are berated to-day. All are riff-raff, unassimilables, “foreign devils,” swine not fit to associate with the great chosen people—a form of national pride and hallucination as old as the division of races and nations.

But to-day it is the Italians, Spanish, Poles, Jews, Greeks, Russians, Balkanians, and so forth, who are the racial lepers. And it is eminently fitting and proper that so many Members of this House with names as Irish as Paddy’s pig, are taking the floor these days to attack once more as their kind has attacked for seven bloody centuries the fearful fallacy of chosen peoples and inferior peoples. The fearful fallacy is that one is made to rule and the other to be abominated. . . .

It must never be forgotten also that the Johnson bill, although it claims to favor the northern and western European peoples only, does so on a basis of comparison with the southern and western European peoples. The Johnson bill cuts down materially the number of immigrants allowed to come from northern and western Europe, the so-called Nordic peoples. . . .

Then I would be true to the principles for which my forefathers fought and true to the real spirit of the magnificent United States of to-day. I can not stultify myself by voting for the present bill and overwhelm my country with racial hatreds and racial lines and antagonisms drawn even tighter than they are to-day. [Applause.]

Source: Speech by Robert H. Clancy, April 8, 1924, Congressional Record, 68th Congress, 1st Session (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1924), vol. 65, 5929–5932.

Another thing to remember is that all this anti-immigrant ferver of the 1920’s was needed to distract voters from the Teapot Dome Scandal. For those who aren’t familiar, this was an instance where Big Oil worked in cahoots with the White House to defraud the American people of our natural resources, namely the oil reserves that belonged to the U.S. Navy, one of which was named after a teapot shaped mountain in Wyoming. By bribing Warren G. Harding during the Republican National Convention (this is where the term “smoked filled room” comes from), America’s two biggest oil barons, Doheny and Sinclaire, were granted leases to the Navy oil reserves. As the scandal was beginning to break, anti-immigrant legislation was being crafted.

119 Thoughts to “The History of Immigration Quotas, Steeped in Prejudice”

  1. Chris

    I am little miffed my comments have been deleted once again from bvbl. They were not out of line they simply did not fall in line with somes thinking. Very disappointing. I know you weren’t to pleased when your comments were tinkered with on bvbl.

  2. I think it’s time for you, me, and Dolph to get together again for a smoke-in and a “kaffee klatch” at that IHOP. 🙂

  3. Chris

    It was a little out of character for me, maybe. I’ve not commented too much lately to be confrontational. That’s not my style. I do not feel every issue under the sun is “a battle”. I think there are many that see those of opposing views as the enemy. I do not subscribe to that mentality. We must ALL work together to make a change.
    I do feel you were wrong, and accept your apology.

  4. OK, now that we got that out of the way…how ’bout that “Kaffee klatch?”

  5. Emma, it’s in the public interest to keep our economy growing. It just is. When our economy grows, it generates more money for our government. Our government pays for some pretty important things. Our national defense, or instance. Social security, roads and highways, schools. All things we really need to improve not just maintain. Having a labor shortage is bad for our economy. We need about 10 million more people in this country RIGHT NOW to allow our economy to function at full strength. So why should your tax payer dollars go toward fixing our immigration system? Well, first, you don’t like have undocumented people here. Most of us don’t. Fixing our immigration system as I describe above would allow us to keep our economy going strong while eliminating the issue that has been agitating you and so many Americans, especially since Lou Dobbs and others started telling you how upset you should be.

    Once we have some form of legalization for our immigrant workers, the Lou Dobbs followers and the Freedom Fry Voters will need to find something else to be angry about. I trust that legal Americans citizens of Hispanic ancestry won’t be it for most of you. So there will be no confusion between your political agenda and racism. Hopefully you’ll rally around a cause that involves a positive objective, something good to aim for, rather than a target to be upset about and scapegoat.

    But anyway, the economy needs this workers. Our society needs them. It’s not about “jobs Americans won’t do.” It’s about jobs we don’t have anyone to do. This problem is going to get worse in the future if we don’t address it. We’ll either have a collapsing economy or we’ll have more and more undocumented immigrants (probably the latter). Given this reality, I feel strongly that comprehensive immigration reform is the only choice.

    “Send them back” is not a possibility. It is not an applicable policy. If we lost 20 million workers, we’d be 30 million workers short!!!! We’d turn the entire country into PWC … spending billions of collars to turn our nation into a police state and destroy our own economy.

  6. that would be dollars not collars….

  7. Emma

    You know, WHWN, you make some good points, but you just can’t resist peppering your posts with insults–“Lou Dobbs followers,” “Lou Dobbs and others started telling you how upset you should be,” “so there will be no confusion between your political agenda and racism.”

    I have reasons for concern about illegal immigration. If you don’t think that illegal immigration is a problem, if you believe our borders should be wide open, then just say so, rather than insult people who do have these concerns. But it would be much easier to respond positively to you if you didn’t use false and inflammatory assumptions to make your point. I’m not looking to “scapegoate” anyone, as you say, and I’m not sure what was so objectionable about what I posted above.

    Do you have issues with how kgotthardt responded? I’m betting not.

  8. Rick Bentley

    Usually the treasurer does give the report. I think I remember a recent meeting when the treasurer wasn’t there so he reported on what had happened with incoming/outgoing funds. The officers usually report for themselves.

    I don’t use my own name here for my own reasons, to keep it out of flame wars, but I have used my real name in numerous letters to politicians and in letters to the editor on the subject of illegal immigration, some of which have been published.

  9. Moon-howler

    I am trying to figure out why Emma feels whwn hurled insults at her. I seriously don’t think he insulted you Emma. He had something to say but his remarks weren’t peppered with YOU and Emma remarks. I am also trying to figure out what kgottardt said that would give rise to issues?

    Help me out here. I wouldn’t consider the words ‘Lou Dobbs follower’ and insult.

  10. Emma

    Because WHWN’s post was directed at me, and then proceeded to use the word “you” in describing Lou Dobbs drones who can’t think for themselves and the hint at racism behind my thinking. I tend to think that when someone uses my name and then the word “you,” that that person is addressing me. Such as “Lou Dobbs telling YOU how upset YOU should be,” “So there will be no confusion between YOUR political agenda and racism.” I think you get the idea.

    I was simply making the point that businesses already benefit by exploiting cheap labor, so that it would seem reasonable that they should bear at least some of the costs of a guest worker program. The postal service is a government entity, isn’t it? But you still have to pay to mail a letter, don’t you? Taxpayers provide the infrastructure for a guest worker program, but the primary beneficiaries–businesses–pay for its operation. Seems fair to me.

    I’m brainstorming here; I unfortunately don’t have all the answers.

  11. Moon-howler

    Ok, I just think blogging builds thicker skin. I know plenty of other places where the insults are real…or at least far worse than what whwn said. It wasn’t addressed to me so I didn’t read it as such.

    I guess after reading some other blogs and seeing how a few people here talk to the hosts, I think what whwn says is mild.

  12. Sorry Emma. I shouldn’t be insulting like that. I guess it’s my sarcastic way of saying how strongly I feel about this, and how frustrated I am trying to talk to people who get all their misinformation from Lou Dobbs and the other outlets of the Anti-Immigrant Lobby. It is frustration that comes more from real life discussions than from this blog. Honestly, when I get mad at something I read here, I don’t remember the next day who said it. With you Emma, I know I got mad at something you said, but I can’t remember what it was….

    I don’t want open borders. I think I’ve said that. In fact, I haven’t met anyone who does want that. I think that is what is called a straw man argument. One tends to build up a straw man that is easy to take down when making a point.

    I guess you could say the same about implying that you watch Lou Dobbs. A lot of people DO watch Lou Dobbs though. I don’t think there are nearly as many who say “let’s have open borders.”

    The new thread with the Post editorial states my position without the cheap shots. Sorry Emma, I would be nicer if you were a real person in front of me.

  13. Moon-howler

    I watch Lou Dobbs occassionally, when I forget to change the channel. He is easy to take at face value if you haven’t done your own reading on the subject. He is also very influential and convincing if you haven’t had your own personal experiences with immigrants. He is definitely a brain-washer. Whwn, I don’t think you were too harsh on the generic Lou Dobbs followers.

    Lou Dobbs is merely a capitalist. He gets paid big bucks for what he does which is to keep everyone stirred up against illegal immigrants. Money talks.

  14. ” When our economy grows, it generates more money for our government. ”

    That’s true, as far as it goes. However, WHWN, we are now rapidly approaching a recession, with a full blown depression not far behind. Unemployment rates are rising, particularly among our legal workforce, because they just can’t live on the wage scale set by the illegal workers because we actually have to pay all our taxes (Federal, State, and Local) which pay for all those generous benefits for which America is famous (I can show you some YouTubes interviewing migrants hoping to cross who are looking forward to them), such as education and medical…along with whatever forged documentation can get them. The American dollar is tanking at the same time that these wages are being depressed by that illegal labor. It’s just not a very rosy picture for the American taxpayer at the moment, and it’s going to get worse before it get better.

    You also seem to be forgetting that the people who principally benefit from that low-cost labor are the businesses, particularly large corporations, that hire them in large numbers and are actually counseled by consulting firms on how to get around the immigration laws in order to avoid hiring American. You should also realize that the bigger and richer these companies and individuals are, the proportionately less they pay in taxes. They have the means to hide their income in hundreds of ways to avoid them (you are probably too young to remember, or have been interested in, the Senate hearings when Agnew resigned as VP and the two on the short list, Kennedy and Rockefeller, admitted to having paid a total of $0 and $600 in taxes, respectively in the previous year…short list got shorter). This is the reason that President Reagan’s transition team plan to establish a flat tax rate of 10% ACROSS ALL INCOME LEVELS, with the exception of the lower (which would be 0), was so radically opposed by VP Bush and his people that they maneuvered a job exchange between James Baker and Dan Regan (Treasury) to put a stop to it just as they were ready to roll. You see, they were closing all the “loopholes” which the wealthiest depend upon and had determined that, if those in the highest income levels paid their fair share, the National Debt could actually have been retired within the foreseeable future.

    I happen to believe in free market PRINCIPLES, such as level playing fields, minimal government interference, etc….the big corporations don’t. They like having the Middle Class paying the taxes to keep up the services for their inexpensive employees who are forcing the wages down, as well as that corporate welfare in which our government now indulges them…it’s the bottom line, you see. I also believe in accountability…they don’t.

    THIS is who you are supporting, not the average migrant worker who is only looking for a better life. The fact is, if that worker hadn’t come from an absolute “expletive” hole in the first place, he might actually notice that his opportunities for both him and his children are rapidly shrinking here, along with those for the rest of us…and ultimately he’ll have no one to blame but himself in the end.

  15. Emma

    Wow, AWC, you nailed it right there. We have had–what?– three consecutive periods of no growth. And it’s not just the lower-end of the labor pool that is being taken over by cheap illegal-immigrant labor. Tech workers are rapidly being replaced by both outsourcing and cheaper foreign-national workers here on H-1B visas.

    I have long suspected that the people who play the race card most vociferously are the ones who would stand to lose the most if their ready supply of cheap labor suddenly dried up. The illegal immigrants are being used, plain and simple, and the average taxpaying citizen is up against myriad and well-funded special interests and taunts of racism that are used to try to silence their protest. Even the illegal immigrants’ children are used, because we are just not supposed to deny anything to them, regardless of the reckless and selfish behavior of their parents. “But what about the poor children?” is nothing more than emotional blackmail that continues to enable chain migration and even more cheap labor that helps to line the pockets of big business. The middle class doesn’t stand a chance.

  16. Elena

    Who exactly is playing the race card, and what are they going to lose?

    Who is taunted with racism? What well funded special interest groups do you mean? FAIR ?

    The children that are born here are U.S citizens, the children that were brought here by their parents at young ages, are here now, a part of the American system. It is reckless and selfish to want to feed your children three meals a day?

    We needed these immigrant workers to build us out of a recession after 9-11, the facts are that simple. Who do you think supported the building industry and all the new wealth that came was created from this false real estate market? How is it that so many people are willing to ignore that most basic fact. Our illegal immigration number exploded within the last 5-6 years because THAT coincided with the building boom. Now we are “done” with them, and like a used rag, want to throw them away.

  17. Elena, the fact that you are continually ignoring the economic facts of the situation suggests that you support a society that depends upon an underclass (it was called slavery back in the 19th Century, and prior to that). I suppose that there is a certain logic to it, if you use ancient Greek culture as an example. It was only through the existence of a slave culture that the Greek Golden Age, where the only example of what, at one time, was referred to as “Pure Democracy,” existed. Of course, I always had a problem equating any form of Democracy with slavery, but it was the only way the Greek citizens could all continue to study, think, create, and theorize to their heart’s content, as well as fully participate in government…someone had to perform the labor.

    Emma is correct in that the illegal immigrants are being used, just as the Middle Class of this country is being used. This is not a question of racism or elitism or any of those incendiary terms which usually arise in a debate on this issue…it is purely an issue of insatiable greed. It is, in reality, a class war not between whites, blacks, browns, or greens…it’s a class war between those who are being used and those who are using them. The day that many of you wake up to that may just be a day late.

  18. Censored bybvbl

    It’s also greed on the part of the middle class and its desire to live beyond its means as much as greed on the part of any financially “elite” class. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Don’t point fingers unless you’re working to raise the minimum wage, working for strong unions to support working class people, or declining to participate in our material world. As Elena said – although not so crassly – these immigrants have saved our butts from having to pay the piper much sooner.

    When I say middle class I’m not just talking about upper middle class people with a landscape crew maintaining the yard and maid service. I’m talking about Walmart shoppers as well who buy more, more, more imported crapola and the rest of us who have to have the latest gadget, the same car as everyone else on the block, the flat screen tv, the latest computer upgrade when our machines run just fine as they are. We’re dying of consumption and debt.

  19. Alanna

    Greg L said on 19 Aug 2008 at 12:37 am:
    Monticup, I understand your frustration and outrage, but try to refrain from characterizing all illegal aliens as nascent criminals. Some are, but it would appear that they’re a pretty small minority. With somewhere around 12 million illegal aliens in the US by conservative estimates, if they were all predisposed to criminal behavior we’d be far worse off than we are. There are about 300,000 illegal aliens in Virginia, and we certainly don’t have a crime explosion that such numbers would create.

    A big problem however is that of those 300,000 we have no idea who they are. Among them are certainly some of the worst folks you could imagine from both a crime and a national security perspective. In order to ensure these bad actors aren’t present, the lawful deportation of as many illegal aliens as possible is a way to ensure we remove those who pose the most significant threat as well as (perhaps more significantly) discourage other bad actors from unlawfully entering the country.

    If we cannot control our borders, we are no longer a sovereign nation, and our democracy is in grave peril. As we seek to do so, we have to be certain that what we ask for is reasoned and responsible. We can’t do that very well by saying all illegal aliens are invariably rapists and murderers without undermining our arguments. There’s enough provable and unambiguous data out there to support our arguments without stretching so much, and in ways that can become counterproductive.

    We have to maintain a higher standard than anyone else, and while it might not be fair, that’s just how it is. Let’s do our best to be better than those arguing the other side.

    Finally, we are making headway. It’s refreshing to see Mr. Leteicq make this kind of statement. Now, while I don’t agree with everything he has said he has apparently come to the realization that some of his frequent posters perhaps are not serving their interests in the best manner by articulating these mischaracterizations of all ‘illegals’ as being rapists, murderers etc…

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