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AN ANALYSIS OF THE AMERICAN IMMIGRATION ACT OF 1924

BY

John B. TREVOR, M.A.

INTRODUCTION

The passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 marks the close of an epoch in the history of the United States, and yet this unquestioned fact is due rather to the embodiment of provisions giving effect to a policy slowly evolved since the early days of the Republic than, as is sometimes alleged, to the initiation of new principles and ideas resulting from the late war. This legislation and some of the circumstances attending its adoption aroused much discussion and some irritation among certain foreign elements in the United States and their compatriots abroad. Therefore, since friendship between nations, as between individuals, rests upon mutual understanding, it is the purpose of this analysis to present a dispassionate statement of the effect which this law may be expected to exercise upon the general situation, in such form that the average reader unhampered by legal technicalities and lack of background on the immigration problem may be able to form a judgment upon this question without bias or prejudice.

As an illustration of the fact that the basic principles of the Immigration Act of 1924 are traceable historically to the very men who drafted the Declaration of Independence and founded a Republican Government upon this continent, the following quotation will suffice:

"Civil government" said Thomas Jefferson in his 'Notes on Virginia'l "being the sole object of forming societies, its administration must be conducted by common consent. Every species of government has its specific principles. Ours perhaps are more peculiar

than any other in the universe. It is a composition of 1 "Works of Thomas Jefferson" collected by Paul Leicester Ford, Vol. II,

pages 120-121.

the freest principles of the English constitution, with others derived from natural right and reason. To these nothing can be more opposed than the maxims of absolute monarchies. Yet from such we expect the greatest number of immigrants. They will bring with them the principles of the governments they have imbibed in early youth, or is able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded liçentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. Their principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their number they will share with us in the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass. I may appeal to experience during the present contest for a verification of these conjectures; but if they are not certain in event, are they not possible? Are they not probable? May not our Government be more homogeneous, more

peaceable, more durable?" Similar expressions of opinion may be culled from the writings of Washington,' Franklin, and many others of lesser note, but of greater significance than any mere expression of views, no matter how authoritative the source, is the circumstance that under a statute enacted in 1802 it was declared that only free white persons were eligible for citizenship, a statute, which subjected otherwise to slight amendment, has only been altered in its fundamental principle by a modification extending the privilege of citizenship to aliens of African nativity, and to persons of African descent.3

The significance of this statutory provision, which for over one hundred years has served notice on the people of all the world that citizenship in the United States is limited, with one exception, arising from the suppression of slavery within the States, to those 1 "Writings of George Washington" by Jared Sparks, Vol. XI, pages 1-2.

of Benjamin Franklin" oser tions concerning the Peopling of Countries), Vol. II, pages 231-234;

3 “Digest of International Law," Moore, Vol. III, page 329. Rev. Stat. Sec. 2169, applies to aliens seeking naturalization. All persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are declared to be citizens of the United States. R. S. Sec. 1992, Act of April 9, 1866, C. 31, Sec. 1, 14 Stat. 27.

2 "Wor

races of mankind who by tradition, ideals and habits of life would tend to support and perpetuate the principles of Republican Government in this nation, will be brought out in more detail in connection with the consideration of those sections of the Act which relate to the exclusion of certain classes of aliens from the United States. 1

Finally, it must be borne in mind that the Immigration Act of 1924 specifically states in Section 25:

“The provisions of this Act are in addition to and not in substitution for the provisions of the immigration laws, and shall be enforced as a part of such laws, and all the penal or other provisions of such laws, not inapplicable, shall apply to and be enforced in connection

with the provisions of this Act.” That is to say, this law is directly related to the enforcement of legislation passed in the course of more than two generations, and if we include the substance of the section relating to persons ineligible to citizenship, it may be said that the provisions of this Act carry us back nearly a century and a quarter. Now, in view of the circumstance that the Act itself, which, as a matter of fact, is drafted with great clarity of language, can be found printed in full as Appendix “A” of this pamphlet, it is deemed advisable for the purpose of this analysis to discuss en bloc all the sections which may be considered as interrelated, rather than attempt to deal with them consecutively.

DEFINITIONS

(Sections 3, 4, 5 and 28) An understanding of the provisions of any law presupposes a precise comprehension of the meaning of certain terms in common use, but of specific significance in the interpretation of the statute, subject to analysis. In the Immigration Act of 1924,

1 “Nothing can be more certain” says Secretary Davis, "from all the legisla. tion on the subject than that it was the intent of Congress and the policy of this Nation for years that only the Caucasian, or white race, and the African Negro coming from foreign lands shall become permanent residents of the Nation and shall ultimately, if qualified, be made citizens and that all other races shall be barred except the specifically named exempt classes, and that these shall not become permanent residents. It would be a strange doctrine and queer statesmanship that would provide for the presence in the digestive machinery of the body politic of a large lump of indigestible material." Report of the Secretary of Labor, 1923, pages 113-114.

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