The Atlantic

A Brief History of America’s ‘Love-Hate Relationship’ With Immigration

Donald Trump’s restrictive plan is reminiscent of legislation from 100 years ago.
Source: Bain News Service / Library of Congress

Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration—banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and casting a wide net on undocumented immigrants—have prompted nationwide protests and, in the case of the ban, legal challenges. But while Trump’s immigration plan is more restrictive than those of recent presidents, historians see parallels between the current moment and the early 20th century, when Congress passed multiple laws designed to shrink the number of immigrants in the United States.

In 1917, lawmakers enacted legislation that required a literacy test for immigrants over 16 years old to enter the United States and banned those from what was called the Asiatic Barred Zone. That act paved the way for a 1924 immigration law, known as the Johnson-Reed Act, that imposed a quota system based on national origin. “The fundamental principle was the principle of exclusion,” said Alan Kraut, a history professor at American University in Washington, D.C. “And the

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic4 min readWellness
The Real Danger of Booze-Making Gut Bacteria
Microbes can produce so much alcohol that people become drunk—and sustain liver damage—without touching any booze.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
It’s Too Late for David Cameron to Apologize
The former prime minister’s newly released book, For the Record, points to a leader trying to reshape the narrative of a seismic moment in Britain’s history, and the role he played in it.
The Atlantic4 min readPolitics
Why I Cover Campus Controversies
Each fall semester, America’s long-running debate about campus politics begins again. And I’ll take part this year as I have in years past, especially when the debate concerns matters of free speech. Critics say my energies are misplaced. There is no