American Immigration Policy, a Reappraisal

By William S. Bernard; Carolyn Zeleny et al. | Go to book overview

2
The Quota System and Its Effects

The culmination of the movement for the restriction of immigration in the United States was the adoption of the quota system in the 1920's. This step marked the reversal of the traditional opendoor policy which had served the nation from its earliest days.

Although it is true that there existed widespread support for the adoption of some method for regulating immigration at the time, the actual nature of the law was shaped by the extreme attitudes of the period which produced it -- the isolationism and insecurity of the years following the First World War. The quota law, moreover, was the expression of current misconceptions concerning the role of immigration in our national life. It is now clear that many of the evils which were then attributed to immigration were related to a specific period in our country's development. Also the preferential scheme for European nationality groups which was enacted into law stemmed from distorted racialist doctrines which have since been repudiated as unscientific. This knowledge makes it particularly important that we re-examine the principle behind our quota law, which in effect declares that certain immigrants are desirable and others undesirable. For such a principle is clearly at odds with our democratic ideals, a fact which must be faced at a time when efforts are being exerted on many fronts to make our practices as a nation square with our fundamental beliefs.

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1
This chapter is based chiefly on an analysis of immigration statistics presented by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service in its Annual Reports and Monthly Review (see Bibliography).

-22-

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