by AmericaNation Team
The Immigration Act of 1917 drastically reduced US immigration by expanding the prohibitions of the Chinese exclusion laws of the late 1800s. The law created an “Asiatic barred zone” provision prohibiting immigration from British India, most of Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the Middle East. In addition, the law required a basic literacy test for all immigrants and barred homosexuals, “idiots,” the “insane,” alcoholics, “anarchists,” and several other categories from immigrating.
DETAILS AND EFFECTS OF THE IMMIGRATION ACT OF 1917
From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, no nation welcomed more immigrants into its borders than the United States. In 1907 alone, a record 1.3 million immigrants entered the U.S. through New York’s Ellis Island. However, the Immigration Act of 1917, a product of the pre-World War I isolationism movement, would drastically change that.
Also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, the Immigration Act of 1917, barred immigrants from a large part of the world loosely defined as “Any country not owned by the U.S. adjacent to the continent of Asia.” In practice the barred zone provision excluded immigrants from Afghanistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Asiatic Russia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, and the Polynesian Islands. However, both Japan and the Philippines were excluded from the barred zone. The law also allowed exceptions for students, certain professionals, such as teachers and doctors, and their wives and children.
Other provisions of the law increase the “head tax” immigrants were required to pay on entry to $8.00 per person and eliminated a provision in an earlier law that had excused Mexican farm and railroad workers from paying the head tax.
The law also barred all immigrants over the age of 16 who were illiterate or deemed to be “mentally defective” or physically handicapped.
The term “mentally defective” was interpreted to effectively exclude homosexual immigrants who admitted their sexual orientation. U.S. immigration laws continued to ban homosexuals until passage of the Immigration Act of 1990, sponsored by Democratic Senator Edward M. Kennedy.
The law defined literacy as being able to read a simple 30 to 40 word passage written in the immigrant’s native language. Persons who claimed they were entering the U.S. to avoid religious persecution in their country of origin were not required to take the literacy test.
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