The United States had left regulation of immigration to the coastal states until the Supreme Court in 1875 declared that this was exclusively a national, not a state responsibility. Congress struggled through four decades to create a coherent policy that would bring under control the large-scale and essentially unregulated immigration that commenced in the 1880s.
The result was the national origins system created by legislation in 1921, 1924 and 1929. All were based on selection systems designed not only to limit immigration but also to replicate the nation’s historic structure of nationalities.
This new restrictionist regime brought the numbers entering the U.S. down sharply from earlier annual inflows which had reached 1 million. A powerful force working in the same direction was the collapse of the American (and global) economy into the Great Depression lasting from l929-l940 and after that the hazards of international travel during the Second World War. Recorded immigration to the U.S. averaged 305,000 from l925-29, under the interim quotas, then dropped sharply in the l930s to an average of 53,000 a year that hides a virtual negative immigration in l932.
The demographic consequences of ending the open door cannot be known with certainty since no one can be sure what immigration would have been in the absence of restriction. Assuming no restriction and pre-war levels of one million a year for the rest of the century, the American population would have reached 400 million by the year 2000. This would have meant l20 million more American high-consumption lifestyles piled upon the roughly 280 million reported in the census of 2000, making far worse the dismal figures on species extinction, wetland loss, soil erosion, and the accumulation of climate-changing and health-impairing pollutants that are being tallied up as the new century unfolds.
International economic maladies, war, and the new American system of restriction had thus combined to reduce immigration numbers to levels more in line with the long course of American history, and to some observers seemed to have ended the role of immigration as a major force in American life. Apparently, the nation would henceforth grow and develop, as Thomas Jefferson had preferred, from natural increase and the cultural assets of its people.
The chief goals of the national origins system, shrinking the incoming numbers and tilting the sources of the immigration stream back toward northern Europe, were less decisively achieved. Numbers entering legally but outside the quotas (“non-quota immigrants,” mostly relatives of those recently arrived and Europeans entering through Latin American and Caribbean countries) surprised policymakers by matching and in time exceeding those governed by quotas. Yet with overall numbers so low, the ethnic composition did not agitate the public.
The curbing of the Great Wave created a forty-year breathing space of relatively low immigration, with effects favorable to assimilation. The pressures toward joining the American mainstream did not have to contend with continual massive replenishment of foreigners.
The new immigration system was widely popular, and the immigration committees of Congress quickly became backwaters of minor tinkering or inactivity. The 1930s arrived with vast and chronic unemployment, and the American people wanted nothing from immigration. The war in Europe would bring unprecedented refugee issues, but dealing with these -or avoiding them — did not require any rethinking of the basic system for deciding on the few thousand people who would be given immigration papers.
We need to find a way to get this to President Trump; not only would this help with the New Travel Ban E.O. I also show that Congress hasn’t been a part of the INS since the beginning.