A chronologically arranged list of federal laws related to immigration.
The official modern compilation of federal laws, organized by subjects, is the
The United States Code is organized into fifty sections–each of which is called a “title”–that correspond to fifty subject areas. Since 1926, most federal immigration laws have been classified under Title 8, “Aliens and Nationality.” The USC titles are subdivided into chapters, and the chapters are divided into sections. However, one need know only the title and the section of a particular law to find it.
When an act of Congress is incorporated into the code, provisions of the act may be dispersed across several sections of the code, and these sections themselves may be scattered throughout several titles of the code. Thus, a given act may amend previously existing code sections, and its language might therefore be codified under the various sections it amends. These realities of legislative codification sometimes make it difficult to refer to a specific section of the code as locating a particular act. Whenever possible in the list below, code references are to the first of a series of sequential sections of the code or to some general statements of purpose of an act.
The following chronologically arranged list of federal laws does not exhaustively catalog all immigration laws. Its purpose is merely to refer readers to especially important immigration laws, to laws with relatively well-known popular names, and to laws of general interest to those interested in immigration. Readers in need of more comprehensive lists of immigration laws should consult the United States Code itself. A useful tool for looking up particular federal laws is the USC Table of Popular Names, which indexes federal laws according to the names generally assigned to them when they become law. This table is included in the volumes of the USCA and is available on the World Wide Web (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/topn). The FedLaw site operated by the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (http://www.thecre.com/) also includes a useful collection of federal laws organized by topic.
First federal law to establish procedures for naturalization under the U.S. Constitution. Although it required only two years’ residence prior to naturalization, less time than any succeeding law, it restricted the right of naturalization to white male immigrants.
The four laws collectively known as the Alien and Sedition Acts–the Alien Act, the Alien Enemies Act, the Naturalization Act, and the Sedition Act–were ostensibly passed to avoid war with France but led to a debate regarding the function of the Bill of Rights during wartime, the role of the federal government in legislating for the states, and the process of judicial review. The acts allowed the president to deport any alien he deemed dangerous, extended the period for naturalization from five to fourteen years, and allowed enemy aliens to be detained during wartime. These acts were repealed under
First major regulation controlling conditions on incoming immigrant ships. It required the submission of passenger lists and set limits on how many people could be carried within certain amounts of space.
Allowed squatters on government land to stake claims to it and pay very low prices, regardless of whether they had a right to be occupying the land in the first place. Claimants did not have to be citizens but did have to intend to be naturalized. Repealed in 1891.
Accelerated settlement of western lands in the United States by making public lands available to both citizens and immigrants who were willing to establish residence, make improvements, and cultivate crops.
Designed to deal with the labor shortage that arose during the Civil War by creating an office to recruit workers from other countries. Because many workers left before their contracts were up, this system did not work effectively, and it was opposed by domestic workers. Repealed in 1868.
Originally designed to prohibit Chinese contract workers and prostitutes from entering the United States, this federal law eventually excluded Asian women in general.
Banned all immigration from China. Initially written to be enforced for ten years, the law was extended in 1892 and made permanent in 1902. This ban was subsumed into the general ban on Asian immigration that was part of the Immigration Act of 1924 and subsequent legislation.
Setting the basic course of U.S. immigration law and policy, this law established categories of foreigners deemed “undesirable” for entry and gave the U.S. secretary of the treasury authority over immigration enforcement.
Banned employers from hiring workers in other countries and bringing into the United States under contracts. However, some categories of workers were exempted, such as actors, singers, domestic servants, and certain skilled laborers.
Refined the ban on Chinese immigration by disallowing Chinese laborers who had already been in the United States legally from returning after they left the country.
Assigned responsibility for enforcing immigration policy to the federal government and centralized all immigration functions under the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The act also expanded the list of excludable and deportable aliens.
Amended the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 by requiring all Chinese to have residential permits. The penalty for failing to abide by the act was deportation. This act was amended the following year by the McCreary Amendment.
Amended the previous year’s Geary Act and gave Chinese people living in the United States an additional six months to acquire residential permits.
Expanded the federal government’s power to regulate immigration, codified immigration law, refined the existing classes of inadmissible immigrants, and added two new inadmissible classes: persons involved in prostitution and anarchists.
Created the Dillingham Commission to collect data used in future immigration laws, further narrowed Asian immigration, limited Muslim immigration, and expanded the definition of undesirable women immigrants. The law also allowed the U.S. president to detain immigrants if their entry into the country might be detrimental to American workers.
Banned all speech and activities intended to harm the U.S. war effort in World War I.
First federal law to impose a general restriction on immigration in the form of a literacy test. It also broadened restrictions on the immigration of Asians and persons deemed “undesirable” and provided tough enforcement provisions.
Strengthened the Espionage Act of 1917 by eliminating the element of intent required, thereby making it easier to prosecute offenders. Both laws were used to prosecute and deport immigrants judged to have written or spoken anything critical of the war effort. Repealed in 1920.
First federal law to limit immigration from Europe. By specifying that the number of people allowed to immigrate from any country during a year could be no greater than 3 percent of the number of people from the same country who had been living in the United States in 1910, the law had a particularly strong impact on immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Modified by the Immigration Act of 1924.
Changed the status of married immigrant women so that not all of them would automatically obtain the citizenship of their husbands. The law had the effect of denying American citizenship to Asian women.
Created a quota system of determining eligibility to enter the United States legally by one’s national origin. For Europeans and Africans, it allowed 2 percent of the number of people from each country who had been living in the United States in 1890 to enter. The law had the effect of favoring immigrants from northern and western Europe. Asian immigration was wholly banned. Repealed in law by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and in spirit by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Created the U.S. Border Patrol as a federal law-enforcement agency.
Designed to send Filipino immigrants back to the Philippines, this law paid for their return passage but did not allow them reentry. In 1943, a small quota was given to the Philippines each year for immigration, and controls were loosened.
Legalized Chinese immigration into the United States for the first time since 1882 but allowed only a small number each year. Effectively repealed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Enacted to facilitate the immigration of foreign spouses of Americans who served overseas during World War II, this law represented a change, not only in the number of immigrants allowed entry to the United States but also in the gender makeup of total immigration with far more women being allowed entry. It also allowed increased numbers of Asian immigrants entry into the United States.
Extension of the War Brides Act of 1945 that granted fiancés of American service personnel a special exemption from established immigration quotas.
Overturned several decades of federal immigration laws that discriminated against specific Asian nationalities by reopening immigration from India and the Philippines and granting the right of naturalization to immigrants from those countries.
Enacted to facilitate the immigration of persons forcibly displaced from their homelands by World War II. Among the largest groups helped were Jewish refugees who had survived the Holocaust. The act also helped refugees from communist persecution during the Cold War.
An outgrowth of anticommunist hysteria during the early Cold War. this law prohibited individuals who had ever been members of registered communist organizations from entering the United States. It also allowed for the deportation of communists and other individuals deemed subversive by the federal government.
Significantly revamped the national origins system that had been in place since the 1920’s. It abolished racial restrictions that had existed but retained bans on holders of certain ideologies. The law also combined all previous immigration restrictions into a single bill and created a preference system for immigrants. Replaced by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
Following the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, this law allowed anticommunist refugees entry into the United States under a special set of regulations. Ethnic Germans who had previously resided in non-German countries but who had been expelled after the collapse of Nazi Germany, war orphans, and members of military forces who had fought on the Allied side during World War II were also eligible for immigration to the United States under special quotas. With the exception of war orphans, these refugees had to prove that they would be subject to government persecution if they were not allowed to immigrate.
Permitted cultural exchanges between the United States and other countries with an eye toward promoting greater understanding on the part of participating nations.
Technically a revision of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, this landmark law removed the national origins quotas that had existed since the 1920’s, replacing them with hemispheric limits. The new limits were accompanied by a preference system that favored spouses, immigrants related to persons already living in the United States, and certain skilled workers.
First federal law to address the special educational needs of students with limited English-speaking ability by providing funding to school districts to develop bilingual education programs.
Established a resettlement assistance program for Southeast Asian refugees and allowed the United States to join the International Organization for Migration.
Provided an immigration preference to the Amerasian children of American soldiers who had fathered them during the Vietnam War. Amended in 1988 by the Amerasian Homecoming Act.
First federal law to impose sanctions on employers who hired undocumented immigrants, while also providing amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country.
Built on the Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982, this law made it easier for children of American military personnel who had served in the Vietnam War to come to the United States.
Provided for reparations for persons of Japanese heritage who had been interned during World War II. It provided up to twenty thousand dollars for each person who had been forcibly resettled and also allowed for those who had been convicted for offenses related to their internment to have their convictions reviewed for possible pardons.
Significantly eased restrictions on immigration in what has been seen as a return to the old open-door immigration policy. In additional to allowing an increase in the numbers of immigrants, the law waived many rules previously used to exclude immigrants.
Permitted Chinese students and scholars to remain in the United States and apply for permanent residency.
Dropped requirement that immigrants swear they would stay in the United States permanently when they naturalized as citizens. The law also disallowed taking away citizenship from naturalized citizens who did not spend enough time in the United States.
Designed to reduce illegal immigration, the law created waiting periods for prospective immigrants to remain outside the United States after they were found to have entered the country illegally. The law also made deportation processes easier.
Enacted to implement the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, this convention was adopted to regulate adoption practices and prevent child trafficking. It also aimed to ensure that the interests of the children themselves are adequately addressed.
Passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., this law significantly expanded the ability of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to investigate immigrants with terrorist ties by giving the USCIS greater access to intelligence information regarding terrorist suspects. The act also made it more difficult for non-U.S. citizens to gain citizenship, visas, permanent residency, and work permits.
Designed to increase border and gateway security, this law required that fingerprints be collected from more people and more stringent visa requirements be met. It also created stricter requirements for foreign students studying in the United States.
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885
Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987
Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001
Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001
Bilingual Education Act of 1968
Cable Act of 1922
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992
Displaced Persons Act of 1948
Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-1918
Fiancées Act of 1946
Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935
Geary Act of 1892
Homestead Act of 1862
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
Immigration Act of 1882
Immigration Act of 1891
Immigration Act of 1903
Immigration Act of 1907
Immigration Act of 1917
Immigration Act of 1921
Immigration Act of 1924
Immigration Act of 1943
Immigration Act of 1990
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975
Luce-Celler Bill of 1946
McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950
McCreary Amendment of 1893
Naturalization Act of 1790
Refugee Relief Act of 1953
War Brides Act of 1945