Federal Laws Pertaining to Immigration Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A chronologically arranged list of federal laws related to immigration.

The official modern compilation of federal laws, organized by subjects, is the United States CodeUnited States Code (USC). Many libraries contain an annotated version of this code that includes references to cases and other legal sources interpreting the laws, together with the laws themselves. This annotated version is known as the United States Code Annotated (USCA). Copies of the code may be found at several sites on the World Wide Web, including the FedLaw site operated by the Center for Regulatory Effectiveness (http://www.thecre.com/). World Wide Web;federal laws onThis site’s link to the USC is http://www.thecre.com/fedlaw/default.htm. In addition, Cornell Law School, which maintains an immense and important collection of legal materials on the Web, also maintains an online copy of the USC at http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode. The best places to find printed copies of the USC and USCA are public libraries and law libraries. Most courthouses also have law libraries with copies of the USC or USCA.

Titles and Citation Numbers

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.United States Code Before 1926, federal laws were generally given “United States Statute at Large” numbers, such as “22 Stat. 214.” The first number designates a volume, the second a page.

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.

Naturalization Act of 1790*

Also known as: An Act to Establish an Uniform Rule of Naturalization

Citation: 1 Stat. 103

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.[a]Naturalization Act of 1790

Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

Citation: 1 Stat. 566 (Naturalization Act), 1 Stat. 570 (Alien Act), 1 Stat. 577 (Alien Enemies Act), 1 Stat. 596 (Sedition Act)

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 Jefferson, ThomasThomas Jefferson, who became president three years after their passage.[a]Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

Steerage Act of 1819

Citation: 3 Stat. 489

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.[a]Steerage Act of 1819

Pre-emption Act of 1841

Citation: 5 Stat. 456

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.[a]Pre-emption Act of 1841

Homestead Act of 1862*

Citation: 12 Stat. 392

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.[a]Homestead Act of 1862

Contract Labor Law of 1864

Citation: 13 Stat. 386

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.[a]Contract Labor Law of 1864

Page Law of 1875*

Also known as: Act Supplementary to the Acts in Relation to Immigration

Citation: 18 Stat. 477

Originally designed to prohibit Chinese contract workers and prostitutes from entering the United States, this federal law eventually excluded Asian women in general.[a]Page Law of 1875

Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882*

Citation: 22 Stat. 58

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.[a]Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882

Immigration Act of 1882*

Citation: 22 Stat. 214; 8 USC

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1882

Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885*

Also known as: Contract Labor Law

Citation: 23 Stat. 332

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.[a]Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885

Scott Act of 1888

Citation: 25 Stat. 476; 8 USC § 261-99

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.[a]Scott Act of 1888

Immigration Act of 1891*

Citation: 26 Stat. 1084; USC 101

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1891

Geary Act of 1892*

Citation: 27 Stat. 25; 8 USC

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.[a]Geary Act of 1892

McCreary Amendment of 1893*

Also known as: McCreary Act

Citation: 28 Stat. 7

Amended the previous year’s Geary Act and gave Chinese people living in the United States an additional six months to acquire residential permits.[a]McCreary Amendment of 1893[MacCreary Amendment of 1893]

Immigration Act of 1903*

Citation: 32 Stat. 1213

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1903

Immigration Act of 1907*

Citation: 34 Stat. 1213

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1907

Espionage Act of 1917*

Citation: 18 USC § 2388

Banned all speech and activities intended to harm the U.S. war effort in World War I.[a]Espionage Act of 1917

Immigration Act of 1917*

Citation: 39 Stat. 874

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1917

Sedition Act of 1918*

Citation: 18 USC § 2388

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.[a]Sedition Act of 1918

Immigration Act of 1921*

Also known as: Johnson Act; Emergency Quota Act of 1921

Citation: 42 Stat. 5

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1921

Cable Act of 1922*

Also known as: Married Woman’s Act

Citation: 42 Stat. 1021

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.[a]Cable Act of 1922

Immigration Act of 1924*

Also known as: National Origins Act; Johnson-Reed Act; Asian Exclusion Act

Citation: 43 Stat. 153

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1924

Labor Appropriation Act of 1924

Citation: 8 USC § 1101

Created the U.S. Border Patrol as a federal law-enforcement agency.[a]Labor Appropriation Act of 1924

Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935*

Citation: 49 Stat. 478; 8-9 USC

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.[a]Filipino Repatriation Act of 1935

Immigration Act of 1943*

Also known as: Magnuson Act; Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act

Citation: 8 USC § 2040

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1943

War Brides Act of 1945*

Citation: 8 USC § 232

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.[a]War Brides Act of 1945

Fiancées Act of 1946*

Also known as: G.I. Fiancées Act

Citation: 50 App. USC § 1851

Extension of the War Brides Act of 1945 that granted fiancés of American service personnel a special exemption from established immigration quotas.[a]Fiancées Act of 1946

Luce-Celler Bill of 1946*

Also known as: Immigration Act of 1946; Filipino Naturalization Act

Citation: 60 Stat. 416

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.[a]Luce-Celler Bill of 1946

Displaced Persons Act of 1948*

Citation: 50 App. USC § 1951

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.[a]Displaced Persons Act of 1948

McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950*

Also known as: Subversive Activities Control Act

Citation: 50 USC § 781

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.[a]McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950[MacCarran Internal Security Act of 1950]

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952*

Also known as: McCarran-Walter Act

Citation: 8 USC § 1101

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.[a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Refugee Relief Act of 1953*

Citation: 50 App. USC § 1971

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.[a]Refugee Relief Act of 1953

Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961

Citation: 22 USC § 2454

Permitted cultural exchanges between the United States and other countries with an eye toward promoting greater understanding on the part of participating nations.[a]Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965*

Also known as: Hart-Celler Act

Citation: 8 USC § 1101

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.[a]Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Bilingual Education Act of 1968*

Also known as: Title VII of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

Citation: 20 USC § 1703

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.[a]Bilingual Education Act of 1968

Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975*

Citation: 22 USC § 2601

Established a resettlement assistance program for Southeast Asian refugees and allowed the United States to join the International Organization for Migration.[a]Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975

Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982

Citation: 8 USC § 1151

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.[a]Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986*

Also known as: Simpson-Mazzoli Act; Simpson-Rodino Act; IRCA

Citation: 8 USC § 1324a

First federal law to impose sanctions on employers who hired undocumented immigrants, while also providing amnesty for undocumented aliens already in the country.[a]Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986

Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987*

Citation: 8 USC § 1151

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.[a]Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987

Civil Liberties Act of 1988

Citation: 50 USC § 1989

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.[a]Civil Liberties Act of 1988

Immigration Act of 1990*

Citation: 8 USC § 1101

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.[a]Immigration Act of 1990

Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992*

Citation: 8 USC § 1255

Permitted Chinese students and scholars to remain in the United States and apply for permanent residency.[a]Chinese Student Protection Act of 1992

Immigration and Nationality Technical Corrections Act of 1994

Citation: 8 USC § 1448

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.[a]Immigration and Nationality Technical Corrections Act of 1994

Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996*

Also known as: IIRIRA

Citation: 8 USC § 1631

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.[a]Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000

Citation: 42 USC § 14901

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.[a]Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000

Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001*

Citation: 49 USC § 40101

Established the Transportation Security AdministrationTransportation Security Administration (TSA) to enforce security in transportation systems throughout the United States, with particular emphasis on airport security.[a]Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001

Patriot Act of 2001*

Also known as: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (USA PATRIOT Act)

Citation: 8 USC § 1189

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.[a]Patriot Act of 2001

Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002

Citation: 8 USC § 1701

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.[a]Enhanced Border Security and Visa Reform Act of 2002

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

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