Because of its political and social dominance, Progressivism shaped policies regarding immigration and the treatment of immigrants. By linking immigration to other national problems, reformers successfully advocated for new restrictions on immigration and for the rapid assimilation of immigrants already arrived.
Progressivism and immigration, two crucial components of United States history, are so tightly linked that it is difficult fully to understand one independently of the other. The Progressive Era, in which the movement’s reform ideals were ascendant in both politics and society at large, neatly coincided with the early twentieth century’s immigration surge. Furthermore, the somewhat inconsistent ideals of Progressive reform largely shaped decisions on whether and how to reduce the flow of immigration as well as decisions regarding the treatment of new arrivals.
The Progressive Era was marked by increasingly successful efforts to restrict immigration. Over the course of these years, several federal restriction laws were passed; early legislation barred immigrants with particular characteristics, such as certain diseases or criminal backgrounds, and later laws imposed general head taxes and literacy tests. Although the national origins
The link between the movement and immigration restriction is the product of Progressivism’s focus on improving social conditions and restoring order following a period of rapid national industrialization and urbanization. To a degree, restriction efforts were based on blatant discrimination toward the new immigrants–southern and eastern Europeans and Asians. Some reformers saw them as culturally and physically inferior to the northern and western Europeans who constituted earlier immigration waves. Others thought that their native loyalties might represent a security threat to the United States during a time of heightened concerns over the global balance of power.
A more indirect link between Progressivism and immigration had to do with a perceived connection between immigrants and many of the other problems targeted by reformers. For example, Progressives fought municipal corruption in the form of powerful
Progressives also targeted immigrants already arrived, basing their efforts on a belief that rapid assimilation, through mandatory education in the English language and American culture, would diminish the deleterious impact of immigrants on society. Some Progressives, however, particularly those associated with
Higham, John. Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Hofstadter, Richard. The Age of Reform. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1955. McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920. New York: Free Press, 2003.
Immigration Act of 1907
Immigration Act of 1917
Immigration Act of 1921
World War I