Time Line of U.S. Immigration History

A time line of important events in the history of U.S. immigration.

All legislative acts mentioned below are federal laws unless otherwise noted.

c. 15,000 b.c.e.

Ancestors of Native Americans begin crossing the Bering Strait into North America.


Norse explorers make tentative attempts to establish settlements in North America.


Christopher Columbus’s first voyage to the New World opens the Western Hemisphere to immigration from the Old World.


Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire begins permanent European settlement of the North American continent.


The French start to explore Canada, founding fisheries but little else.


Spanish found St. Augustine in Florida–the earliest permanent European settlement in what will become the United States.


(April) English settlers arrive in Chesapeake Bay and found Jamestown colony.


First Africans in North America arrive in Virginia as indentured servants.


(November) Earliest Pilgrims land at Plymouth.


Dutch settlers found New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island, which will become part of the future New York City.


Puritan Great Migration to New England takes place.


Sephardic Jews found the first recorded settlement of Jewish immigrants in North America in Maryland.


First recorded settlement of Scandinavian immigrants is founded along the Delaware River.


First Jewish immigrants begin arriving in New Amsterdam from Brazil.


Dutch cede control of the colony of New Netherlands to England.


German immigrants who are beginning to arrive in Pennsylvania become known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch” as their settlement continues into the eighteenth century.


William Penn receives proprietorship of Pennsylvania from King Charles II of England.


King Louis XIV expels from France the Huguenots, many of whom go British North America.


Scotch-Irish immigrants begin arriving in North America.


Great Britain’s occupation of formerly French Nova Scotia leads to expulsion of the Acadians, many of whom go to Louisiana.


Russians begin settling in Alaska.


(March 4) U.S. Constitution goes into effect.


Naturalization Act of 1790, the first federal law addressing naturalization issues, stipulates that any “free white person” may obtain U.S. citizenship after two years of residency.


Federal government conducts the first national census.


Revenue Marine and Cutter Service, the forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, is established.


Second Naturalization Act increases the length of time immigrants must wait to be naturalized to five years.


Naturalization law is revised to require fourteen years of residence before becoming a citizen.


Passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts gives the U.S. president the authority to deport all foreigners who are regarded as dangerous.


(February) Riot in Philadelphia is the first mass public reaction to the Alien and Sedition Acts.


Led by the Federalist Party, the U.S. Congress passes the Alien Acts. These include the Nationalization Act, which lengthens the residency requirement for citizenship and makes citizenship more difficult for immigrants to acquire; the Alien Act, which gives the president the authority to deport any noncitizen thought to be dangerous; and the Alien Enemies Act, which permits the capture and imprisonment of enemy aliens in time of war.


Congress repeals the parts of the Alien and Sedition Acts that have not already expired.


Congress reduces the residency requirement for becoming a citizen to five years.


Congress bans the importation of slaves, but holding and trading American-born slaves continues to be legal, and small numbers of foreign-born slaves continue to be smuggled into the United States from Africa and the Caribbean.


Maryland enacts a law regulating indentured-servant contracts that prohibits some abuses; this law discourages ship companies from transporting indentured servants, thereby helping to end indentured servitude.


Federal government begins to collect data on immigrants by requiring ships’ captains and others bringing in immigrants to keep records and submit manifests.


British parliament passes the first Passenger Act, which makes it cheaper to immigrate to Canada than to the United States.


Inventor Samuel F. B. Morse’s anti-Roman Catholic tract Foreign Conspiracy Against the Liberties of the United States calls for the formation of the Anti-Popery Union to resist the influence of Catholic immigrants.


(February) U.S. Supreme Court’s New York v. Miln decision gives individual states power over arriving immigrants by allowing them to regulate passengers on ships entering their ports under the doctrine of the states’ police powers.


Ohio and Pennsylvania pass laws permitting dual-language instruction in their public schools, primarily to accommodate German immigrants.


(May-July) Anti-Irish riots in Philadelphia express anti-immigrant sentiments of nativism.


Ireland experiences a potato crop failure, beginning the Great Irish Famine, which prompts almost 500,000 people to migrate from Ireland to North America between 1845 and 1850.


Failed political revolutions throughout Europe stimulate a new wave of immigration to the United States.


(February) Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican War; Mexico cedes its northern territories to the United States, and about 100,000 Mexicans living in the region suddenly become citizens of the United States.


California gold rush begins and attracts a wave of Chinese immigrants to the United States. Some of these immigrants settle in San Francisco, where they build the first American Chinatown.


(February) U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in the Passenger Cases hold that only the federal government has the right to regulate immigration; states are not allowed to tax immigration for any purpose, but they may still undertake public health measures, such as quarantines of immigrant ships and passengers.


Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sets up a travel bureau in Europe to help new converts immigrate to the United States.


Know-Nothing Party emerges to promote nativist, anti-immigrant agenda.


Chinese district associations in the United States join together to form the Chinese Six Companies, which becomes the primary organization representing Chinese residents.


Anti-immigrant Native American Party, also known as the “Know-Nothing Party,” wins every statewide office and a majority of seats in the state legislature in Massachusetts elections.


William Marcy Tweed becomes a leader of New York City’s Tammany Hall and uses his influence in machine politics to assist arriving immigrants while soliciting their political support.


Anglo-Americans assault Mexican immigrant teamsters to discourage their freight operations between the Gulf of Mexico coast and San Antonio, Texas.


Clotilde slave ship is the last American ship to deliver involuntary African immigrants to the United States.


U.S. Civil War disrupts immigration from Europe.


(May) Passage of the Homestead Act accelerates immigration by making western lands freely available to settlers, including foreign immigrants.


(December) Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolishes slavery and brings a final end to the importation of African slaves.


Ku Klux Klan is founded in Tennessee.


(July) To encourage Chinese immigrants to settle on the West Coast, the United States persuades China’s government to ratify the Burlingame Treaty, which allows people to leave China for America.


(July) Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes the principle that all persons born on U.S. soil are American citizens, regardless of the citizenship of their parents.


(May) First transcontinental railroad is completed, releasing large numbers of immigrant workers, many of them Chinese, into the general job market, especially in California. Completion of the railroad also makes settlement of the Far West faster and easier.


Naturalization Act of 1870 extends naturalization rights to people of African descent but excludes other nonwhites.


(March) Passage of the Page Law prevents Chinese contract workers and prostitutes from entering the United States.


(October) U.S. Supreme Court’s Henderson v. Mayor of New York decision holds that cities and states have no power over immigration, even in such matters as public health regulations.


(October) In Chy Lung v. Freeman, the U.S. Supreme Court limits the extent to which individual states can restrict the admission of persons into the country.


In re Tiburcio Parrott, a U.S. district court ruling in California, disallows application of a state constitutional amendment to prohibit employment of Chinese persons.


Italian immigrants begin entering the country in large numbers, signaling a shift in immigration patterns from northern and western Europe to southern and eastern Europe; this change also brings a shift from primarily Protestant to predominantly Roman Catholic and Jewish immigrants.


(May) Chinese Exclusion Act bans the entry of Chinese laborers into the United States for a period of ten years; the act is later renewed.


(August) Immigration Act of 1882, the first comprehensive federal immigration law, imposes the first “head tax” on immigrants.


Constitutionality of the Chinese Exclusion Act is tested in the Chinese Exclusion Cases.


(December) U.S. Supreme Court approves taxing immigrants in the so-called Head Money Cases.


(February) Congress passes Alien Contract Labor Law, which prohibits the importation of immigrant workers under contract; the law is later frequently revised.


(May) Yick Wo v. Hopkins is the U.S. Supreme Court case holding held that a racially neutral law applied in a discriminatory manner violates the equal protection requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment.


(October 28) Statue of Liberty is dedicated in New York Harbor.


Federal government bans the Perpetual Emigration Fund of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as part of its campaign against Mormon polygamy.


(March) American Protective Association is founded to combat growing influence of Roman Catholic immigrants.


(May 27) Horse thieves murder Chinese miners in Snake River Canyon, Oregon.


(October) Scott Act amends the Chinese Exclusion Act by imposing a complete prohibition on reentry of Chinese laborers who leave the United States, even if they have legal certificates guaranteeing reentry.


(May) In Chae Chan Ping v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the power of Congress to exclude any groups from immigration.


(September) Jane Addams establishes Hull-House in Chicago, helping to begin the settlement house movement.


Anti-Asian “yellow peril” campaign develops on the West Coast.


(March) Bureau of Immigration–the forerunner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service–is established, and Congress sets health qualifications for new immigrants.


First newspaper for Arab immigrants is started in New York City.


Quarantine station for immigrants opens on the northwest side of Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.


(January) Ellis Island, the largest and most famous immigrant station in the United States, opens. During the turn-of-the-century wave of immigration, from 1892 to 1924, three-quarters of all the immigrants arriving in the United States pass through Ellis Island.


(January) U.S. Supreme Court’s Nishimura Ekiu decision recognizes constitutionality of a federal law authorizing immigration officials to refuse admission to aliens, with no opportunities for habeas corpus relief.


(May) Geary Act extends the Chinese Exclusion Act for an additional ten years and requires Chinese already in the United States to obtain certificates of residence.


(May) In Fong Yue Ting v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the Geary Act of 1892, conceding that Congress has almost unlimited discretion to establish all aspects of the nation’s immigration policy.


(December) United States and China sign Gresham-Yang Treaty, which suspends immigration of Chinese laborers to the United States for ten years, while allowing conditional readmission of immigrants visiting China.


Native Sons of the Golden State is formed in San Francisco; in 1915; it will be chartered as the Chinese American Citizens Alliance.


(May) In Lem Moon Sing v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a federal law authorizing immigration authorities to exclude or deport immigrants without any concern that judges might find fault with their procedures.


(May) In Wong Wing v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibits Congress from imposing criminal punishments on noncitizens without permitting them jury trials and other constitutional rights.


(March) In United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that children born in the United States are American citizens, regardless of the status of their parents.


(April-December) Spanish-American War leaves the United States in control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.


(July) United States annexes Hawaii, making it a U.S. territory.


(May) Cuba becomes independent, while Puerto Rico remains a U.S. dependency.


(June) In Chin Bak Kan v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court endorses vigorous enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act.


(March) Immigration Act of 1903 increases federal regulation of immigration by enlarging the number of categories of inadmissible aliens.


Congress extends the Chinese Exclusion Act indefinitely.


(May) In United States v. Ju Toy, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause does not always require a judicial procedure for denial of benefits, even when a person claims to be a U.S. citizen.


(July) Chinese nationalists begin a boycott of American goods to protest mistreatment of Chinese immigrants in the United States.


American Jewish Committee is formed as an advocacy group for Jewish immigrants.


Hawaii Sugar Planters Association hires attorney A. F. Judd to travel to the Philippines to recruit field-workers and make arrangements for bringing the workers to Hawaii. By 1930, three-quarters of the agricultural workers in Hawaii will be Filipinos.


Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle exposes harsh conditions of immigrants working in Chicago.


(April) Earthquake and fire level much of San Francisco, and the destruction of official birth records makes it possible for many Chinese “paper sons” to claim American birth when they enter the United States with forged documents.


(October) Segregation of California schools begins when the San Francisco school board orders Japanese pupils to attend a separate school.


(February) Immigration Act of 1907 increases the head tax on immigrants and authorizes the president of the United States to deny admission to any immigrants he believes have a negative influence on labor conditions.


(March) United States and Japan reach the Gentlemen’s Agreement, under which the United States allows Japanese residents to attend San Francisco public schools, and Japan agrees to stop emigration of its workers to the United States.


(September) White residents of Bellingham, Washington, attempt to keep Sikh laborers out of the region.


Israel Zangwill’s play The Melting Pot introduces the term “melting pot” to the English language.


Angel Island Immigration Station begins operating in San Francisco Bay; it will continue processing immigrants arriving on the West Coast until 1940.


Mexican Revolution begins a decade of political and economic chaos that drives an estimated 900,000 Mexicans to cross the border into the United States.


(March) Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire kills 146 garment workers–mostly women immigrants–in New York City.


California passes its first Alien Land Law, which denies land ownership rights to Asians and to other immigrants ineligible for American citizenship.


Birth control movement begins to emerge.


(August) Opening of World War I in Europe severely retards immigration into the United States.


(November) U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that a law restricting employment of noncitizens was unconstitutional.


Naturalist Madison Grant advances the idea of “mongrelization” in The Passing of the Great Race, which classified national and ethnic groups as “races.”


Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey founds the Universal Negro Improvement Association in New York City.


Congress passes the Jones Act, making all Puerto Ricans American citizens, thereby further decreasing barriers between the mainland and Puerto Rico.


(April) United States enters World War I, and President Woodrow Wilson establishes regulations on enemy aliens, restricting the movements and rights of people from the countries with which the United States is at war. Federal agents will intern 6,300 people under these regulations, and anti-German prejudice will rise throughout the United States.


(May) Immigration Act of 1917 bars the entry of immigrants who cannot read or write in English or in their own languages, as well as immigrants from what is called the “Asiatic Barred Zone.”


(October) Russian Revolution begins period of increasing Russian emigration.


Under the direction of U.S. attorney general A. Mitchell Palmer, federal agents round up and deport foreign radicals with state and local police assistance in a series of purges known as the Palmer raids.


California’s second Alien Land Law increases restrictions imposed by its 1913 law by ruling that Asian immigrants cannot transfer their land to their citizen children.


(November) Election of Warren G. Harding as president signals a shift in U.S. policy away from the internationalism and international involvement promoted by President Woodrow Wilson.


(May) Immigration Act of 1921 creates the first national origins quota law. This limits immigrants from any particular country to 3 percent of the number of people from that country in the United States in 1910. The act also places a ceiling of 350,000 immigrants per year.


(May-July) First trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti reveals depth of American prejudice against Italian immigrants.


(September) Cable Act changes the status of married immigrant women so that not all of them automatically obtain the citizenship of their husbands.


(November) In Ozawa v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that Japanese aliens are not “white” and cannot be naturalized as citizens.


(February) In United States v. Baghat Singh Thind, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that because Asian Indians are not white, they are ineligible for American citizenship.


(May) Immigration Act of 1924, also known as the National Origins Act, tightens the national origins quotas by limiting immigration from any given country to 2 percent of the number of people from that country living in the United States in 1890. The annual ceiling on immigrants is lowered to 165,000. The act also creates the U.S. Border Patrol.


(May) Asakura v. City of Seattle provides a liberal interpretation of treaties with foreign countries that guarantee the civil rights of their citizens residing in the United States.


(November) U.S. Supreme Court’s Terrace v. Thompson decision upholds validity of state laws prohibiting Asians from owning or leasing land for the purpose of agriculture.


(May) In Chang Chan v. Nagle, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a law disallowing the entrance of some foreign wives of U.S. citizens.


(November) Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey is declared an undesirable alien and is deported.


Congress makes annual immigration quotas by national origin permanent and sets the annual ceiling on immigrants at roughly 150,000. The restrictions of the 1920’s bias immigration heavily in favor of northern and western Europe, which receive 83 percent of the visas to enter the United States as immigrants. Southern and eastern Europe receive 15 percent of the visas, and only 2 percent of the visas go to the rest of the world.


League of United Latin American Citizens is founded as an advocacy organization for Latinos.


(August) Japanese American Citizens League is founded.


(October 24) White farmers attack Filipino farmworkers in Exeter, California.


(October 29) Crash of the American stock market triggers the Great Depression.


Congress amends the Asian provision of the Cable Act to allow American women who marry noncitizens to keep their citizenship.


(January) Federal government begins Mexican deportations to conserve jobs for American citizens.


(January) Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party comes to power in Germany, beginning a period of anti-Jewish persecution that will develop into the Holocaust and drive many Jews and others to emigrate from Europe.


(March) Tydings-McDuffie Act places the Philippines on track toward independence from the United States, reclassifies Filipinos from American nationals to aliens, and restricts the admission of Filipino immigrants to the United States to only fifty per year.


(July) Filipino Repatriation Act is passed to help Filipino immigrants return to their homeland.


Sociologist Marcus Lee Hansen publishes The Problem of the Third Generation Immigrants, which introduces the concept of the Hansen effect.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt allows Holocaust refugees already in the United States to have their visas extended indefinitely. This helps roughly 15,000 people remain in the United States.


SS Louis, carrying more than 900 German Jewish refugees, is met off the coast of Florida by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat sent to prevent refugees from swimming ashore.


John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath chronicles the internal migrations of Americans fleeing the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.


(September 2) World War II begins in Europe when Germany invades Poland.


In response to war in Europe and Asia, the Alien Registration Act requires the registration and fingerprinting of all noncitizens in the United States. About 5 million noncitizens register.


(December 7) Japan’s surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base near Honolulu, Hawaii, brings the United States into World War II.


(February) The internment of all persons of Japanese descent on the West Coast of the United States begins when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066.


(August) Wartime labor needs lead the United States to establish the bracero program, which brings Mexican laborers, primarily in agriculture, to the United States. The program continues through 1964 and helps to establish a pattern of labor migration from Mexico.


(December) Immigration Act of 1943 repeals Asian exclusion laws.


(May) End of World War II in Europe leaves many Europeans homeless.


(December) War Brides Act enables foreign-born wives and children of U.S. service personnel to enter the country on a nonquota basis.


(June) Fiancées Act permits American servicemen to bring their foreign-born fiancés into the United States.


(July) Luce-Celler Bill eases immigration sanctions on Asian Indians and Filipinos.


In response to urging by President Harry S. Truman, Congress passes the Displaced Persons Act to deal with the problem of refugees and displaced people in Europe following the war. Truman is criticized for excluding more than 90 percent of displaced Jews. When the act is revised in 1950, most passages discriminating against Jewish refugees are removed.


(January) U.S. Supreme Court’s Oyama v. California ruling overturns portions of California’s Alien Land Laws that discriminate against U.S. citizens on the basis of race but does not address the constitutionality of similar discrimination against noncitizens.


(October) A dispute over wages of bracero workers leads to the U.S. Border Patrol allowing four thousand other Mexicans to enter the United States illegally through El Paso, Texas, to harvest the cotton crop.


(June) Korean War begins.


(September) McCarran Internal Security Act requires the registration of communist organizations and prohibits persons who have been members of registered communist organizations from entering the United States.


(December) United Nations General Assembly creates the office of High Commissioner for Refugees to deal with the problem of refugees left by World War II.


(April) In Sei Fujii v. State of California, California’s supreme court strikes down the state’s Alien Land Law as a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


(June) Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act, becomes the new basis of U.S. immigration policy. It establishes a four-category preference system, makes it easier for Asians to immigrate, and makes it tougher for communists to enter the United States. The act retains the national origins quota system.


(August) President Harry S. Truman’s appeal to Congress to help escapees from the communist countries of Eastern Europe leads to the passage of the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, which allows 200,000 more visas than are authorized under national immigration quotas.


(May) U.S. Supreme Court’s Galvan v. Press decision upholds the authority of the federal government to order the deportation of persons who have been members of the Communist Party.


(June-September) U.S. government deports thousands of Mexican laborers in Operation Wetback.


(November) Ellis Island closes after having processed more than 12 million immigrants since 1892.


President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorizes the admission of 38,000 refugees from Hungary’s failed anticommunist uprising.


Congress passes the Refugee-Escapee Act, which defines refugees as persons escaping from communist or communist-dominated countries.


Future president John F. Kennedy publishes A Nation of Immigrants, calling attention to the contributions made by immigrants.


(January) Fidel Castro’s revolutionary movement takes power in Cuba.


First Cuban refugees from Castro’s new government arrive in the United States and settle primarily in South Florida.


United States begins gradual involvement in Vietnam’s civil war.


U.S. government creates the Cuban Refugee Program to handle the processing and resettlement of Cuban refugees.


Miami-Dade County, with its growing population of Cubans and other Hispanics, becomes the location of the first bilingual education program in U.S. public schools.


Milton Gordon publishes Assimilation in American Life, a major study of the assimilation of immigrants into American society.


President Lyndon Johnson makes the long-closed and decaying immigrant station at Ellis Island part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument. Planning begins for the restoration of the island.


(October) Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, expands the preference system adopted by the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act. The new law repeals the national origins quota system and makes family reunification the primary basis of immigration law. The act also establishes a ceiling of 170,000 on immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere and 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere.


(December) Freedom Airlift begins the transporting of more than 260,000 Cuban refugees to the United States in a program that will continue until 1973.


(January) Expression “model minority” first appears in a New York Times Magazine article by sociologist William Petersen.


(May) U.S. Supreme Court’s Afroyim v. Rusk ruling establishes that American citizenship may not be revoked involuntarily for actions such as voting in a foreign country.


(May) In Boutilier v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Supreme Court approves the government’s policy of classifying gays and lesbians as ineligible for immigration.


Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund is formed in San Antonio, Texas, to promote Latino rights.


(January) Bilingual Education Act, which is passed as Title 7 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, provides funds for special programs for speakers of minority languages.


(June) In Graham v. Richardson, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down discriminatory state laws denying public benefits to noncitizens.


About 50,000 Haitian refugees from the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier begin arriving illegally on the coasts of Florida in hastily constructed, overcrowded boats. In response, the U.S. government begins the practice of interdiction, stopping the Haitian boats at sea and returning most of their passengers to Haiti.


(April) Cuban president Fidel Castro ends the Freedom Airlift flights.


Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 penalizes the Soviet Union and other countries that do not allow their citizens to emigrate peacefully. The law pressures the Soviet government to permit dissidents and members of minority religious communities to leave.


Asian American Legal Defense Fund is formed to defend and promote the legal rights of Asian Americans.


(January) In Lau v. Nichols, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that public schools must provide bilingual education to limited-English-speaking students.


(April) After the fall of the Saigon government ends U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, President Gerald Ford authorizes the admission of 130,400 refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Most of those in this first wave of refugees are Vietnamese immigrants, and the numbers of Southeast Asian immigrants increase.


(May) Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act establishes a resettlement assistance program for Southeast Asian refugees.


First Hmong immigrants begin arriving in the United States.


(June) In Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, the U.S. Supreme Court severely restricts the extent to which the federal government and its agencies may refuse to employ noncitizens.


U.S. attorney general Griffin Bell uses his parole authority to allow thousands of people from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam to resettle in the United States. President Jimmy Carter signs legislation permitting these refugees to become permanent residents.


Helsinki Watch is established as a nongovernment body to monitor U.S. compliance with an international agreement signed by thirty-five countries pledging to respect basic human and civil rights.


Federal government adopts a new worldwide ceiling of 290,000 immigrants per year, replacing the Eastern and Western Hemisphere ceilings established in 1965.


(March) In Foley v. Connelie, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a state law discriminating against aliens.


(January) Islamic revolution in Iran leads to large increase in the numbers of Iranian immigrants to the United States and other nations.


Civil wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala create an estimated 1 million political and economic refugees, most of whom flee north to the United States.


Liberalization of Soviet emigration laws under Mikhail Gorbachev increases the numbers of Soviet Jewish immigrants who come to the United States.


In response to the large numbers of immigrants that have begun to arrive from Southeast Asia and other locations, Congress passes the Refugee Act. This places refugees in a category separate from other immigrants and provides a definition of refugees as people fleeing their countries because of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, or political opinion. The president is authorized to establish the number of refugees to be allowed into the United States.


(April-September) Fidel Castro opens the port of Mariel to Cubans who want to leave the country. More than 115,000 people take advantage of the Mariel boatlift to cross to Key West, Florida.


Congress sets an annual quota of 20,000 Taiwanese immigrants.


(January) In Fedorenko v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court establishes that the citizenship of naturalized citizens may be revoked if they are found to have intentionally provided false information to enter the country or to obtain citizenship.


(June) In Plyler v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court extends the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause to give noncitizens the right to public social services.


(June) The U.S. Supreme Court’s Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Chadha ruling on deportation has wide-ranging political ramifications.


(May) The U.S. Supreme Court’s Bernal v. Fainter ruling strikes down a state law prohibiting aliens from working as notary publics.


(July) In Immigration and Naturalization Service v. Lopez-Mendoza, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds minimal application of Fourth Amendment rights to deportation proceedings.


(December) The United States and Cuba agree that Cuba will take back nearly 3,000 criminals and mental patients who have arrived with the Mariel boatlift, and the United States will issue visas to political prisoners and others wishing to leave Cuba.


Concerns over illegal immigration into the United States lead Congress to pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. This raises the annual ceiling on legal immigration from the 270,000 established six years earlier to 540,000. To decrease the jobs drawing illegal aliens into the country, the act introduces stiff penalties for employers of those in the country illegally. The act also offers amnesty to illegal aliens who can prove that they have resided in the United States since January 1, 1982.


(December) Amerasian Homecoming Act is passed to ease the immigration of Vietnamese Amerasian children and their close relatives to the United States.


Civil Liberties Act authorizes each internee of a wartime relocation camp for Japanese Americans to receive twenty thousand dollars and a formal apology from the United States. About 60,000 Japanese Americans apply for and receive these reparations.


(June) Helsinki Watch report on U.S. refugee policy criticizes American treatment of refugees.


(September) National Immigration Museum opens at Ellis Island.


(November) Immigration Act of 1990 raises the worldwide ceiling on immigration to 700,000 for 1992 through 1994, with the ceiling to go down to 675,000. The act revises the 1952 Immigration Act so that immigrants can no longer be excluded because of political beliefs or affiliations.


President George H. W. Bush issues Executive Order 12807, directing the U.S. Coast Guard to interdict undocumented aliens at sea and to return them to their places of origin.


(May) Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance is formed to promote the interests of Asian and Pacific Islander immigrants.


(October) Chinese Student Protection Act is passed to allow Chinese students and scholars to remain in the United States and apply for permanent residency.


(February 26) A bomb in the subterranean garage of one of New York City’s World Trade Center towers kills six people and injures one thousand more. The bomb is later found to have been planted by a Middle Eastern immigrant who entered the United States illegally.


(June) U.S. Supreme Court’s Sale v. Haitian Centers Council decision allows the U.S. government to apprehend Haitian refugees at sea, before they reach the United States, and return them to Haiti.


(June 26) Freighter Golden Venture runs aground off Queens, New York; federal authorities take into custody 276 Chinese passengers who were attempting to enter the United States illegally.


(January) North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) goes into effect to reduce barriers to trade among the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The agreement also requires the three countries to ease restrictions on the movement of business executives and professionals. This promotes professional migration from Canada to the United States, in particular.


(April) In an illegal-immigrant suit, the state of Florida demands restitution from the federal government for its expenditures on illegal immigrants.


(June) Congressional Commission on Immigration Reform, also known as the Jordan Commission, calls for limiting legal immigration to 500,000 per year, with 100,000 slots to be granted to immigrants with needed job skills; the commission’s report also calls for strict controls on the hiring of illegal immigrants wherever necessary.


(August) Responding to the large numbers of Cubans attempting to leave their country after Fidel Castro declares that he is not opposed to people leaving, the United States changes its Cuban refugee policy when President Bill Clinton declares that Cuban refugees will no longer be allowed automatic entry to the United States.


(November) California voters approve Proposition 187, a voter initiative designed to limit public services available to undocumented immigrants.


(August) The enslavement of garment workers in Southern California is revealed when captive Thai immigrants are freed.


Welfare Reform Act denies public assistance services to resident aliens for a period of time.


(March) Immigration and Naturalization Service creates a self-petitioning process for immigrants who are battered spouses and battered children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. If approved, the petitions enable immigrants to remain in the United States after separating from abusive spouses.


(September) Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act is enacted to stop the flow of undocumented aliens into the United States with increased border patrol staffing, strong enforcement and penalties against alien smuggling, and tougher sanctions for undocumented immigrants caught inside the United States.


Czechoslovakian-born Madeline Albright is appointed U.S. secretary of state.


(June) California voters approve Proposition 227, a voter initiative designed to end bilingual education in public schools.


(February) In Reno v. American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a federal statute severely restricting the rights of alien residents to challenge deportation orders in court.


(November) Rescue of youthful Cuban refugee Elián González off Florida’s coast touches off a diplomatic conflict between the United States and Cuba.


(June) In Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the government may not detain deportable aliens indefinitely simply because no other country accepts them.


(June) In Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that recent federal laws do not eliminate the federal courts’ jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus petitions from resident aliens who are deportable because of felony convictions.


(June) In Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the citizenship of children born abroad and out of wedlock who have only one American parent.


(September 11) Nineteen Middle Eastern terrorists hijack four American airliners; they fly two planes into the towers of New York’s World Trade Center, killing thousands of people. A third plane hits the Pentagon building near Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashes in Pennsylvania after an apparent struggle between passengers and hijackers. Nine days later, U.S. president George W. Bush reacts to the events of “9/11” by creating the Office of Homeland Security. The following January, the new office is upgraded to a cabinet department. Meanwhile, national suspicion and resentment of immigrants–particularly Middle Eastern Muslims–mounts.


(October) Congress passes Public Law 107-56, known as the USA Patriot Act. The act includes new reasons for denying entry into the United States, gives a broader definition to the concept of terrorist activity, and increases the causes for deporting visitors and immigrants.


(November) Congress passes the Border Security Act, authorizing more funds for immigration and customs staff, providing for the sharing of information on deportation cases among federal agencies, tracking foreign students, and tightening oversight in other ways.


(November) Aviation and Transportation Security Act is enacted to improve security of transportation systems throughout the United States, with particular emphasis on airport security.


(March) Functions and offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service are transferred to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS), a bureau of the new Department of Homeland Security.


(October) Austrian bodybuilder and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger is elected governor of California in a special election.


Secure Fence Act authorizes construction of a 700-mile fence between the United States and Mexico.


(June) In Dada v. Mukasey, the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes the right of immigrants to petition to reopen their cases after they have already agree to leave the country.


Thirty-eight million immigrants are estimated to be living in the United States.