May 26th, 1924

Immigration Act of 1924 Prohibits Immigration from Asia

On May 26, 1924, the United States Congress passed the eugenics-inspired Immigration Act of 1924, which completely prohibited immigration from Asia. Designed to limit all immigration to the United States, the act was particularly restrictive for Eastern and Southern Europeans and Asians. Upon signing the act into law, President Calvin Coolidge remarked, “America must remain American.”

Congress passed the first highly restrictive immigration law in 1917, requiring immigrants over age sixteen to pass literacy tests and excluding immigrants from the “Asiatic Barred Zone.” This zone included all of Asia; immigrants from China had been barred since 1882 by the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Act of 1924 eliminated immigration from Japan, violating the so-called “Gentleman’s Agreement,” which previously protected Japanese immigration.

The law also tightened the national origins quota system, meant to restrict the number of immigrants from a particular country to a percentage of the foreign-born citizens from that country already residing in the United States. The previous quota was based on population data from the 1910 census, but the 1924 Act based the quota on the 1890 census, which effectively lowered the quota numbers for non-white countries. The 1924 system also considered the national origins of the entire American population, including natural-born citizens, which increased the number of visas available to people from the British Isles and Western Europe. Finally, the 1924 Act excluded any person ineligible for citizenship, formalizing the bar on immigration from Asia based on existing laws that prohibited Asians from becoming naturalized citizens.

The act was supported by federally-funded eugenicists who argued that “social inadequates” were polluting the American gene pool and draining taxpayer resources. Its quotas remained in place until 1965.