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Immigration Act of 1903

The Law: Federal legislation that increased government regulation of immigration

Date: Enacted on March 3, 1903

Significance: The Immigration Act of 1903 expanded the federal government’s power to regulate immigration. In this piece of legislation, Congress codified immigration law and refined the existing classes of inadmissible immigrants. Of even greater significance to the history of immigration was the act’s creation of two new inadmissible classes: The first covered immigrants involved in prostitution, and the second dealt with anarchists.

Much of the Immigration Act of 1903 dealt with preexisting immigration law. In this new act, Congress codified immigration law and increased the tax on immigrants entering the United States, excluding Canadians and Mexicans. The law refined the federal regulation of poor immigrants by amending the contract labor and public charge provisions; it also extended the time limit on deporting aliens in most inadmissible classes from one to three years. In addition, Congress added prostitutes and those associated with prostitution, as well as anarchists, to the list of excludable or inadmissible classes of immigrants.

None of the immigration laws passed between 1875 and 1902 explicitly provided for the deportation of prostitutes. The Page Law, passed in 1875, only made the importation of prostitutes a felony and, in practice, provided for tougher screening of Chinese women in Hong Kong. Before 1903, the federal government did deport a small number of Chinese women suspected of prostitution, but it deported them as manual laborers in violation of the Chinese exclusion laws rather than as prostitutes. Under the Immigration Act of 1903, however, Congress empowered the Bureau of Immigration to exclude people involved in prostitution and to deport prostitutes as well as procurers of prostitutes, if they were immigrants too.

The Immigration Act of 1903 made immigrants excludable on political grounds for the first time by adding anarchists to the list of inadmissible classes. Responding to public fears about anarchists, which were heightened by the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, Congress included a provision in the law that made anarchists or those who advocated violence against government excludable and deportable. John Turner, a Britishborn labor activist and self-proclaimed anarchist who was in the United States organizing workers, was one of the first people affected by the antianarchist provision of the Immigration Act of 1903. He challenged the constitutionality of the new anarchist provision in the U.S. courts. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the anarchist provisions in the 1904 case Turner v. Williams. Congress would later refine and expand the anarchist provision, which immigration authorities used in the Palmer raids following World War I and against communists during the Cold War.

Torrie Hester

Further Reading

  • Chan, Sucheng. “The Exclusion of ChineseWomen, 1870-1943.” In Entry Denied: Exclusion and the Chinese Community in America, 1882-1943. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991. 
  • Langum, David J. Crossing over the Line: Legislating Morality and the Mann Act. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. 
  • Preston, William, Jr. Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903-1933. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1963. 

See also: Congress, U.S.; Espionage and Sedition Acts of 1917-1918; History of immigration after 1891; Immigration Act of 1891; Immigration Act of 1907; Immigration Act of 1917; Immigration law; IndustrialWorkers of theWorld; Page Law of 1875; Progressivism; Women immigrants.

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