U.S. immigration policy, and ultimately the laws pertaining to marriage between aliens and citizens, has evolved in response to the American experience with earlier immigration, fear of change, and a number of major events that have affected U.S. history. Most early immigrants to what is now the United States came fromnorthern and western Europe. After new immigrants arrived, they, in turn, brought in family members who added more permanence to the developing society. However, many immigrants also intermingled with Native Americans and people from countries other than those fromwhich they themselves came. The federal Naturalization Act of 1790 focused on the majority immigration group and, as such, applied exclusively to free white people. During the mid-nineteenth century, Chinese workers, many of them gold prospectors and railroad workers, arrived in the United States. Negative American reactions to the presence of this distinctly different group prompted the U.S. Congress to enact the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prevented Chinese from becoming naturalized citizens. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Japanese and other immigrants were also prohibited from becoming naturalized citizens. However, an 1855 law gave citizenship to foreign-born women who married American men.
During the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the pool of immigrants entering the United States grew more diversified and included large numbers of people from southern and eastern Europe. In response to this new immigration, Congress enacted a series of restrictive laws that resulted in a U.S. quota system based on early migration patterns. These laws banned members of specific ethnic groups from immigrating, including those who were spouses of U.S. citizens.
During the 1940’s, some American military personnel who went overseas during World War II wanted to return home with their spouses from other countries. Under public pressure, Congress amended immigration laws for this purpose. The 1945 War Brides Act and the 1946 Fiancées Act relaxed immigration restrictions by permitting many foreign spouses and children to immigrate to the United States. Previously excluded populations were still banned from immigrating, but in 1947, the Soldiers Bride Act changed that by allowing formerly barred spouses to enter the United States. Japanese, Filipino, Korean, and other foreign-born spouses of American service personnel then began entering the United States under a nonquota system. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 continued the quota system but granted some Asians immigration privileges and made family reunification a choice method for migration. Nonquota immigrants who came to the United States under this law left open quota slots for other immigrants.