Immigration Act (United States) (1903)

2011-02-16 12:26:26

In the wake of the assassination of President William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in 1901, Congress began a thorough review of American immigration policy. The Immigration Act provided a codification and extension of previously enacted immigration policy and included one of the few restrictions based on political beliefs.
In his first annual message following McKinley’s assassination, in December 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt called for a thorough review of America’s immigration policy. “We need,” he argued, “every honest and efficient immigrant fitted to become an American citizen.” Roosevelt unequivocally denounced anarchists, however, and urged Congress to “exclude absolutely . . . all persons who are known to be believers in anarchist principles.” Two days after Roosevelt’s message, the Industrial Commission presented its findings to Congress, including a draft bill and 18 recommendations for the codification of immigrant policy. The bill was debated for 14 months, with considerable disagreement over the use of literacy tests and the proper level of the head tax. Finally enacted on March 3, 1903, the measure
1. Reaffirmed all immigration and contract labor laws made after 1875
2. Expanded excludable classes of immigrants to include anarchists, prostitutes, epileptics, those who had “been insane within five years,” and those who had ever had two or more “attacks of insanity”
3. Provided for deportation within two years of arrival of “any alien who becomes a public charge by reason of lunacy, idiocy, or epilepsy,” unless he or she could clearly demonstrate that the condition had begun after arrival
4. Levied a head tax of $2 per immigrant
In 1907 excludable groups were expanded to include “imbeciles, feeble-minded [persons], and persons with physical or mental defects which might affect their ability to earn a living.”