Immigration History Timeline
Nationality Act of 1790
This was the first law to define eligibility for citizenship by naturalization and establish standards and procedures by which immigrants became US citizens. In this early version, Congress limited this important right to “free white persons.”
Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798
Congress enacted deportation laws targeting persons deemed political threats to the United States in response to conflicts in Europe.
Ban on “importation” of “any negro, mulatto, or other person of colour” (1803) (effective 1808)
The Haitian revolution led Congress to ban immigration by free blacks to contain anti-slavery campaigners.
Indian Removal Act (1830)
During the presidency of Andrew Jackson, this law authorized the confiscation of land from Native Americans and provided resources for their forced removal west of the Mississippi River.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848)
In the settlement of the Mexican-American War, this treaty formalized the United States’ annexation of a major portion of northern Mexico, El Norte, and conferred citizenship on Mexicans choosing to remain in the territory.
The Supreme Court designates the authority to legislate and to enforce immigration restrictions a matter of federal authority rather than a state or local power.
People v. Hall (1854)
This California Supreme Court case ruled that the testimony of a Chinese man who witnessed a murder by a white man was inadmissible, denying Chinese alongside Native and African Americans the status to testify in courts against whites.
Scott Act of 1888
Congress extended domestic authority over immigration to improve enforcement of the Chinese exclusion laws. It abolished one of the exempt statuses, returning laborers, stranding about 20,000 Chinese holding Certificates of Return outside the United States.
Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857)
This Supreme Court ruling established that slaves and free African Americans were not citizens of the U.S. and were not entitled to the rights and privileges of citizenship, such as the right to sue in federal courts.
Act to prohibit the “coolie trade” (1862)
During the Civil War, the Republican- controlled Congress sought to prevent southern plantation owners from replacing their enslaved African American workers with unfree contract or “coolie” laborers from China.
President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 executive order freeing the slaves held in the Confederate states.
Immigration Act of 1864
This law legalized labor recruitment practices similar to indentured servitude in an attempt to encourage immigration to the United States, but it was quickly repealed.
Burlingame Treaty of 1868
Negotiated during construction of the Transcontinental Railroad which relied heavily on Chinese labor, this international agreement secured US access to Chinese workers by guaranteeing rights of free migration to both Chinese and Americans.
Ratified in 1868 to secure equal treatment for African Americans after the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed birthright citizenship for all persons born in the United States. It also provided for equal protections and due process for all legal residents.
Naturalization Act of 1870
The Naturalization Act of 1870 explicitly extended naturalization rights already enjoyed by white immigrants to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent,” thus denying access to the rights and protections of citizenship to other nonwhite immigrant groups.
Chinese Educational Mission 1872-1881
This program sent about 120 Chinese students to study in New England and is often cited as a pioneering effort in mutually beneficial systems of international education which promoted the sharing of knowledge and understanding and improved international relations.
Page Law (1875)
This law prohibited the recruitment to the United States of unfree laborers and women for “immoral purposes” but was enforced primarily against Chinese.
Chy Lung v. Freeman (1875)
This Supreme Court decision affirmed that the federal government holds sole authority to regulate immigration.
Angell Treaty of 1880
This treaty updated the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China, allowing the United Stated to restrict the migration of certain categories of Chinese workers. It moved U.S. immigration policy closer to outright Chinese exclusion.
Chinese Exclusion Act aka “An Act to execute certain treaty stipulations relating to Chinese”
This law was a major shift in U.S. immigration policy toward growing restrictiveness. The law targeted Chinese immigrants for restriction– the first such group identified by race and class for severely limited legal entry and ineligibility for citizenship.
Immigration Act of 1882
Legislated a few months after the Chinese Exclusion Law, this immigration legislation expanded the ranks of excludable aliens to include other undesirable persons and attributes such as “convicts,” “lunatics,” and “those likely to become a public charge.”
Elk v. Wilkins (1884)
The Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to Native Americans who did not automatically gain citizenship by birth and could therefore be denied the right to vote.
Foran Act of 1885 (aka Alien Contract Labor Law)
This law banned the recruitment of workers bound by contracts.
The Dawes Allotment Act
Complaints about the reservation system for Native Americans led Congress to authorize the president to allot – or separate into individual landholdings – tribal reservation lands. Native Americans receiving allotments could gain U.S. citizenship, but often lost their land.
Chae Chan Ping v. United States (1889) (aka the Chinese Exclusion Case)
This Supreme Court decision affirmed the plenary powers of U.S. federal authorities over immigration matters, in this instance even when changes in U.S. immigration law reversed earlier policy and practice.
© 2019 Immigration History
A project of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society (https://iehs.org/)