The Immigration Act of 1924
On May 24, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed further limitations on immigration from the countries of Eastern and Southern Europe, while allowing unlimited immigration from Latin America. It also included funding for the enforcement of the provisions. The act amended the Immigration Act of 1921 by changing the National Origins Formula. Its intent was the immediate reduction of the number of immigrants coming into the United States from the above mentioned regions without having a significant impact on those from Northern Europe and other more desirable areas.
It accomplished its goal by first modifying the National Origins Formula, reducing the percentage to be used to calculate the annual permissible number of immigrants to 2%. It further reduced the number by using the base population from a given nation as recorded in the census of 1890, rather than the 1910 census which had been used since 1921. The peak immigration years for people from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe occurred between 1890 and 1910, thus the total number of people from Italy, for example, was much lower during the 1890 census than that of 1910.
Using the old formula had led to almost 360,000 immigrants entering the United States in 1923. Using the new calculation reduced the number of immigrants to just under 165,000 in 1924. Immigration from Italy dropped in 1924 by 90%, but from Great Britain, from which far fewer people had immigrated between 1890 and 1910, the drop was less than 20%. Within the new quotas established under the act additional preferences were created, including for those with relatives already in the United States. For the first time, control of immigration was placed in the hands of American consulates overseas, which had to provide a visa to anyone desirous of immigrating to the United States.
The requirement for a visa divided the responsibility for immigration between the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the State Department, which employed the consuls which provided the visas. This made it doubly difficult for some persons to immigrate to the United States as fascism and Nazism grew in Europe. In 1924 nearly 86% of the immigrants authorized under the act were from Northern European countries. In 1924 more people of Eastern and Southern European regions left the United States than were authorized to immigrate to it, while Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland sent the most immigrants to the United States.
The Immigration Act of 1924, and subsequent modifications and amendments, continued to establish the quotas for immigration to the United States from Europe until 1952. The quotas it established were a major cause of why so many attempting to flee Europe before World War II were denied entry into the United States. The Act also reaffirmed prior laws which stated that only whites or those of African descent were eligible for American citizenship (Latin Americans were considered to be white for the purposes of immigration) and that only those eligible for American citizenship were allowed to immigrate to the United States.