Gender and Immigration
Until the 1920s, women’s citizenship and rights to immigrate chiefly derived from their relationships to men. For example, women who married assumed their husband’s citizenship. Women traveling without male relatives were the most likely to be affected by the earliest immigration restrictions which targeted the poor (1882), or those “likely to become public charges” (LPC). Only after women gained the franchise (1920) did they start securing independent rights of citizenship. Moreover, up to the 1920s, most migration consisted of working-age men. The imposition of quantitative immigration caps (1921, 1924) reduced immigration while producing gender parity because family unification was prioritized and immigration occurred in family units at higher rates. Immigration laws since the 1920s have continued to emphasize family reunification while providing increasing rights for women to immigrate independently (1952, 1965) as sponsoring immigrants and through employment. Immigration remains slightly skewed female because U.S. citizen men marry foreign women at higher rates and sponsor their immigration.
The Declaration of Independence claimed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for “We the People” but only specified men as being created equal, an omission of women reflected in law and practice until the early twentieth century. Under the common law doctrine of coverture, roughly meaning that the husband’s status “covers” that of the wife, women’s formal and substantive citizenship derived from the status of their husbands who also held control over their wives’ persons and property. Such principles of marital unity were also applied to matters such as citizenship and immigration status. In 1855, for example, Congress enacted a law that allowed U.S. citizen men to confer their nationality on alien wives, but did not allow U.S. citizen women to do the same for alien husbands. For many purposes, such as certain forms of professional employment, immigration, suffrage, and control of property, married women were considered to lack citizenship and therefore had no grounds to claim equal treatment. Unlike men, women also could not confer their citizenship upon children born abroad. In contrast, unmarried women retained as individuals their citizenship, control of property, and mobility rights.
Although some states and localities began granting voting and property rights to women prior to the Civil War, equal standing for women remained elusive at the federal level. Nonetheless, equal standing for women remained elusive at the federal level. After the Civil War, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments that secured rights of birthright citizenship, equal protections, and due process for Asian, Latino, and African Americans were determined not to apply to women, who remained the largest group disenfranchised from citizenship and voting rights.
In 1907, even as national campaigns for women’s suffrage gained momentum, Congress enacted a federal law that stripped women of their citizenship if they married an alien man. As aliens, many women who formerly held U.S. citizenship abruptly lost certain kinds of employment such as teaching, and could forfeit property in times of war and even be subject to exclusion and deportation. Not until the Nineteenth Amendment granted women suffrage in 1920 did they steadily assume greater rights to immigrate as individuals and secure the rights of citizens. The 1922 Cable Act, for example, allowed U.S. citizen women to retain their citizenship in case of marriage to alien men and women immigrants from Europe also gained the right to naturalize. The Cable Act benefited primarily Europeans, however, as it stipulated that in cases of marriage to “aliens ineligible for citizenship,” or Asian immigrant men, even women with birthright citizenship would assume their alien husbands’ status. This racial limitation impacted Asian American women the most severely and remained on the books until 1931.
Women’s derivative status extended to the realm of immigration with a majority of females able to immigrate legally as members of family units attached to husbands or fathers. Available data dates back to 1856, when the U.S. government began tracking arrivals by gender. Immigrant males outnumbered females for every year between 1857 and 1929 except for 1922, which marks a significant shift in immigration patterns. Until the 1920s, economic motivations were the driving determinant of who migrated to the United States and men arrived on their own in search of work and other opportunities to earn money, often leaving behind their families. During the 1910s, about six million immigrants arrived in the United States, almost sixty percent of whom were working-age males, 14 years or older, with women and children comprising the remaining 40 percent. Rates of return migration by solo men were relatively high, a pattern of circulatory migration disrupted by the imposition of stricter immigration regulations and enforcement during the 1920s.
Motives to immigrate are largely shaped by the reality that men have far more abundant opportunities to work in the United States. Many such jobs, particularly in manual labor employment such as agriculture and construction, are gendered male and require far more workers than the jobs gendered as female, such as in domestic service or textile factories. When unrestricted or minimally regulated, migration to the United States consisted primarily of working-age men. Until the 1920s, women also had much more circumscribed legal means to immigrate than did men although barriers to women’s immigration were not always explicitly framed on the basis of gender. For example, efforts to ban immigration by the poor was defined by the likelihood that new arrivals might register for support from charitable institutions. Immigration officers tended to reject women traveling on their own who could not demonstrate they had sufficient funds or male relatives to provide means of support. First enacted by states such as New York and Massachusetts starting in the 1840s, laws excluding those “likely to become public charges,” (LPC), became federal law in 1882. Less access to education meant that women were also far more likely to fail literacy requirements which were first enacted in 1917.
When Congress undertook systematic immigration restriction in the 1870s, it began by identifying clearly undesirable categories of persons, such as the poor and Chinese, leaving women of these categories with even fewer options for legal entry. In 1875, the Page Act banned the import of women brought for immoral purposes, or prostitutes. Enforced chiefly against Chinese, its enactment sharply reduced the numbers of Chinese women traveling to and entering the United States. With passage of Chinese restriction in 1882, the primary options available to females consisted of entering as the wives and minor daughters of men with legal entry rights. Chinese could claim five statuses that were exempt from the exclusion laws (1882-1943), those of merchants, merchant family members, students, tourists, and diplomats. Only as students or possibly tourists could Chinese women enter as individuals. Chinese immigration skewed heavily male until the 1940s, when the Chinese exclusion laws were repealed.
The rates of female European immigration gained parity with that of males during the 1920s with the enactment of new and more effectively enforced methods of immigration restriction. Legislation passed in 1921 and 1924 imposed quantitative limits on immigration based on national origins, reducing overall numbers by several fold. Fewer men gained legal permission to immigrate, but those who did began bringing their families more often because wives and minor children were not counted against the national quotas. Family reunification, or chain migration, has remained a protected form of immigration and preserves gender parity in immigration into the present, operating alongside employment preferences since the early 1950s.
This equality of numbers resulted from the high priority placed upon men’s rights to be accompanied by their wives and children. Until 1952, women immigrants had no rights to bring families, nor did Asian immigrant men who also could not gain citizenship. Female immigration began to slightly exceed male immigration on a regular basis because higher percentages of U.S. citizen and immigrant men bring their spouses than do U.S. citizen or immigrant women so that between 1930 and 1979, females accounted for 55 percent of all immigration to the U.S. Some of this imbalance stemmed from secondary migration in which men who had immigrated alone later brought their wives and families. More significantly, however, predominantly male U.S. military personnel stationed abroad married foreign-born women who immigrated to remain with their husbands.
During World War II, the United States sent more than twelve million military personnel overseas. While abroad, many fell in love, got married or engaged but confronted very limited legal options to bring back their spouses or fiances because of the national origins quotas. In acknowledgement of their patriotism and sacrifices, Congress enacted the War Brides Acts, which allowed these dependents to immigrate legally. From these beginnings, far more women immigrated than men through the sponsorship of U.S. military personnel. From January 1946 through December 1948, 112,882 war brides, 322 war grooms, and 4,479 children were admitted. Military spouses and fiances have remained a significant source of predominantly female immigration, as the United States maintained sizable military postings abroad in Europe and the Pacific regions as well as participating in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. This highly gendered form of immigration skews heavily female, tipping the overall balance of immigration towards women. Immigrant wives of U.S. citizens alone accounted for 10 percent of all fiscal 1972-79 immigration and almost two-thirds of the overall sex differential of 218,649 more females than males. Together, wives of U.S. citizens and permanent resident aliens accounted for nearly 90 percent of the overall sex differential during the 1970s.
Since the 1920s, general immigration laws have prioritized family unity which fosters gender parity in immigration. Both the 1952 and 1965 Immigration Acts were intended to reform the discriminatory system enacted from the 1920s, in part by retaining the relatively free influx of family units. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act removed all racial restrictions on citizenship and allowed women to petition for the admission of family members, of whom the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens could enter without counting against national quotas. The McCarran-Walter Act gave first preference to “skilled workers” in fields designated by the Department of Labor as needed in the U.S. economy. Although these fields, apart from nursing, generally favored male immigration, the principle of family reunification or chain migration maintained gender balance. The 1965 Immigration Act emphasized chain migration even more, by adding to spouses, minor children, and parents, the family preference of siblings of U.S. citizens, and allowing permanent residents to immigrate with spouses and minor children. Since 1965, the majority of immigrants arrive through family connections. [Pathways to legal citizenship since 1965] Although employment preferences also gained priority in 1965 and again in 1990 with the H1-B program, and favor male immigration with recruitment in the areas of engineering, medicine, sciences, and computers, such skilled immigrants tend to arrive in family units.
Immigration by refugees reinforced gender parity among new arrivals because they tend also to travel in family units. World War II and the Cold War produced millions of persons displaced by war, political shifts, and the remaking of many national boundaries produced by decolonization. The United States expressed support for its allies in part by admitting certain numbers of persons left without safe homes. The 1948 Displaced Persons Act, the 1953 Refugee Relief Act, other piecemeal legislation and enactments of parole during the 1950s and 1960s, and permanent allocations for refugee admissions since 1965 have all contributed to comparable rates of immigration by men and women.
The causal relationship between stricter immigration regulations and higher levels of immigration by family units has contributed to the twenty-first century’s growing problem of unauthorized immigration. The 1965 Immigration Act for the first time imposed numeric caps on immigration within the western hemisphere. As in the 1920s, this heightened restrictiveness discouraged circular migrations by working-age men who traveled to work, but not necessarily settle, in the United States. Once their movements became subject to quotas, these migrants were forced to reduce their mobility in part by choosing to bring their families to reside permanently in the nation which promised greater economic advancement and social stability, or the United States. Such decisions increased the unauthorized immigration of wives and children, as did the growing number of low skilled jobs for women in the service sector. Such high levels of illegal immigration are likely to continue until the United States diminishes its employment of cheaper workers from neighboring countries, or reforms its immigration restrictions to accommodate the working conditions of temporary workers.
Katherine M. Donato and Donna Gabaccia, “The Twentieth Century: Migrant Gender Composition after 1918” in Gender and International Migration edited by Katherine M. Donato and Donna Gabaccia (Russell Sage Foundation, 2015): 96-117.
Marion F. Houstoun, Roger G. Kramer and Joan Mackin Barrett, “Female Predominance in Immigration to the United States Since 1930: A First Look” in The International Migration Review 18:4, Special Issue: Women in Migration (Winter, 1984), 908-963.
Kunal M. Parker, Making Foreigners: Immigration and Citizenship Law in America, 1600-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
The experience of women who have immigrated to America is in no way universal—every push-pull, every country left behind, and every family re-rooted is a different story. Yet the role of gender in the context of immigration, specifically concerning the lived experiences of women, asks us to examine common themes surrounding the agency of the immigrants who left their homes for a new American life: how did they grapple with the ideals of American womanhood? How did they navigate the double-bind of power and voice as both women and foreigners? And how did legislation through the years affect both of these issues? By examining three separate groups of immigrant women in America from 1882-1945 and the legislation and cultural influences that saturated their lives, we will delve into these critical questions.
Thoughts for teachers:
Ideally this lesson plan would take place after some textbook reading /background knowledge on immigration in the 1800’s and 1900’s, or at least at a content place where immigration and migration knowledge is not brand new.
Also, come the presenting section, you may want to plan students presenting on Latin American women to present last, as their questions potentially lead to a rich all-class discussion on how this immigration history connects to policies and practices still affecting immigrant women in the United States today.
Lastly, please share and emphasize how these are only particular strands of the experiences of these groups. Below, small tidbits of the Chinese-American, Japanese-American, Puerto Rican-American, Mexican-American, Jewish-Polish-American, and German-American immigrant experience are shared from subjective sources. A reminder on the historiography of sources as non-neutral, and also on how “Asian-American”, for example, includes such a large swath of ethnicities and countries other than the two represented here, will only add greater complexity and fullness to student work.
Plan as a class
Examine the following excerpts from American laws as a class group on an overhead/screen/computers together. Take turns reading the laws out loud, asking any questions about clarity/vocabulary, and free-write any and all responses to what you hear and read as you do (judgment-free notes for you).
“That the importation into the United States of women for the purposes of prostitution is hereby forbidden; and all contracts and agreements in relation thereto, made in advance or in pursuance of such illegal importation and purposes, are hereby declared void; and whoever shall knowingly and willfully import, or cause any importation of, women into the United States for the purposes of prostitution, or shall knowingly or willfully hold, or attempt to hold, any woman to such purposes, in pursuance of such illegal importation and contract or agreement, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be imprisoned not exceeding five years and pay a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars.”
(think: who would this affect most? How do you think this was enforced? How did this affect women versus men?)
“That any American woman who marries a foreigner shall take the nationality of her husband. At the termination of the marital relation she may resume her American citizenship, if abroad, by registering as an American citizen within one year with a consul of the United States, or by returning to reside in the United States, or, if residing in the United States at the termination of the marital relation, by continuing to reside therein.”
(think: who would this affect most? How do you think this was enforced? How did this affect women versus men?)
“To expedite the admission to the United States of alien spouses and alien minor children of citizen members of the United States armed forces…alien spouses or alien children of United States citizens serving in, or having an honorable discharge certificate from the armed forces of the United States during the Second World War shall, if otherwise admissible under the immigration laws and if application for admission is made within three years of the effective date of this Act, be admitted to the United States”
(think: who would this affect most? How do you think this was enforced? How did this affect women versus men?)
Plan as individual groups/directions for students
Split up into three groups; each group will get a different ethnicity of women as their “research material”, either Asian American Women, Latin and Pacific American Women, or European American Women. Each group will engage with the following materials below, keeping a Google Doc of their notes, ideas, feedback, discussion, and most definitely, question responses. Each group will have ten questions to cover, with Google Doc evidence keeping track of each individual group member’s work as well. Feel free to spice it up with images, articles and more that may have inspired your understandings as you search the web to delve into what’s going on for these women. Dig in!!!
Each group will be sharing what you find with the rest of the class in a deconstructed “jigsaw”, explaining to them what this particular group may have been going through both as immigrants and women. Keep in mind how these laws might have affected that experience. Keep in mind, too, that as you investigate the worlds of these women, you will be responsible for informally presenting your Google Doc and question findings to class, representing the experiences of these immigrant women (diligence and respect rule here!), and aiming to answer the following main question:
How did immigrant women grapple with ideas of American womanhood? How did the existing American culture, and its legislation, either help or hurt this endeavor?
This work is discussion-based and also invites your personal response to the sources and most of all, what it might feel like to have been in the shoes of these women. However, remember to constantly support your ideas and thoughts with the class with evidence and details from the articles, photos, film clips, songs and more below. If there is something you want to know more about, you are the lead investigator here! Look it up! But you MUST mention any ideas that are not your own, and give credit to ideas that aren’t yours as you share later. Remember, every group member must say something! And these are representations of people’s lived experiences—handle with passion and care.
Asian American Women
…the following excerpt from Chapter 9 of Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, 1890
“Trust not him who trusts no one, is as safe a rule in Chinatown as out of it. Were not Mott Street overawed in its isolation, it would not be safe to descend this open cellar-way, through which come the pungent odor of burning opium and the clink of copper coins on the table. As it is, though safe, it is not profitable to intrude. At the first foot-fall of leather soles on the steps the hum of talk ceases, and the group of celestials, crouching over their game of fan tan, stop playing and watch the comer with ugly looks. Fan tan is their ruling passion. The average Chinaman, the police will tell you, would rather gamble than eat any day, and they have ample experience to back them. Only the fellow in the bunk smokes away, indifferent to all else but his pipe and his own enjoyment. It is a mistake to assume that Chinatown is honeycombed with opium “joints.” There are a good many more outside of it than in it. The celestials do not monopolize the pipe. In Mott Street there is no need of them. Not a Chinese home or burrow there, but has its bunk and its lay-out, where they can be enjoyed safe from police interference. The Chinaman smokes opium as Caucasians smoke tobacco, and apparently with little worse effect upon himself. But woe unto the white victim upon which his pitiless drug gets its grip!
The bloused pedlars who, with arms buried half to the elbow in their trousers’ pockets, lounge behind their stock of watermelon seed and sugar-cane, cut in lengths to suit the parse of the buyer, disdain to offer the barbarian their wares. Chinatown, that does most things by contraries, rules it holiday style to carry its hands in its pockets, and its denizens follow the fashion, whether in blue blouse, in gray, or in brown, with shining and braided pig-tail dangling below the knees, or with hair cropped short above a coat collar of “Melican” cut. All kinds of men are met, but no women–none at least with almond eyes. The reason is simple: there are none. A few, a very few, Chinese merchants have wives of their own color, but they are seldom or never seen in the street.
(courtesy of Gutenberg.org)
- How do you think Jacob Riis views the Chinese as a group of ethnic people? What evidence backs your view?
- Where, culturally and economically, do you think this view comes from? Why?
- How are white people in Chinatown, and even white women, described here? Is there an undertone of what is “white” womanhood versus Chinese womanhood?
- Riis mentions that Chinese “wives” or women are absent. Why do you think they are absent physically from the streets, and/or physically from the country?
- How do you think the Page Law affected this situation, culturally and legally?
Read and watch
…the following article and accompanying short clip about Japanese war brides post WWII who came to America.
- How do you think Japanese women viewed American GI’s that came to Japan?
- How do you think their relatives back in Japan viewed the “war brides’” relationship with Americans and move to America? Why?
- What processes of assimilation did these women have to go through once they arrived in America? How do you think they did so?
- Why do you think children of these “war brides” find it important to capture their mothers’ histories and make a film in their honor? What are their inspirations and goals here?
- How do you think the War Brides Act affected this situation, culturally and legally?
Latin and Pacific American Women
(and closely look at lyrics afterwards) the following excerpt of the song “America” from the film version of the 1957 musical West Side Story, (film, 1961)
My heart’s devotion—
Let it sink back in the ocean.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing,
And the money owing,
And the sunlight streaming,
And the natives steaming.
I like the island Manhattan—
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!
I like to be in America,
O.K. by me in America,
Everything free in America—
For a small fee in America
Buying on credit is so nice.
One look at us and they charge twice.
I’ll have my own washing machine.
What will you have, though, to keep clean?
Skyscrapers bloom in America.
Cadillacs zoom in America.
Industry boom in America.
Twelve in a room in America.
Lots of new housing with more space.
Lots of doors slamming in our face.
I’ll get a terrace apartment.
Better get rid of your accent.
ANITA AND THREE GIRLS
Life can be bright in America.
If you can fight in America.
Life is all right in America.
If you’re all-white in America.
(an interlude of WHISTLING and DANCING)
ANITA AND CONSUELO
Here you are free and you have pride.
Long as you stay on your own side.
Free to be anything you choose.
Free to wait tables and shine shoes.
Everywhere grime in America,
Organized crime in America,
Terrible time in America.
You forget I’m in America.
(An interlude of MORE DANCING)
I think I go back to San Juan
I know a boat you can get on.
Everyone there will give big cheer!
Everyone there will have moved here.
(lyrics courtesy of westsidestory.com)
- What are some reasons that the singers, the women especially, in the song are so excited to be in America? From their examples, how do you think America compares to their home of Puerto Rico? Give examples.
- Why are the men in the song singing lyrics so very different from the women’s comments? What does their perspective offer about their immigrant experience when it comes to expectations versus reality?
- How do you think immigrant women’s experiences could be different, as far as freedoms and rights, in America versus home countries they have left? Why?
…”To Live in the Borderlands” by Gloria Anzaldúa, 1987
To live in the borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra espanola
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from;
To live in the Borderlands means knowing that the india in you, betrayed for 500 years,
is no longer speaking to you,
the mexicanas call you rajetas, that denying the Anglo inside you
is as bad as having denied the Indian or Black;
Cuando vives en la frontera
people walk through you, the wind steals your voice,
you’re a burra, buey, scapegoat,
forerunner of a new race,
half and half-both woman and man, neither-a new gender;
To live in the Borderlands means to
put chile in the borscht,
eat whole wheat tortillas,
speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent;
be stopped by la migra at the border checkpoints;
Living in the Borderlands means you fight hard to
resist the gold elixir beckoning from the bottle,
the pull of the gun barrel,
the rope crushing the hollow of your throat;
In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have scattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back;
To live in the Borderlands means
the mill with the razor white teeth wants to shred off
your olive-red skin, crush out the kernel, your heart
pound you pinch you roll you out
smelling like white bread but dead;
To survive the Borderlands
you must live sin fronteras
be a crossroads.
(courtesy of poetrypower.org)
- What does the author say about immigrant identify? What do you think the Borderlands are, metaphorically?
- What process do you think the author is describing when she writes the following:
“To live in the Borderlands means to/put chile in the borscht/eat whole wheat tortillas/speak Tex-Mex with a Brooklyn accent”
- Why do you think the author talking about being a “stranger”? How would that feel and why?
- What is the “mill” and why does it want to change/hurt the skin and heart of the other?
- What made them feel like “white bread but dead”? What does that mean? Is there a way to try and ameliorate, or make better, that feeling for those on the “borderlands”?
- West Side Story came out in 1957; this poem is written in 1987. Online, can you find any legislation or laws that might have affected the ease and ways Latin American women have come to live in the United States in between that time period? Which ones and why?
- What does this poem say about the current experiences of immigrant women, and immigrants in general, in our country, both culturally and legally?
European American Women
…the following article, “This Is My Own, My Native Land”, which appeared February 9, 1919 in the New York Tribune written by Mira Edson Kohler.
- Which law is Mira Edson Kohler railing against in this article? Why does she perceive it as unfair/what does this law mean for her citizenship?
- Research the year women in New York State could vote, or have suffrage. Did this woman’s right to vote change because of the 1907 law?
- Is it possible her argument, station and voice different as a ‘white’ European woman versus a woman of another ethnicity? How and why?
- What is the message for women who married immigrants?
- What is the message about the role of marriage in women’s lives, no matter their status and ethnicity?
- Kohler asks at the end, “…if I am not to vote when it is the right of every citizen, then am I a citizen of this land? If not, what am I?”. Answer her question to the best of your ability.
…the following clip from the film Hester Street, made in 1975 but depicting 1900’s New York City and the transitions of a group of Polish-Jewish immigrants who live there. In this scene, Yankel, the now Americanized Jake, who has been in the country for some time, goes to get his Jewish wife Gitl and their son Yossele after their voyage from Poland to America.
- How does Jake’s dress and appearance differ from those on the other side of the ‘wall’ at Ellis Island? What surprises his wife Gitl the most about his appearance?
- What does the immigration officer ask about Gitl’s presence in America? What paperwork is required to get Gitl into America?
- Why does the officer not speak to her, and instead to Yankel/Jake only?
- What could explain the tension in the family once they are reunited? Why might Jake’s son not recognize him? Why might they have been separated in the first place?
Final notes for teachers:
After at least 45-60 minutes for students to work on their group work, they will share out for at least 10 minutes with the whole class.
If time allows, rich discussions on how this history connects to today’s immigration issues in the United States, and today’s treatment of women in the United States, should follow. Connecting back to that main question, ‘How did immigrant women grapple with ideas of American womanhood? How did the existing American culture, and its legislation, either help or hurt this endeavor?’ will help root the discussion.
As study guides/resources for each other, teachers can post and share student Google docs with the whole of class.
If a written assessment is desired to follow, the main discussion questions translates well into a three-body-paragraph essay, with one section/body paragraph exploring each immigrant women’s group experience culturally and legally.
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.”
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, equal protections, and due process for all legal residents.
This law prohibited the recruitment to the United States of unfree laborers and women for “immoral purposes” but was enforced primarily against 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.
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."
Under the principle that women assumed the citizenship of their husbands, this act stripped citizenship from U.S.-born women when they married noncitizen immigrant men.
After women gained suffrage with the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Congress swiftly enacted this law to restore citizenship to U.S.-born women who had married noncitizen husbands and thereby lost their citizenship under the Expatriation Act of 1907.
To further limit immigration, this law established extended "national origins" quotas, a highly restrictive and quantitatively discriminatory system. The quota system would remain the primary means of determining immigrants' admissibility to the United States until 1965.
Congress enacted exceptions to the national origins quotas imposed by the Immigration Act of 1924 in order to help World War II soldiers and veterans bring back foreign spouses and fiances they had met while serving in the military.
In contrast lawmakers' widespread indifference before World War II, after the war, under pressure from the White House and Department of State, Congress authorized admissions for refugees from Europe and permitted asylum seekers already in the U.S. to regularize their status.
The McCarran-Walter Act reformed some of the obvious discriminatory provisions in immigration law. While the law provided quotas for all nations and ended racial restrictions on citizenship, it expanded immigration enforcement and retained offensive national origins quotas.
Dissatisfaction with the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act inspired support for this legislation which provided 214,000 visas to refugees, primarily from Europe but with 5,000 designated for the Far East.
This law set the main principles for immigration regulation still enforced today. It applied a system of preferences for family reunification (75 percent), employment (20 percent), and refugees (5 percent) and for the first time capped immigration from the within Americas.
To address the problem of unauthorized immigration, Congress implemented through bipartisan agreement a multi-pronged system that provided amnesty for established residents, increased border enforcement, enhanced requirements of employers, and expanded guestworker visa programs.