The Immigration laws in US in 1920s

How the Immigration Changed the US in the 1920s

The 1920s season had remarkable changes in the society structure of America. Over 50% of Americans were now living in the cities, and the expanding accessibility of the automobile enhanced their movements. The period was an era of jazz, Charleston dance craze and flapper fashion. In the same period, moral values in Harlem were on the decline, the open immigration policy came-to an end, and a Tennessee high-school teacher was on trial for teaching evolution. There were approximately 25 million foreigners arriving on the American soils between 1880s and 1920s. In the late 19th and early 20th century, America came under an immigration surge. This surge was unique in its demographic, size and consequences upon the American society and culture.

National Origins and Immigration Restriction

In the 1920s, the congress passed the 1921 emergency quota act and the 1924 Immigration act, laws that were to limit the number of immigrants entering the country. The 1920s quota system significantly changed the American immigration policy. The 1920s brought an end to the greatest wave of immigration in the American history. This came amid of displeasure by the native-Americans about the immigration laws, and the turn immigration had taken. The U.S. got fed-up and became hesitant to accept vast hordes of immigrants. This became evident in the migration quota laws of 1921, 1924 and 1929 act. This led to a dramatic drop of immigrants to about 150,000. The rules established a new National Origins System that developed distinct quotas for immigration from each country. The laws were selective and preferred more immigrants from the northern and western Europe instead of from the southern and eastern Europe. This action radically curbed one of the greatest population movements in the world’s history (Graham 2008, p14-16).

The Peak of the Urban Ethnic Enclave

Repatriation among the new immigrants did not bar them from settling in U.S., and this did increase the foreign-born people in America. According to the 1920 and 1930 census approximately 15% of the population was foreign-born while the rest over 85% were native born citizens. Furthermore, it was clear that the majority of immigrants were the major occupants of key cities like New York, San Franciscans and Chicagoan. This fact brought fears natives and thought of a foreign invasion on their major cities (Shmoop 2010, p12-17).

Immigrants in these cities tended to assemble together with their compatriots, creating a period of urban racial enclave.” The immigrants with less or no English lived together with their countrymen and formed close-tie communities, which promoted ethnic markets, shops, clubs, banks cinemas and even ethnic radio stations that broadcasted in their vernacular. However, these ethnic institutions lost their grasp on ethnic population with the emergence of America mass culture during the 1920. The factors that saw the creation a common ground that surpassed ethnic borders in America’s cities include the national radio broadcast and the Hollywood motion pictures that took-place for the first time (Shmoop 2010, p12-17).

The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance

The patterns of immigration and settlement witnessed by the New Immigrants were in somehow mirrored by those of black-Americans. World War 1 created more job opportunities, leading to a high migration of African-American from the rural south to the urban north. In the northern cities, the blacks established their own ethnic society, different from their fellow immigrants. Harlem in New York later became a center for African American. The venue saw a growth of a legendary, creative, musical and political scene that was so pulsating, and became known as Harlem Renaissance. Later the blacks rallied support around Marcus Garvey to form the Universal Negro Improvement Association. This was the first political movement to cause debates on American soils. Furthermore, Louis Armstrong came-up with new music known as Jazz music while Langston Hughes and Claude McKay displayed their talents in writing. Through their talents, they changed the human culture, particularly the American literature (Shmoop 2010, p10).

Nativist Backlash

The emergence of large groups of immigrants stimulated criticisms among the native-born Americans for fear of loosing their cities to invaders. After the arrival of the new immigrants, majority of American population, above 60%, could trace their ancestry back to either Germany or British isle. The Native Americans who were mostly protestant used to underestimate the new immigrants who were either Jewish or catholic by referring them as “members of lesser races.” These new immigrants, in the minds of native-born Americans, were indiscipline and lived immoral lifestyles with no ethics. Therefore, it was dangerous to allow them participate in an election exercise as they would be used in advancing corrupt leaders or “radical troublemakers”. The new immigrants, therefore, led to a rebirth of Nativism as a reaction to the hostility they received to their arrival on the American shore. (Shmoop 2010, p10).

Americanization Campaigns Stir the Melting Pot

The most compassionate effort by the Nativist towards the New Immigrants came in the form of aggressive “Americanization” crusade. These efforts were to remodel the immigrants to be good Americans through education, work and social reforms. The movement’s leader was Henry Ford whose main goal was to teach these immigrants English language, the right ways to live and the American lifestyles. He forced his immigrant workers, who worked at his automotive factories, to take Americanization course. He even arranged an “ornate pageant where workers dressed in outlandish versions of their countries’ native costume descended into a giant melting pot, only to come from the other direction wearing suits and waving American flags.” His efforts got support from the firm’s sociological Department, which adopted a coercive approach to assimilate the New Immigrants. The department was responsible for supervising the workers and if any worker who failed to uphold the middle-class American lifestyle was to be fired (Shmoop 2010, p10).


Graham, Otis L. 2008. Immigration reform and America’s unchosen future. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.

Shmoop University Inc. 2010. The 1920s. [Sunnyvale, Calif.]: Shmoop University Inc.{2F29C181-25CF-4CD8-9BB0-A0180D607E31}HYPERLINK “″&HYPERLINK “″Format=410.

University of Groningen. 2012. American History from Revolution to Reconstruction and beyond: America in the 1920s. Humanities Computing.