Date: Enacted on August 3, 1882
Significance: Setting the basic course of United States immigration law and policy, the Immigration Act of 1882 established categories of foreigners deemed "undesirable" for entry and gave the U.S. secretary of the treasury authority over immigration enforcement.
The 1882 Immigration Act was the first comprehensive immigration law enacted by the federal government. As such, it would have enormous consequences for future immigration legislation. The act built the framework for federal oversight over immigration and delineated categories of "undesirables" who would be barred entry to the United States. Through the first century of American independence, immigration had been relatively open, with only occasional oversight and restrictions imposed by individual states. By the 1870's, however, increasing pressure was brought to bear against immigrants, especially Chinese laborers in California. In 1875, Congress passed the Page Law, which served to reduce immigration of women fromAsia. Overall immigration continued to increase, however, with the year 1882 seeing the largest number of immigrants in American history: 788,992 persons. In response, Congress passed two historic immigration acts. The first was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, suspending immigration of Chinese laborers.