The Progressive Era was the period of time in United States from the 1890s to the 1920s. Also known as the Gilded Age, this era is associated with the progressive reform movement, which was influential in empowering small businesses, discouraging monopolies and encouraging participation of the average person in the political process. Nationalism also increased during this time along with resentment, discrimination and prejudice against immigrants. Even though America was a land of immigrants, federal laws were passed in 1862 to limit immigration of targeted groups.
Chinese Exclusion Act
Before 1882, there were few restrictions to legal immigration in the United States. In 1882, on the cusp of the Progressive Era, the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Politicians sought to placate citizens who claimed they coudn't find good paying jobs because employers were hiring Chinese immigrants who were willing to work substandard wages. The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese laborers from immigrating to the United States for 10 years. In 1892, this act was renewed for an additional 10 years by the Geary Act. This act was made permanent in 1902, excluding almost all Chinese immigrants until the 1920s, according to the Our Documents website, produced by the National Archives and Records Administration.
Progressive Era Immigration
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a dramatic increase in the number of Southern and Eastern European immigrants to the United States. By 1900, the United States had 11 million citizens who were foreign-born. In 1907, the Immigration Commission was set up by the United States Congress. The commission, with Senator William P. Dillingham of Vermont as chairman, was formed to investigate the immigration situation in the United States.
Immigration Literacy Act of 1917
The Dillingham Commission reported to Congress that immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe was endangering the American society and economy. In response to this investigation, Congress Passed the Immigration Act of 1917. This law required immigrants to pay an $8 tax per person. The law also required all immigrants over the age of 16 to pass a literacy exam. Further, the act also prohibited almost all immigration from Asian nations. Opponents of the bill argued that excluding those from Asiatic countries and requiring literacy tests was racially motivated and bigoted. The act also sought to limit the influx of individuals who were mentally challenged, mentally ill, addicts or criminals.
The Quota Act of 1921
At the end of the Progressive Era, Congress passed the Quota Act of 1921. This act limited the number of immigrants from various areas. Around 350,000 immigrants were allowed from Europe. Almost no immigrants were allowed from Asian countries. The quotas were based upon the proportion of immigrants in the United States at the time of the act. Consequently, the number of immigrants fell significantly. In later years, the law was amended to expand immigration to those with special skills and family ties to the U.S.