On February 5, 1917, Congress passed into law the Immigration Act of 1917, which President Woodrow Wilson had vetoed in late 1916. Rather than simply regulating immigration, this was the first bill to impose restrictions on who could enter the United States generally.
Controversial among the new restrictions was the inclusion of residents of what was termed in the act as the “Asiatic Barred Zone,” which stretched from the Middle East, across India and parts of Russian and eastern China, to the islands of Indonesia. This sweeping legislation expanded greatly upon the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
In addition, the act also detailed the types of people further prohibited from entering the U. S. in language as follows:
All idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons; persons who have had one or more attacks of insanity at any time previously; persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority; persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers; professional beggars; vagrants; persons afflicted with tuberculosis in any form or with a loathsome or dangerous contagious disease; persons not comprehended within any of the foregoing excluded classes . . . persons who have been convicted of or admit having committed a felony or other crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude; polygamists, or persons who practice polygamy or believe in or advocate the practice of polygamy; anarchists, or persons who believe in or advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the Government of the United States . . .
The Immigration Act of 1917, along with its sister legislation, the Immigration Act of 1924 (also called the Johnson-Reed Act), was completely revised with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
HSP contains numerous resources on the history of immigration, (The Immigrant Experience: Faith, Hope & the Golden Door [call number E184.A1 W2n]), immigration and Philadelphia (City of Immigrants [call number E 169.1 .C58 v.25 no.7]), and immigration and ethnicity (Immigrant Mothers: Narratives of Race and Maternity, 1890-1925 [call number HQ1419.I75 2000]), among other similar topics. HSP also collects manuscript collections concerning immigrants, such as the Garden State Immigration History Consortium records (MSS174), and the South Asian Immigrants in the Philadelphia Area Oral History Project (Collection 3211).
Other materials documenting immigrant and ethnic experiences are found in HSP's Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies collection.