Early 20th Century Immigration

  • Early 20th century saw a massive influx of immigrants into the USA mainly from Europe. They were attracted by the American Dream and prospects of a better life.
  • Arrival destinations like Ellis Island and Angel Island processed millions of immigrants. These locations served as points of entry and also enforced health and legal checks on the immigrants.
  • This period witnessed a significant rise in the country’s multiculturalism, creating a ‘melting pot’ of cultures. However, this also led to increased societal tension and xenophobia.

Immigration Laws and Restrictions

  • As a response to the influx of immigrants and developing societal tension, the USA implemented several immigration restrictions.
  • The 1917 Immigration Act introduced a literacy test, meaning immigrants had to demonstrate basic reading comprehension in their native language.
  • The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants based on nationality, creating quotas designed to favour Northern and Western Europeans.
  • The National Origins Act of 1924 further limited the annual number of immigrants. It lowered the quota from 3% to 2% of each nationality’s population in the US in 1890, thus discriminating against Eastern and Southern Europeans.

Impact on Society and Economy

  • Immigrants had a significant impact on the American workforce, especially in industries like steel, meatpacking, and textile manufacturing. They often accepted lower wages and worked under harsh conditions.
  • Immigrants played a crucial part in the USA’s economic growth, fuelling industrial development and contributing to the country’s wealth.
  • On the downside, immigrants were often targets of discrimination and prejudice. They were viewed as job stealers and a threat to American values, leading to friction and conflict within society.

Role of Immigration in the 1920s

  • The 1920s was a period marked by deep-seated fear of immigration, commonly known as the ‘Red Scare’. This came from the fear of radical political ideologies brought by immigrants, especially after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.
  • Anti-immigration sentiment led to negative stereotypes and discrimination against immigrants. This led to hostility and sometimes violence, such as the Sacco and Vanzetti case.
  • Despite facing considerable challenges, immigrant communities strengthened their identities, preserving their cultural practices and traditions. They also made significant contributions to the culture and diversity of American society.