The 'Open Door' policy and immigration, to 1928

The ‘Open Door’ policy and immigration, to 1928

‘Open Door’ Policy and Immigration to 1928


  • The ‘Open Door’ policy was a fundamental part of US immigration policy until the 1920s.
  • This policy allowed virtually unrestricted immigration into the United States.
  • It was based on the belief that immigrants were crucial for the country’s economic growth and for maintaining a diverse population.

Impact of World War I

  • Post-World War I, sentiment began to shift against the ‘Open Door’ policy.
  • A rising tide of nativism and xenophobia, in part due to worries about competition for jobs and cultural changes, fuelled this shift.
  • Large numbers of European immigrants coming to the US in the wake of World War I were sometimes viewed as a potential security threat.

Legislation Changes

  • The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 marked the end of the ‘Open Door’ policy, implementing quotas on immigration for the first time.
  • Each nationality received a quota based on its representation in the US population in the 1910 census.
  • This was followed by the Immigration Act of 1924 (Johnson-Reed Act), further restricting immigration and changing the basis of the quotas to the 1890 census.
  • These laws significantly favoured Western and Northern European immigrants, leading to a drastic decrease in immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

Rise of the Klu Klux Klan

  • The 1920s also saw a significant rise in the influence of the Klu Klux Klan, a white supremacist group.
  • The Klan was widely supported by those who felt threatened by the cultural changes stemming from immigration.
  • Their influence further contributed to the restrictive changes in immigration policy during this period.

Impact on Civil Rights

  • These restrictive changes in immigration policy sowed the seeds for civil rights issues that would come to the forefront in later decades.
  • They maintained and exacerbated racial and ethnic inequalities within the US.
  • Many of the immigrants affected by these policies would, in due course, become active in the struggle for civil rights.