Key Immigration Dates

The following are some important dates throughout the history of immigration in the United States.

July 4, 1776- The Declaration of Independence is adopted. Fifty-six men, including eight who are foreign born, eventually sign it.

September 17, 1787- The Constitution of the United States of America is signed.

March 26, 1790- The Naturalization Act of 1790 establishes a uniform rule of naturalization and a two-year residency requirement for aliens who are “free white persons” of “good moral character”

December 15, 1791- The Bill of Rights to the Constitution is ratified. Individual Freedoms are protected.

1840s- Social turbulence triggered by the rapid industrialization of European society, political unrest in Europe, and the Irish Potato Famine (1845–1851) lead to a new period of mass immigration to the United States.

1848- The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ends the Mexican-American War and extends citizenship to the approximately 80,000 Mexicans living in Texas, California, and the American Southwest.

1850- For the first time, the United States Census surveys the “nativity” of citizens (born inside or outside the US).

1882- The Immigration Act of 1882 levies a tax of 50 cents on all immigrants landing at US ports and makes several categories of immigrants ineligible for citizenship, including “lunatics” and people likely to become public charges.

October 28, 1886- France gives the Statue of Liberty to the United States as a gift of friendship. She becomes America’s symbol for freedom.

1892-1932- Ellis Island, in New York Harbor, serves as the main immigration station. About 40% of Americans can trace their ancestry through it.

1905-1914- Over 10 million immigrants enter the United States, the largest ever for a ten-year period.

1906- The Naturalization Act of 1906 standardizes naturalization procedures, makes some knowledge of the English language a requirement for citizenship, and establishes the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization in the Commerce Department to oversee national immigration policy.

1910-1940- Angel Island, in San Francisco Bay, serves as the main immigration station on the west coast of the United States.

1917- Congress enacts a literacy requirement for immigrants by overriding President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The law requires immigrants to be able to read 40 words in some language and bans immigration from Asia, except for Japan and the Philippines.

1921- The Emergency Quota Act restricts immigration from a given country to 3% of the number of people from that country living in the US in 1910.

1924- The Border Patrol is created to combat smuggling and illegal immigration.

1940- The Alien Registration Act requires the registration and fingerprinting of all aliens in the United States over the age of 14.

1965- The Immigration Act of 1965 ends the quota system. The number of immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean greatly increases.

1986- The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 allows most illegal aliens, who have resided in the U.S. continuously since January 1 of 1982, to apply for legal status and prohibits employers from hiring illegal aliens

October 1, 2008- New naturalization exam introduced.