Why did immigration to the United States decline in the 1920s and in the 1930s?
There are a few reasons that explain why immigration to the United States declined in the 1920s and in the 1930s. The main reason had to do with the passage of anti-immigration legislation by Congress in the 1920s.
Americans were becoming more concerned with the growing number of immigrants entering our country from South and East Europe between 1880-1920. These people spoke different languages and had different customs than the people who had come to the United States in the first wave of immigration from North and West Europe between 1820-1860. After World War I ended, there were a lot of strikes and some people feared that the Communists were trying to take over our country. As a result, there was a growing push to limit immigration, especially immigration from South and East Europe. Anti-immigrant groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, also pushed the idea of restricting immigration.
There were two anti-immigration laws passed in the 1920s. In 1921, The Emergency Quota Act was passed. This law allowed three percent of the number of people from a given country who were already in the United States in 1910 to come to our country. Since North and West Europeans had been coming for a longer period of time, this law favored people from those regions in Europe. However, it also restricted immigration significantly.
In 1924, the National Origins Act was passed. This law restricted immigration further because it allowed only two percent of the number of people from a given country who were already in our country in 1890 to enter the country. Since people from South and East Europe had just started coming to the United States in significant numbers in the 1880s, the law significantly reduced immigration in general and especially from South and East Europe. This law also greatly reduced immigration from Asia because there was a clause in the law that prevented any person from entering who was ineligible for citizenship. This greatly impacted people from Asia who weren’t allowed to become naturalized citizens from 1790-1870.
During the Great Depression, the anti-immigration laws continued to restrict immigration. The effects of the Great Depression also made it harder for people to come to the United States since conditions here weren’t very good.
There are reasons why immigration to the United States declined in the 1920s and in the 1930s.
The United States was one of the few countries to emerge from World War I stronger than when it went in, and given the shape that Europe was in at that time, America looked like an even more attractive place to move to than before the war. But between 1880 and 1920, millions of people had already immigrated from Europe, especially Italy, Poland, Germany and Ireland.
So in the 1920s, a serious backlash against immigration occurred. The Ku Klux Klan re-emerged, now hating Catholics, foreigners and Jews as well as blacks, and by 1925 had over 4 million members (!!). Politicians were elected to restrict immigration and they did, passing the Immigration Act of 1924, and the Emergency Quota Act in 1921. Both put limits, or quotas, on the number of people from each country that could move to the US in one year, and they slammed the door on Asian immigration with a yearly quota of zero allowed.
You are exactly right about the 1930s, as fewer opportunities in a Great Depression America meant fewer attempts to immigrate. On top of this, the US adopted a policy of deporting Mexican fieldworkers so there would be more jobs available for desperate Americans, but it barely made a dent in what quickly became a 25% unemployment rate (compared to 8.6% today).