The United States National Origins Bill
ONE of the major issues that will have to be faced by Congress during the present special session is the proposed National Origins Bill. Up to 1924 the United States had not become vitally concerned over the immigra- tion issue. It is true that there was an Immigration Act in force, butit allowed some three hundred and fifty thousand people to enter America annually as immigrants, and the American people was satisfied with it. But in the years just preceding 1924 public opinion in America had undergone two marked changes. There was first of all a reaction against the doctrine that a country should open its dogs wide to any stranger. America was a free country--certainly—but the interests of American citizens were its first consideration. If the immigrants were going to do any harm to American citizens they must not be allowed in. Once they got in, they might acquire all the benefits of a free country, but America's gift of freedom, " the priceless gift of American citizen- ship," did not extend beyond her borders. Internationalism was in fact replaced by a very strong nationalism. The question then arose, did immigrants do any harm to the people already in America ? And here it is that the second change in America occurred.She became suddenly desperately afraid of immigrants. She woke up to the fact that they were pouring in unchecked, and that very soon the original Anglo-Saxon stock on which she prided herself would form but a small per- centage of her total population. To preserve that stock became the most important duty of the nation. Groups were formed solely to encourage the preservation of the original stock of America, and bodies which had previously not concerned themselves much with the question now made it the principal plank in their platforms. " The country will be mined if the Bill is not passed "—" It will be split up into various small countries like Europe —" It will be governed by foreigners," were some of the battle cries. And so the Immigration Act of 1924, limiting the number of immigrants in one year to one hundred and sixty-four thousand six hundred and sixty-seven, was passed. The quota was for the present to be based on the number of people living in America in 1890 who had been born in each foreign country. Thus, to Germany, whose greatest period of immigration had been during the thirty odd years preceding 1890, was allotted by far the biggest quota, since there were more .German born Citizens in America in that year than any other foreign born Americans. Next to Germany came Great Britain and Northern Ireland (34,007), while the Irish Free State had practically as large a quota (28,567). No other country had more than one sixth of the British quota.
The year 1890 was obviously purely arbitrary, and could not be taken as a permanent basis. It was sug- gested by some people, especially the Italians and other Southern European States, that the year 1920 would be a good year. This year would give Italy the largest quota of any country (32,525) and Poland and Russia would have very nearly as big quotas as Great Britain and Germany. The futility of taking any individual year as a basis for determining what quota each country shall have is at once apparent. If there was a sudden influx of Armenians just before 1930, and that year should be taken as the basis, the Arrnenian quota would be bigger than any other. However, no doubt the whole weight of Italian opinion will be exerted to get the 1920 basis established.
But in the 1924 Act it had been arranged that a committee was to work out a system of quotas based on National Origins. Instead of one year being taken as a basis the whole period from 1790 to 1920 was to be considered. If 45 per cent. of the population of the United States to-day is of British origin, the new British quota will be 45 per cent. of the total number of immi- grants admitted into the United States annually. That total will be reduced from 164,667 to 153,658, but the actual reduction is not so important as the principle that origins or ancestry and not birth shall be the deter- mining factor. The committee appointed has worked out its figures, but the Act has been twice postponed On the first of July, however, it is due to come into operation automatically, unless Congress further defers it. It is reported that the Germans (who get only 24,908 instead of 51,227 under the old Act) voted for Mr. Hoover on the understanding that he would oppose the National Origins Bill, so that it is just possible that he may experience some trouble from the German population of America. But this is all rather hypo- thetical. There are some people here, however, including one of the members of Mr. Hoover's Cabinet, who con- sider that the Bill may be indefinitely postponed.
There is just one more important point about the Act. It does not apply in any way to the Japanese or Chinese, whose position will be the same as before if the Act is passed. Only white and African races are included in it, and whether it becomes the law of the land or not the United States will still have to face the eternal question of Japanese immigration.