Legitimizing the 1924 Immigration Act

In his article advocating a moratorium on immigration, Nicholas von Hoffmann writes:

After the first World War, immigration to the United States was drastically cut back, and it stayed cut back for about 25 years until after World War II. You might call it the Grand Pause after the previous 45 or 50 years during which immigrants poured into the country by the millions.

The reasons Congress all but ended immigration in the 1920’s had nothing to do with any thought of a planned caesura in the inflow of alien arrivals, but, regardless, the Grand Pause brought with it beneficial effects no one foresaw. It gave the nation a chance to digest the huge new addition to the population it had already received and it gave the millions who had arrived during the previous half century the time to assimilate.

While von Hoffman correctly points out that the purpose of the 1924 Act was not to have a pause in immigration to help immigrants assimilate, he diplomatically remains silent on what the actual purpose of the Act was: to maintain the then existing ethnic composition of the U.S. It accomplished this by means of a quota on the number of immigrants from each country proportional to the percentage of the American population represented by people of that national origin. It has been conventional wisdom since the 1960s that the 1924 Act was a disgraceful chapter in American history. The fact that a liberal writer like von Hoffman is using the 1924 Act as his model for us to follow today, even if on the basis of a somewhat different rationale, indicates—as I said of Peggy Noonan’s recent call for an immigration moratorium—a revolution in consciousness.

The 1924 Act drastically reduced the European immigration of that time including that of Jews and was fiercely opposed by Jewish organizations until the national quotas were overturned by Congress in 1965. I, a person of Jewish origin, have repeatedly written that the 1924 Act was among the most beneficial laws in our nation’s history, helping create the harmonious and confident American society that existed through the mid 20th century. Some years ago Harvard sociologist Nathan Glazer, a Jew and immigrants’ son who grew up in poverty in this country, also acknowledged that the 1924 Act helped end ethnic strife and was beneficial to America.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 18, 2007 01:06 PM | Send

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