Chicano History Month #2

The below slice of a longer historical primary source is offered to you for your learning pleasure as part of this year’s “Latino Heritage Month.”

Today, we have a brief excerpt from a letter written from the Secretary of Labor to an influential Representative in the Congress, in 1924. In that year, the Congress passed the most sweeping reform to immigration law in US history. The Johnson-Reed Act (Immigration Act of 1924) tightened up the immigration quota system first reflected in legislation in 1921. As a result, the US set quotas for the allowable number of immigrants from a given nation. The numbers were set based on their share of the US population in the 1890 Census. This meant that immigrants from England and Germany would be ore numerous than those from Italy and Greece. Other legislation of the time also forbade outright immigrants from Asia. Interestingly, Mexicans and other Latin Americans were exempt. The following letter expresses some concern about the movement of Mexican nationals into the US while also reflecting the reason for the exemption.


SOURCE: From a letter from Hon. James J. Davis, Secretary of Labor, to Hon. Cyrenus Cole, House of Representatives, United States Congress, April 15, 1924.

“On May 22, 1917, the United States Secretary of Labor issued an order instructing immigration officials on the Mexican border to disregard the literacy test, the contract-labor section, and the head-tax provision of the immigration law with reference to the coming of Mexican people who were to engage as workmen in agricultural pursuits. This order remained in force until March 2, 1921, or until within two days of the passing out of the Wilson administration. I have never been able to find out how many people came in under that provision.”

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