Politics, Moderate



On immigration, taking a lesson from 1924

Joe Guzzardi on

A century ago, President Calvin Coolidge signed the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act, also known as the Immigration Act of 1924, which precipitated a two-generation-long pause in mass migration.

Upon Coolidge’s signature, multiple benefits to citizen workers ensued immediately. Immigration dropped from 707,000 in 1924 to 294,000 in 1925. Within a year, more than 400,000 fewer job seekers entered the U.S. During the next 45 years, the same time length as the Great Wave which lasted from 1870 to 1924, immigration averaged 200,000 annually, dramatically less than earlier totals.

The immigration pause meant that those who arrived during the Great Wave had time to assimilate into a stronger, more cohesive nation. Monetary benefits – higher wages – accrued to blue-collar workers, and especially to Black laborers who prospered at an even faster rate than their white contemporaries.

Black American leaders have been historically onboard with significant immigration reductions. Of course they are. Basic economics 101 dictates that a tight labor supply is good for workers. When the 1924 act cut off the large supply of foreign-born labor, employers had nowhere to turn except to American workers who they had previously underpaid and subjected to often abysmal on-the-job conditions. And without Congress authorizing a continuous stream of foreign labor into eastern and Mid-Atlantic factories and steel mills, roughly six million southern Blacks migrated north to take advantage of newly created job opportunities.

W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the 1929 issue of the NAACP magazine The Crisis that the 1924 legislation's "stopping…the importing of cheap white labor on any terms has been the economic salvation of American Black labor."

In 2020, the Brookings Institution issued a paper titled “Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap” that chronicled U.S. history’s multiple examples of Black earnings being denied before it had a chance to grow and create generational wealth. At the time of the Brookings’ study’s publication, median Black household wealth was less than six percent of white wealth. Black households, Brookings found, had too few net assets to withstand even temporary financial setbacks. A major cause that prevented Blacks from moving up the economic ladder was more than fifty years of high immigration that began with the Hart-Cellar Immigration Act of 1965, which loosened labor markets and kicked off another immigration Great Wave which endures today.

One hundred years after Coolidge, immigration is more contentious than at any other point in American history. President Joe Biden’s immigration agenda represents the worst of worlds. Millions of unvetted illegal immigrants, of which a significant percentage are working age males, have crossed the U.S. border apparently with few marketable skills in today’s technology-oriented society. Most seem to have come to the U.S. in need of affirmative benefits, or perhaps the benefits were the incentive.

The consequences of Biden’s welcome-the-world immigration agenda are reflected in the Census’ report that the U.S.’s foreign-born population hit 46.2 million (13.9 percent) of the overall population in 2022, an all-time high. In 1970, the foreign-born numbered 9.6 million (4.7 percent) of the total U.S. population.


The Center for Immigration Studies compiled the data which it collected from publicly available federal statistics. Too many people arriving in too short a period strains vital social services like medical care and education and depletes irreplaceable natural resources like water and agricultural land, exactly the outcome that the 1924 legislation prevented.

Because it imposed national quotas that favored northern Europeans and excluded other nations, the 1924 act was flawed. But its intention to reduce immigration to manageable levels was not. The 1924 Congress expressed the noble desire that the nation grow at a slower, more sustainable pace and that its citizens’ needs be prioritized. Since Biden and his inside circle have different, nefarious objectives, legislation like the Immigration Act of 1924 won’t happen during what remains of the president’s term.

Even truly securing the border may be too much to hope for, but it would be a good starting point.


Copyright 2024 Joe Guzzardi, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joe Guzzardi is an Institute for Sound Public Policy analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at jguzzardi@pfirdc.org.

Copyright 2024 Joe Guzzardi, All Rights Reserved. Credit: Cagle.com



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