Michele Bachmann: U.S. Immigration ‘Worked Very, Very Well’ Under The Asian Exclusion Act

In 1924, Congress passed a package of immigration laws — including the National Origins Act and the Asian Exclusion Act — establishing a quota system giving preferential treatment to European immigrants. Under these laws, the number of immigrants who could be admitted from a given country was capped at a percentage of the number of people from that nation who were living in the United States in 1890. Because Americans were overwhelmingly of European descent in 1890, the practical effect of these laws was an enormous thumb on the scale encouraging white immigration.

These quotas were eliminated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, an act which is widely credited for opening up our nation to new Americans of Asian and Central and South American descent. At last night’s CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential candidates’ debate, however, Bachmann claimed this decision to eliminate our past, misguided immigration policy was a big mistake.

The immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws. What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket, legally, with sponsors so that if anything happens to them they don’t fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them.

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It’s worth noting that the 1924 laws that Bachmann believes to have worked so very well singled out certain people for particularly harsh treatment. As immigration scholar Roger Daniels explains:

1924 law also barred “aliens ineligible to citizenship” — reflecting the fact that American law had, since 1870, permitted only “white persons” and those “of African descent” to become naturalized citizens. The purpose of this specific clause was to keep out Japanese, as other Asians had been barred already.

It is anyone’s guess why Bachmann thinks America was better off when our immigration policy actively fought to maintain the nation’s white majority and wrote Asians out of the American story.


It’s worth noting that the ban on Japanese immigrants was weakened in 1952 by the McCarran-Walter Act, but that act only established “token quotas for Asian immigration” that still excluded Asians from meaningful access to the American immigration system.