In an ironic contradiction, contrary to the inscription on the Statute of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” immigrants have not historically been treated very well in the United States. Immigrants (particularly those from southern and eastern Europe) were the object of scorn by “native” Americans. The following quotes reflect the bigotry and prejudice that has existed against immigrants of all kinds in many eras:

  • “The scum of creation has been dumped on us. The most dangerous and corrupting hordes of the Old World have invaded us. The vice and crime which they have planted in our midst are sickening and terrifying.” (This Fabulous Century, 1, p. 72, quoting native-born politician Thomas Watson.)
  • It was thought that our Anglo-Saxon culture was threatened by the “historically downtrodden, atavistic and stagnant races arriving from overseas.” (Reader’s Digest, “The Story of America,” p. 329.) Nativist poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich noted, “Wide open and unguarded stand our gates, and through them presses a wild motley throng.” (Id., p.330.)

In the late 1800s through the 1930s, Congress passed various pieces of legislation to regulate, and, in some instances, prohibit immigration. In 1882, immigration from China was prohibited by the Chinese Exclusion Act. In 1907, the Gentlemen’s Agreement barred Japanese from entering the country, and in 1924 Japanese residents were made ineligible for citizenship. (The Story of America, p. 330.) In 1917, Congress passed a literacy test requirement for voting over the veto of President Wilson. (Id.) In 1921 and 1924, Congress passed immigration quota laws that limited foreign newcomers to a small percentage of people from their particular country that lived in the United States in 1890. (Id.)