The Immigration Law of 1907
In the first session of the Fifty-ninth Congress, following the popular demand for the further regulation of alien immigration, several bills were introduced and bills were passed by both the Senate and House, but were not finally enacted into law until the second session of that Congress.
A bill introduced by Senator Dillingham, of Vermont, which provided for some important administrative changes in the immigration act of 1903, was reported from the Senate committee, March 29, 1906.
This bill, as reported, proposed several changes in the law. The head tax on immigrants was increased from $2 to $5; imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, unaccompanied children under 17 years of age, and persons "who are found to be and are certified by the examining surgeon as being mentally or physically defective, such mental or physical defect being of a nature which may affect the ability of such aliens to earn a living," were added to the excluded classes.
The provision of existing law excluding prostitutes was amended to include "women or girls coming into the United States for the purpose of prostitution, or for any other immoral purpose"; steamship companies were required to furnish lists of outgoing passengers; and the creation of a division of information in the Bureau of Immigration was authorized.
In the Senate the bill was amended by the insertion of a literacy test which provided for the exclusion from the United States of "all persons over sixteen years of age and physically capable of reading, who cannot read the English language or some other language; but an admissible immigrant or a person now in or hereafter admitted to this country may bring in or send for his wife, his children under 18 years of age, and his parents or grandparents over fifty years of age, if they are otherwise admissible, whether they are able to read or not."
The bill as amended, passed the Senate May 23, 1906, and in the House, was referred to the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization. This committee recommended the substitution of a House bill which, however, did not differ materially from that of the Senate. The head tax provision was the same, and the additions to the excluded classes practically so.
Literacy Test Included
A literacy test similar to that of the Senate was also included. The bill as originally reported by the House committee also provided for the exclusion of every adult male who had not $25 in his possession, and every female alien and every male alien under 16 years of age not possess of $15, provided that $50 in the possession of the head of the family would be considered a sufficient amount for all members of such family, except grown sons.
In a subsequent bill and report, presented June 11, 1906, however, the money qualification feature was omitted. The reports of the House Committee were accompanied by a minority report, signed by two members of the committee, Mr. Bennet and Mr. Ruppert, both of New York, in which the increased head tax and the educational test provisions were disagreed to.
In the House of Representatives, the bill was amended by striking out the increased head-tax provision and the provision for a literacy test, by inserting a section creating the Immigration Commission, and by adopting the so-called Littauer amendment, which provided as follows:
That an immigrant who proves that he is seeking admission to this country solely to avoid prosecution or punishment on religious or political grounds, for any offense of a political character, or prosecution involving danger of punishment, or danger to life or limb on account of religious belief, shall not be deported because of want of means or the probability of his being unable to earn a livelihood.
In conference between the two Houses the Senate receded from its provision relative to a literacy test; the House receded from the Littauer amendment; the head-tax provision was compromised by making it $4 instead of $5, as provided by the Senate, and $2 as provided by the House.
Creation of the Immigration Commission
The House amendment creating the Immigration Commission was agreed to with an amendment, which provided that the Commission should consist of three Senators, three members of the House of Representatives, and three persons to be appointed by the President of the United States; instead of two Senators, three members of the House, and two citizen members, as was provided in the House amendment.
The Commission was directed to make a complete investigation and to report its findings to Congress. The President was also authorized at his discretion to call an international conference for the purpose of regulating immigration.
The conferees also added a new section (Sec. 42) to the bill amending Section 1 of the passenger act of 1882 relative to air space allotted steerage passengers, and amended Section 1 of the immigration bill under consideration by inserting the following provision:
That whenever the President shall be satisfied that passports issued by any foreign government to its citizens to go to any country other than the United States, or to any insular possession of the United States, or to the Canal Zone, are being used for the purpose of enabling the holders to come to the continental territory of the United States to the detriment of labor conditions therein, the President may refuse to permit such citizens of the country issuing such passports to enter the continental territory of the United States from such other country or from such insular possessions or from the Canal Zone.
Later this provision of law was utilized for the purpose of excluding Japanese and Korean laborers from the United States. This bill was approved February 20. 1907. and is the present law upon the subject of immigration.
Jeremiah W. Jenks, Ph.D., LL.D. and W. Jett Lauck, A.B., "The Immigration Law of 1907" In The Immigration Problem, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1912, P. 310-313.