Mass Immigration and WWI
The Immigration Service continued evolving as the United States experienced rising immigration during the early years of the 20th century. Between 1900 and 1920 the nation admitted over 14.5 million immigrants.
Concerns over mass immigration and its impact on the country began to change Americans’ historically open attitude toward immigration. Congress strengthened national immigration law with new legislation in 1903 and 1907. Meanwhile, a Presidential Commission investigated the causes of massive emigration out of Southern and Eastern Europe and the Congressional Dillingham Commission studied conditions among immigrants in the United States. These commissions’ reports influenced the writing and passage of the Immigration Act of 1917.
Among its other provisions, the 1917 Act required that immigrants be able to read and write in their native language, obligating the Immigration Service to begin administering literacy tests. Another change, the introduction of pre-inspection and more-rigorous medical examinations at the point of departure saved time for people passing through some American ports of entry and reduced the number of excluded immigrants.
The outbreak of World War I greatly reduced immigration from Europe but also imposed new duties on the Immigration Service. Internment of enemy aliens (primarily seamen who worked on captured enemy ships) became a Service responsibility. Passport requirements imposed by a 1918 Presidential Proclamation increased agency paperwork during immigrant inspection and deportation activities. The passport requirement also disrupted routine traffic across United States’ land borders with Canada and Mexico. Consequently, the Immigration Service began to issue Border Crossing Cards.