(CNN)President Donald Trump has dismissed as “ridiculous” a federal judge’s decision to halt his controversial executive order denying certain refugees and immigrants entry into the United States.
Many Americans are up in arms. But in fact, keeping out desperate souls seeking entry into America has deep roots. On this day 100 years ago, the United States passed the strictest immigration law of its time: the Immigration Act of 1917.
The law restricted the immigration of “undesirables,” including many people from the Middle East and Asia, through increased taxes, tests and outright bans.
Trump’s ban, which has prompted nationwide protests and widespread condemnation, is eerily similar — targeting some of the same people and imposing tests in the form of “extreme vetting,” according to observers.
“In some ways this is kind of back to the future,” said Kevin Johnson, an immigration law expert and dean at the UC Davis School of Law.
What was the Immigration Act of 1917?
The Immigration Act barred an ambiguous and long list of people from entering the country.
According to the law, these included “all idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons, epileptics, insane persons … persons with chronic alcoholism; paupers, professional beggars,” and those with tuberculosis and other contagious diseases. It barred felons, polygamists, prostitutes and their traffickers, and — similar to Trump’s ban — it blocked entry to those who “advocate the overthrow by force or violence of the Government of the United States, or of all forms of law” and anyone who would “advocate or teach the duty, necessity, or propriety” of killing of US officers or officials.
To keep these people out, the law raised the tax imposed on most adult entrants. It also imposed a literacy test, requiring newcomers older than 16 to demonstrate basic reading comprehension in any language.
Where do these laws stand now?
The Immigration Act of 1917 was revised by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act. The law abolished racial restrictions but retained quotas for nationalities and regions. It also established a preference system that placed higher value on some nationalities and immigrants with specific labor skills.
As for Trump’s executive order on immigration, it was temporarily halted Friday by a federal judge. The Department of Homeland Security then suspended implementation of the order, saying it would resume standard inspections of travelers as it did prior to the ban.
But later Saturday, the Justice Department said it would file an appeal of the judge’s order.