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Trump’s travel ban not a first, US immigration laws go as far as 1798

Following the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, President Jimmy Carter severed diplomatic relations with Iran and enacted a law to ban Iranians from entering the US in 1980. The present partially-approved travel ban initiated by President Donald Trump also includes Iran.

Donald Trump, travel ban, travel ban ruling, revised travel ban, US supreme court, US federal judge, US news, world news, indian express news In this Feb. 19, 2017, file photo, people carry posters during a rally against President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from six Muslim-majority nations, in New York’s Times Square. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

The partial nod on the travel ban by the US Supreme Court has been a partial victory for the United States President Donald Trump, which seeks to ban immigrants from six muslim-majority countries such as Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering US.

But the hue and cry over present immigration laws is nothing new for the Americans and the US government. Since 1798, several US governments had imposed bans on various immigrants restricting their entry into US.

Ban on Aliens: Signed by President John Adams in 1798, the Alien and Sedition Acts, 1798 were a compilation of four laws, the Naturalization Act of 1790, the Act concerning Aliens, the Act respecting alien enemies and the Sedition Act. The laws were passed by the Federalist party, Congress, to weaken the hold of the opposite party, the Democratic-Republicans, while they prepared for their war with France.

The Naturalization Act increased the requirement for an American citizenship from five to 14 years, which required the non-citizens or “aliens” to clarify their objective in acquiring the citizenship. People from the enemy nations were considered ineligible to gain US citizenship under the Act and people dangerous to the peace and safety of the US were termed as aliens. Writings against the government were rendered as seditious under the Sedition Act and the President had the power to deport or imprison such aliens.

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To restrict the participation of immigrants in the opposite party, the Federalists imposed strict laws increasing the residing requirement to limit the growing relationship between the foreigners and the Republicans.

The Naturalization Act was later repealed by the Congress, while the other Acts had expired in the 1800s by the Kentucky Resolution, brought in by the then President Thomas Jefferson.

Ban on Chinese: In the late 1800s, a massive chunk of Chinese people arrived in the West Coast of the US and majority of them constituted the labour force which is when the US Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, 1882 to prevent Chinese immigrants from entering the US territories.


This was one of the first prominent immigration law in US passed by the Congress and signed by the then President Chester A. Arthur.

The ethnic-based law suspended immigration of the Chinese for 10 years and required non-labourers of China to obtain certification from the Chinese government to enter US, stating their qualifications as per the law. These set of people faced legal difficulties in proving their qualifications because the law defined ‘excludable’ as “skilled and unskilled labourers and Chinese employed in mining”. Following the Act, the US government was successful in putting a restraint on the entry of Chinese.

The Chinese residing in US faced similar challenges where they were required to obtain a certificate for re-entry from the Chinese government.


Further, the State and Federal courts were instructed by the Congress to not grant citizenship to Chinese resident aliens. However, the courts had the power to deport Chinese from the US.

The Act expired in 1892, but was renewed through the Geary Act which extended the restriction for another 10 years. In 1902 the Congress made the law permanent and imposed another restriction which required all the Chinese residents to register in US and to obtain a residency certificate to avoid legal actions leading to deportation.
The law was finally repealed in 1943.

Ban on Anarchists: Also known as the Immigration Act, 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt signed and enacted the Anarchist Exclusion Act 1903 with the aim of targeting the political beliefs and banning the immigration of anarchists and other political extremists.

The enactment came when President William McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an American anarchist , son of a Polish immigrant.

The Act also formed a new category which banned the entry of people with epilepsy, beggars and prostitute importers.


Ban on civilians: Marking “military areas” as areas all people were barred from entering, except the military officials designated by the military commanders, the Executive Order 9066, 1942 was passed under the reign of President Franklin Roosevelt.

More than 120,000 people, including mostly the second and third generation Japanese Americans- Buddhists were relocated from the West Coast of the US and put into camps in the interior of the country.
On passing the Civil Liberties Act, 40 years later, Congress apologised and provided each camp survivor compensations and more than $1.6bn were given to 80,000 Japanese Americans and their heirs.


Ban on Communists: Also known as the Subversive Activities Control Act of 1950 or the McCarran Act, Congress passed the Internal Security Act, 1950 to curb immigration of communists despite the veto received from President Harry Truman.

Members of communists organisations were required to register for citizenship and on failing to do so, they were denied the citizenship. The US Supreme Court struck down certain sections of the law as unconstitutional but some parts of the law still exist.


Ban on Iranians: Following the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, President Jimmy Carter severed diplomatic relations with Iran and enacted a law to ban Iranians from entering the US in 1980.

In 1979, the US embassy in Tehran was stormed by Iranian students and 66 Americans were held hostage for 442 days. The students demanded the extradition of Shah Mohammad Reza Pehlavi who had fled from Iran after and was allowed to enter US for medical treatment.

The present partially-approved travel ban initiated by President Donald Trump also includes Iran.

Ban on HIV positive persons: In 1987, President Ronald Reagan banned HIV positive persons from entering US. The US Public Health Service added Aids to its list of ‘dangerous and contagious’ diseases and the Helms Amendment introduced by Senator Jesse Helms added HIV to the exclusion list.

The laws were driven by the homophobic and xenophobic sentiments towards the Africans and minorities and due to false information that HIV virus is like a common communicable disease.

The former US President Barack Obama repealed the law in 2009.

First published on: 27-06-2017 at 18:29 IST
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