[project home]

US immigration legislation online


1891 Immigration Act (An act in amendment to the various acts relative to immigration and the importation of aliens under contract or agreement to perform labor)

Sess. II Chap. 551; 26 Stat. 1084.

51st Congress; March 3, 1891.

You can find the full text of this law as a PDF here.



The 1891 Immigration Act was a revised version of the 1882 Immigration Act. As in the 1882 Immigration Act, this act declared that certain classes of individuals were unfit to become American citizens. Those classes included idiots, insane persons, and paupers. Any person who could become a public charge on society was also not allowed to enter. The immigrants who came to the United States carrying a contagious disease were also not permitted entry. Anyone who had been convicted of a felony, misdemeanor, or any other crime such as any activity deemed contrary to the beliefs and standards of society such as polygamy were not granted citizenship. Any person whose ticket was paid for by another was not allowed to enter into the country as well. The United States wanted only those who could care for themselves with out the assistance of others.

Upon arrival to the United States each individual was inspected by the Commanding Officer or agents. The immigrants were required to supply their name, nationality, last residence, and where they were planning to go in the States. They were not allowed entry to the land until they supplied the necessary information. Once on land they had to submit themselves to a medical examination. If any diseases were found they were immediately sent to quarantine or sent back to their country of origin. If an immigrant entered into the United States illegally they were sent back to their home country on the ship in which they arrived. If an immigrant came illegally it was the responsibility of the shipping company to take them back at their own expense as well as pay a fine of $300 per offense.

(Summary by Shanna Elder)



Image Archive on the American Eugenics Movement - This website looks at the idea in the early 1900’s of Eugenics and how society dealt with those deemed unfit to be Americans.

The Forgotten History of Eugenics - This site looks at the testing of individuals and the racist assumptions of who was deemed to be smart or good enough to be an American.

Coming To America: Ellis Island and New York - This website takes a brief look at what immigrants had to endure while they entered the United States through Ellis Island in New York.


Many thanks to Hein Online for document provision, and The University of Washington-Bothell Library, for arranging web hosting. If you have any questions about this site, please contact the course instructor, Sarah Starkweather, at sarah [dot] starkweather [at] gmail [dot] com.