Legislative Branch

Guide to House Records: Chapter 14: Immigration and Naturalization

Chapter 14. Records of the Judiciary Committee and Related Committees

Table of Contents

Records of the Judiciary Committee and Related Committees from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, 1789-1988

Committee Records discussed in this chapter:
Committee on Immigration and Naturalization (1893-1946)

Jurisdiction and History

14.20 Congress did little before 1860 to regulate immigration, which had traditionally been controlled by the colonies and then the states. After the Civil War, when the issues of States rights had been clarified and the need for a uniform immigration and naturalization system had become more apparent, the Federal Government began to build a system to regulate these areas. By 1893 the regulation and restriction of immigration and naturalization had become complex, and the standing Committee on Immigration and Naturalization was created in the House after having been a select committee for 4 years.

14.21 Its jurisdiction included a variety of subjects: general revision of immigration and naturalization laws; supervision of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization; sites and buildings of immigration stations at U.S. ports of entry; pay and provisions for immigration officers and personnel; and management of resident aliens, including residence, deportation, readmission, and ownership of property.

14.22 The jurisdiction included regulatory measures to restrict immigration, such as literacy tests, head taxes, racial and country-of-origin quotas, money-in-pocket tests, and professional and skills criteria. The committee reported legislation restricting immigration of certain classes of persons--such as Chinese, Japanese, contract laborers, anarchists, dependents, mental defectives, illiterates, paupers, and criminals--and naturalization legislation affecting classes of persons such as aliens who had served in the military during wartime, women married to U.S. citizens, and persons of particular nationalities. The complex regulatory system that was thus constructed was the source of a large number of requests for private legislation designed to provide relief for persons who begged personal exemption from the broad categories defined in the legislation.

Records of the Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, 53d-79th Congresses (1893-1946)

Record TypeVolumeCongresses (Dates)
Minute Books 21 vols.53d-57th (1893-1903), 60th-68th (1907-25), 74th-79th (1935-46)
Docket Books11 vols.53d-57th (1893-1903), 60th-66th (1907-21)
Petitions and Memorials24 ft.53d-79th (1893-1946)
Committee Papers34 ft.53d-58th (1893-1905), 60th-65th (1907-19), 67th-79th (1921-46)
Bill Files28 ft.58th-61st (1903-11), 63d (1913-15), 66th-79th (1919-46)
TOTAL:86 ft. and 32 vols. (2 ft. 8 in.) 


14.23 There are usually minute books for committee meetings before 1920 and after that date the minutes are found loose in the committee papers. In either format, the minutes document the legislation and other topics discussed at committee meetings, attendance at meetings, appointments to subcommittees and subjects referred to subcommittees, markup sessions and proposed amendments to legislation, and yea and nay votes. Most of the minutes contain copies of the bills and resolutions discussed in the meetings and some documentation relating to the administration of the committee. The minute book for 1943-44, for example, contains detailed transcripts of the organizational meetings at the beginning of the session (78A-F16.3). The docket books contain an entry for each piece of legislation referred to the committee and notes on the action taken in committee and on the House floor regarding each bill and resolution.

14.24 More than half the petitions and memorials are from the earliest years of the committee, 1893-1907. Many petitions in the turn-of-the-century records favor restriction of immigration (53A-H12.1, 54A-H12.1, 55A-H7.2, 57A-H8.2, 59A-H8.2), the largest number being from the 55th Congress, 1897-99 (6 ft.). Organizations such as the Patriotic Order of Sons of America and the Junior Order of United American Mechanics urged the passage of tougher immigration restrictions, while the Union of the German Roman Catholic Societies of the State of New York, the North American Gymnastic Union, the Helvetia Society, the German Veteran's Club, and others protested the existing restrictions. The endorsement of a typical pro-restriction petition reads:

    The undersigned residents of [-----] believing that a large majority of the American people demand a more rigid restriction of immigration to protect American Citizenship and the Working Men now in this country; and feeling that the present immigration laws are inadequate and largely responsible for the hard times frequently attributed to other causes, respectfully petition you to vote for, and use your influence and efforts to secure the passage . . . [of] a bill similar to that passed by the 54th Congress and vetoed by President Cleveland.
    Your constituents, irrespective of birth, race or nationality, will heartily approve of your action in this direction. (55A-H7.2)

14.25 The more emphatic petitions state the same sentiments more curtly:

    Resolutions of the State Council of Ohio, Junior Order of United American Mechanics urging passage of laws to prevent the landing on out shores of the vicious, lawless, pauperized, and anarchistic elements of foreign countries. (57A-H8.2)

14.26 Although the bulk of the petitions and memorials favor restrictions, the petition files also contain evidence of friendly attitudes toward the new immigrants. The records of the 53d Congress (1893-95) contain petitions for the repeal of the Chinese-exclusion, or "Greary," laws (53A-H12.3). In 1904 the United Chinese Society of Honolulu sent Congress a thoroughly reasoned document petitioning against the Chinese-exclusion laws, and the Delaware State Grange petitioned Congress asking for special consideration of the naturalization case of Yan Phou Lee, a "Chinaman" and a lecturer (58A-H7.2). During the same Congress, five circuit court judges from Chicago circulated a petition for the repeal of parts of the immigration law that permitted the abuse of certain immigrants (58A-H7.1).

14.27 The restriction sentiment remained strong through the early decades of the new century. Large numbers of petitions were received on the Burnett-Dillingham bill in 1911-13, which provided for immigration restrictions (62A-H10.2, 63A-H8.1, 2 ft.), and on the Johnson restriction bills, H.R. 101 and H.R. 6540, of 1923-25 (68A-H6.1, 3 ft.). Other subjects of petitions included quotas (69A-H3.1, 70A-H3.4, 71A-H5.1), deportation of aliens (66A-H7.3, 69A-H3.3, 70A-H3.2, 74A-H4.1), a proposed temporary suspension of immigration (66A-H7.6), and an investigation of the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (66A-H7.5). Since about 1930, some of the petitions and memorials referred to the committee have been preserved in the committee papers or bill files.

14.28 The early committee papers (1893-1919) include correspondence on immigration restrictions to protect domestic labor (53A-F17.1), on ports of entry and restrictions on idiots and the insane (56A-F13.1), and on Chinese exclusion (57A- F13.2). The papers also include transcripts hearings on immigration (57A-F13.3), naturalization (60A-F13.3), and claims resulting from the Mexican Insurrection of 1911 (62A-F15.1), and copies of printed bills, hearings, reports, and documents.

14.29 After World War I, committee papers contain correspondence files and a large number of committee hearings and prints, some of which may be rare. The files of the 78th and 79th Congresses contain the Attorney General's suspension of deportation reports on persons specified under the Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1940 (78A-F16.1, 79A-F16.1, 13 ft.).

14.30 The bill files contain copies of bills and resolutions, committee reports, committee prints and printed hearings, correspondence, and transcripts of executive session hearings. In many cases they also contain petitions and memorials that refer specifically to legislation. The bill files are arranged numerically under each bill or resolution type: House bills, House resolutions, then Senate bills, and Senate resolutions. Private legislation and public legislation are filed together.

14.31 The earliest bill files are thin and incomplete, but after about 1920 they contain folders on most or all of the bills and resolutions referred to the committee. The records of the later Congresses--after about 1930--contain transcripts of hearings on a large percentage of the bills and resolutions. For example, the bill files of 1935-36 (74A-D15, 20 in.) contain transcripts of unpublished hearings on subjects such as the protection of American actors and artists by restricting admission of foreign competition and the exemption from an entry fee of Boy Scouts entering the country to attend an international jamboree, and a bill to alter the laws regarding alien registration, deportation, and national quotas. In all, 27 of the 38 hearings held during the 74th Congress were not printed, but they are preserved in the bill files. Bill files for later Congresses appear to be at least as complete as those of the 74th.

14.32 Before the establishment of the standing Committee on Immigration and Naturalization, petitions and memorials relating to these subjects were generally referred to the Judiciary Committee or to select committees. There are records from the Select Committees on:

  • Naturalization Laws, 1801-3 (7A-F4.1)
  • Naturalization Laws, 1803-5 (8A-F3)
  • Naturalization Laws, 1837-39 (25A-G24.2)
  • Immigration, 1863-65 (38A-G25.3)
  • Immigration of Contract Laborers, 1887-89 (50A-H33.1)
  • Immigration, 1889-91 (51A-H27, 51A-F46)
  • Immigration, 1891-93 (52A-H28, 52A-F50)

Table of Contents

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States House of Representatives at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-245). By Charles E. Schamel, Mary Rephlo, Rodney Ross, David Kepley, Robert W. Coren, and James Gregory Bradsher. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.