During World War One, there was growing public concern about the increasing number of immigrants, as millions came to America to escape war and the economic depression that followed.
Old Immigrants were concerned that foreign culture and religion would threaten the American way of life. What they really meant was that it would threaten the WASP way of life.
Many Americans feared that as immigration increased, jobs and housing would become harder to obtain for a number of reasons:
There was also a general suspicion of new immigrants as many were poorly educated. They were blamed for spreading disease and slum housing, as well as rising crime rates, alcoholism and gambling.
The government began to limit immigration in several ways:
Despite this it continued to cause concern for many Americans, who began to reject the idea of America as a ‘melting pot’ where immigrants would quickly integrate and adopt the way of life.
They felt American cities were more of a ‘salad bowl’ as immigrants retained their own languages and customs.
World War One also caused divisions as many immigrants took different sides, for example.
The language barrier increased tension, especially between old immigrants, who spoke English, and the new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and Asia, who often did not.
Similarly, religious beliefs caused division as old immigrants were mostly Protestant (with the exception of the Irish), while many new immigrants were Catholics or Jewish.