Popular American Opinion
The American people rejected increasing immigration. Even before the Great Depression, Americans overwhelmingly supported restrictive immigration quotas. The 1924 Immigration Act reflected popular sentiment that the United States had absorbed as many immigrants as it could and that further immigrants, with their poverty, their European quarrels, and there pro-labor or even pro-communist ideas, would only destabilize American society. The Great Depression, which had led to mass unemployment during the 1930s, exacerbated existing concerns, and politicians who favored continued restrictions on immigration built their argument around the high unemployment rates in America (In 1930, the unemployment rate was 8.9 percent; in 1932, 27 percent; in 1933, 25.2 percent; in 1935, 20.3 percent; in 1937, 14.5 percent; and in 1939, 20.1 percent).
In 1938, as unemployment was again on the rise, four separate polls indicated that between 71 and 85 percent of all Americans opposed increasing quotas to help refugees. Sixty-seven percent of Americans favored a halt to all immigration. During the 1930s, for the first time in U.S. history, those leaving the United States outnumbered those entering.
The American people rejected increasing Jewish immigration. Immediately following Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") in November 1938, 94 percent of a sample poll by the National Opinion Research Center in Chicago disapproved of Nazi treatment of Jews, but 72 percent were opposed to admitting a large number of German Jews into the United States. Even after Kristallnacht, two-thirds of the American public opposed the Wagner-Rogers bill that would have permitted 20,000 Jewish children (independent of the German quota) to enter the United States on an emergency basis. The bill was allowed to die in the Senate in 1939. Jewish leaders in America were deeply concerned about the dangers faced by German and Austrian Jews, but American Jewry, composed of disunited political factions, was unable to alter United States immigration policy.
Despite this generally gloomy history, it should be noted that the United States admitted 250,000 Jews between 1933 and 1945, and 115,000 Jewish refugees between 1940 and 1945.