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Archives - History of the Naturalization Laws

History of the Naturalization Laws
Historically, laws governing immigration and naturalization were sensitive to political and economic shifts. Almost yearly, the naturalization laws were amended. The purpose of the changes was to control who (could enter) the country and live here long enough to become citizens of the United States. Many of the changes were short-lived, but their effects are reflected in the records.

The first U.S. Naturalization Law was enacted by Congress in 1790. Prior to 1906, decisions regarding citizenship applications and recording requirements were left up to local judges. There was no uniform outline for keeping naturalization records. Federal and state courts and a series of federal agencies shared jurisdiction over naturalization. In North Dakota, state district court judges normally conferred citizenship. In some cases, federal courts and county courts shared the naturalization process with the district courts.

Rules, methods, and documents varied, and with increasing numbers of immigrants entering the United States it was imperative to have a standard system of records. As the naturalization laws were changed, the office carrying the ultimate responsibility for the process also changed. In 1882, Congress passed the first Federal law regulating immigration; between 1882 and 1891, the Secretary of the Treasury had general supervision over immigration. In 1891, an office of "Superintendent of Immigration" was created in the Treasury Department. The title was changed to "Commissioner-General of Immigration" in 1895. Laws enacted in 1903 and 1904 transferred control of naturalization to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor, an exchange which lasted nine years. In 1913, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization was transferred to the Department of Labor and split into the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization. These agencies were again consolidated by Executive Order in 1933, and the office was renamed the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In 1940, it was transferred to the Department of Justice where it remains. The documents generated in the process were passed on with each change of authority. Records after 1952 were sent to INS district offices and are available there. To obtain information regarding these North Dakota records, write to: Immigration and Naturalization Service, 2901 Metro DR Suite 100, Bloomington MN 55425, telephone: 612: 335-2211.

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