The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 were the first major pieces of legislation to restrict immigration to the United States.
The Federalist-controlled Congress passed four laws that increased barriers to citizenship and gave authority to the federal government to combat foreign “threats” through imprisonment and deportation, as well as to criminalize press critical of the government.
The Alien and Sedition Acts were passed during a period of extreme polarity between the Federalist and Republican parties. In large part, President Adams enacted these laws to weaken the Republican Party, which received core support from immigrant groups. His plan backfired, however, contributing to the success of the Republican Party. The Supreme Court officially deemed the Sedition Act, which rendered it illegal to “express any false, scandalous and malicious writing” against the president or Congress, unconstitutional fifty years later. The three other acts pertaining specifically to immigrants still exist in modified form today.