1. Definition :

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 represents a significant watershed moment in Asian American history. Reversing decades of systematic exclusion and restrictive immigration policies, the Act resulted in unprecedented numbers of immigrants from Asia, Mexico, Latin America, and other non-western nations entering the U.S. In the process, these new arrivals, particular from Asia, have transformed the demographic, economic, and cultural characteristics of many urban areas, the larger Asian American community, and mainstream American society in general.

external image PresidentJohnsonSignsBill.jpg
2. Historical background:

The Immigration and Nationality Act was a response to the increasingly cumbersome immigration policy stemming from the national quotas prescribed in the Immigration Acts of 1921 and 1924. In the thirteen years before the 1965 act, only 61 percent of the available visas were used, while thousands of potential immigrants were denied admission because they were from countries with small quotas. The short-term solution was admission through temporary laws regarding refugees, displaced persons, and war brides. But pressure for a systematic change in immigration policy grew especially in the 1960s due to the civil rights movement which was used to point out the racial inequities of the present immigration system. After the 1964 Democratic landslide gave the Democratic Party a large majority in Congress, President Lyndon Johnson sent a reform proposal to Congress in early 1965, which was introduced by Rep. Emmanuel Celler and Senator Philip Hart and sponsored by thirty-two others. Those who were concerned that the bill would increase dramatically the immigration from Latin America, such as Senators Sam Ervin and Everett Dirksen, demanded an overall ceiling on immigration within the Western Hemisphere. Once that compromise was reached, the bill passed easily, 76 to 18 in the Senate and 320 to 69 in the House.
external image Immigration-1.jpg

3. The provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act contained major innovations.
  • It voided national origins quotas and replaced them with ceilings of immigration on each of the two hemispheres.
  • A preference category system was devised to determine preference for visas.
- Priority was now given to "family reunification" so that U.S. citizens and permanent residents could sponsor the following types of immigrants in this order of preference:
  1. Unmarried children under 21 years of age of U.S. citizens
  2. Spouses and unmarried children of permanent residents
  3. Professionals, scientists, and artists "of exceptional ability"
  4. Married children over 21 years of age and their spouses and children of U.S. citizens
  5. Siblings and their spouses and children of U.S. citizens
  6. Workers in occupations with labor shortages
  7. Political refugees

4. The impact and consequences of the Immigration and Nationality Act were many.

  • An average legal immigration of 191,000 between 1924 until 1965 grew to a level of 435,000 between 1965 and 1981 (and it grew yet again thereafter due to new legislation).
  • The countries of origin of immigrants changed dramatically after 1965. Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Korea, China, India, and Vietnam, which previously had negligible immigration because of their small national quotas, became among the most significant nations of immigration to the United States.

Negative effects:

  • Levels of immigration increased dramatically.

Positive effects:

  • Preference categories for skilled immigrants encouraged the migration of professionals, especially from Asia.