The 50th Anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

Oct 2, 2015 | Citizenship

As a Miami immigration lawyer, I would like to take some time to reflect upon the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act. I am not alone in calling for a overhaul of the existing Act through comprehensive immigration reform. In the meantime, below are some frequently asked questions about the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965.

What did the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 do?
The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 was notable in that it abolished an earlier quota system based on national origin, replacing it with a new immigration policy based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor to the United States.

Over the next four decades, the policies put into effect in 1965 would greatly change the demographic makeup of the American population, as immigrants entering the United States under the new legislation came increasingly from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, as opposed to Europe.

How did the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 come about?
By the early 1960s, calls to reform U.S. immigration policy had mounted, thanks in no small part to the growing strength of the civil rights movement. At the time, immigration was based on the national-origins quota system in place since the 1920s, under which each nationality was assigned a quota based on its representation in past U.S. census figures.

The civil rights movement’s focus on equal treatment regardless of race or nationality led many to view the quota system as backward and discriminatory. In particular, Greeks, Poles, Portuguese and Italians–of whom increasing numbers were seeking to enter the U.S.–claimed that the quota system discriminated against them in favor of Northern Europeans.

What was the immediate impact of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965?
In the first five years after the bill’s passage, immigration to the U.S. from Asian countries–especially those fleeing war-torn Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia)–would more than quadruple. (Under past immigration policies, Asian immigrants had been effectively barred from entry.) Other Cold War-era conflicts during the 1960s and 1970s saw millions of people fleeing poverty or the hardships of communist regimes in Cuba, Eastern Europe and elsewhere to seek their fortune on American shores. All told, in the three decades following passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, more than 18 million legal immigrants entered the United States, more than three times the number admitted over the preceding 30 years.

What are the long-term impacts of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965?
It is estimated that by the year 2042, white people not referring to themselves as Hispanic will no longer constitute a majority but rather only a plurality of the population of the United States. Minority groups, led by Hispanic Americans (mainly Mexican Americans), Black Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans would together outnumber non-Hispanic White Americans. Thus, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965  has contributed to the pluralistic, diverse population in many parts of the United States. Unfortunately, as a Miami immigration lawyer, I take note that even legal immigrants face hostility these days, though, as the prospect of a nonwhite U.S. majority prompts a revival of nativist sentiment. The tone and tenor of the recent presidential debates as only added fuel to the fire. Xenophobia was evident as well during the debate over the 1965 act, but one difference is that the country now has 50 years of experience successfully integrating non-European immigrants. The 1965 Immigration Act has never gotten the attention it warrants as the law that finally made America the open nation it had long claimed to be. Its 50th anniversary should be an occasion for celebration.

If you would like more information on the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, please contact Miami immigration lawyer The Law Office of Tatiane M. Silva, P.A., Esq. at (305) 895-2500 or visit our website at tmsilvalaw.com.