Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

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Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965
Great Seal of the United States
Long title An Act to amend the Immigration and Naturalization Act, and for other purposes.
Acronyms (colloquial) INA of 1965
Nicknames Hart–Celler Act
Enacted by the 89th United States Congress
Effective June 30, 1968
Public Law Pub.L. 89–236
Statutes at Large 79 Stat. 911
Acts amended Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
Titles amended 8 U.S.C.: Aliens and Nationality
U.S.C. sections amended 8 U.S.C. ch. 12 (§§ 1101, 1151–1157, 1181–1182, 1201, 1254–1255, 1259, 1322, 1351)
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the House of Representatives as H.R. 2580 by Rep. Emanuel Celler (D-NY)
  • Committee consideration by Judiciary
  • Passed the House on August 25, 1965 (318–95)
  • Passed the Senate on September 22, 1965 (76–18)
  • Agreed to by the House on September 30, 1965 (320–70) and by the on  
  • Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 3, 1965

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (Pub.L. 89–236, 79 Stat. 911, enacted June 30, 1968), also known as the Hart–Celler Act,[1] abolished the National Origins Formula that had been in place in the United States since the Emergency Quota Act of 1921. It was proposed by Representative Emanuel Celler of New York, co-sponsored by Senator Philip Hart of Michigan, and promoted by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

The Hart-Celler Act abolished the national origins quota system that was American immigration policy since the 1920s, replacing it with a preference system that focused on immigrants' skills and family relationships with citizens or U.S. residents. Numerical restrictions on visas were set at 170,000 per year, with a per-country-of-origin quota, not including immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or "special immigrants" (including those born in "independent" nations in the Western Hemisphere, former citizens, ministers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad).[1]


The 1965 act marked a radical break from the immigration policies of the past. The law as it stood then excluded Asians and Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern ones.[2] At the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s the law was seen as an embarrassment by, among others, President John F. Kennedy, who called the then-quota-system "nearly intolerable".[3] After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic gesture.

In order to convince the American people of the legislation's merits, its proponents assured that passage would not influence America's culture significantly. President Johnson called the bill "not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions",[4] while Secretary of State Dean Rusk estimated only a few thousand Indian immigrants over the next five years, and other politicians, including Senator Ted Kennedy, hastened to reassure the populace that the demographic mix would not be affected; these assertions would later prove grossly inaccurate.[5]

In line with earlier immigration law, the bill also prohibited the entry into the country of "sexual deviants", including homosexuals. By doing so it crystallized the policy of the INS that had previously been rejecting homosexual immigrants on the grounds that they were "mentally defective" or had a "constitutional psychopathic inferiority".[6]

Congressional consideration[edit]

October 3, 1965: President Lyndon Johnson visits the Statue of Liberty to sign the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

The House of Representatives voted 320 to 70 in favor of the act, while the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 76 to 18. In the Senate, 52 Democrats voted yes, 14 no, and 1 abstained. Of the Republicans, 24 voted yes, 3 voted no, and 1 abstained.[7] In the House, 202 Democrats voted yes, 60 voted no and 12 abstained, 117 Republicans voted yes, 10 voted no and 11 abstained. One unknown representative voted yes.[8] In total, 74% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans voted for passage of this bill. Most of the no votes were from the American South, which was then still strongly Democratic. During debate on the Senate floor, Senator Kennedy, speaking of the effects of the act, said, "our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. ... Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset".[9]

The act's supporters not only claimed the law would not change America's ethnic makeup, but that such a change was not desirable. On October 3, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation into law, saying "This [old] system violates the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country".[10]

Long-term results[edit]

Immigration changed America's demographics, opening the doors to immigrants from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The Latin American population has also dramatically increased since 1965, though this was more due to the various unexpected results of this act rather than due to this act itself (it is worth noting that this act introduced immigration quotas to Latin America, whereas there were previously no immigration quotas from the Western Hemisphere; also see National Origins Formula).[11] By the 1990s, America's population growth was more than one-third driven by legal immigration and substantially augmented by illegal immigration, primarily from Latin America and other parts of the developing world. Before passage of the Hart-Celler Act, immigration accounted for only ten percent of population increase in the U.S. Ethnic and racial minorities, as defined by the US Census Bureau, rose from 25 percent of the US population during the year 1990 to 30 percent in the year 2000 and to 36.6 percent as measured by the results from the 2010 census.[12] Similarly, during the same time period the non-Hispanic white population in the United States decreased from 75 percent of the overall US population in 1990 to 70 percent in 2000 and finally to 63.4 percent during the year 2011.[12]

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. According to the 2000 census, roughly 11.1 percent of the American population was foreign-born, a major increase from the low of 4.7 percent in 1970. A third of the foreign-born were from Latin America and a fourth from Asia. The passage of the Hart-Celler Act contributed to increased illegal immigration from Latin America, especially Mexico, since the unlimited legal bracero program previously in place was eliminated.

The waves of immigrants have encountered both possibilities and problems. Many immigrants have been able to take advantage of the abundance of opportunities in the U.S., although some immigrant groups continue to face major challenges. For example, Asian Indians in the U.S. (mostly from brain drain backgrounds) have a higher average income and lower poverty rate than the national average, while Vietnamese Americans (mostly from refugee backgrounds) have median earnings less than the national average and a higher poverty rate.[13] Asians and Pacific Islanders (including international students from Asia) constituted 30 percent of the student population in California's public universities by 2000, and over 38% of the student population by 2011. The problems have centered on questions of multicultural identity as opposed to the melting-pot idea, debates on the economic impact of immigration, impact of illegal immigration, and fears of becoming a polyglot nation with English not the primary language.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sarah Starkweather. "US immigration legislation online". University of Washington, Bothell Library. Retrieved January 1, 2012. 
  2. ^ "A Nation of Immigrants". NSIDE SA. September 2012. 
  3. ^ "235 - Remarks to Delegates of the American Committee on Italian Migration". The American Presidency Project. June 11, 1963. 
  4. ^ Johnson, L.B., (1965). President Lyndon B. Johnson's Remarks at the Signing of the Immigration Bill. Liberty Island, New York October 3, 1965 transcript at lbjlibrary.
  5. ^ Jennifer Ludden. "1965 immigration law changed face of America". NPR. 
  6. ^ Tracy J. Davis. "Opening the Doors of Immigration: Sexual Orientation and Asylum in the United States". Human Rights Brief 6 (3). 
  7. ^ Keith Poole. "Senate Vote #232 (Sep 22, 1965)". Civic Impulse, LLC. 
  8. ^ Keith Poole. "House Vote #177 (Sep 30, 1965)". Civic Impulse, LLC. 
  9. ^ Bill Ong Hing (2012), Defining America: Through Immigration Policy, Temple University Press, p. 95, ISBN 978-1-59213-848-7 
  10. ^ "Remarks at the Signing of the Immigration Bill, Liberty Island, New York". October 3, 1965. Retrieved January 1, 2012. 
  11. ^ PDR 38.1 Massey-COLOR.indd. (PDF) . Retrieved on June 29, 2013.
  12. ^ a b "USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau". Retrieved June 6, 2013. 
  13. ^ U.S. Census Bureau (December 2004). "We the People:Asians in the United States". Retrieved September 14, 2013. 
  14. ^ Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, Portland State University (August 2011). "Immigration & naturalization act of 1965: Origin of modern American society". Retrieved January 1, 2012. 

External links[edit]