Importance of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

On October 3rd, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) into law. Prior to the passage of this legislation, the United States actually used a nationality based quota system for admitting immigrants. The quota system, which was first enacted in the 1920s, severely restricted immigration into the United States from many parts of the world. In fact, according to data provided by the Migration Policy Institute, all immigration inflows declined dramatically between 1921 and 1965. Throughout the mid 1920s through the 1940s, the United States let in fewer than 50,000 new permanent residents. To put that number in perspective, from 1900 to 1920, the United States added an average of 600,000 new permanent residents each year. The Civil Rights era immigration reforms have once again allowed immigration inflows to increase to more reasonable levels. Though, the INA did more than just increase immigration; it also removed discriminatory policies and allowed the face of America to change.

The Quota System Was Unfair and Intolerable

While at the INA signing ceremony, President Lyndon Johnson sharply criticized the old quota system. He called the previous restrictions “a violation of our most basic principles” and  “un-American in the highest sense.” In this, the president was absolutely correct. Restricting immigration based on one’s country of national origin is simply unacceptable, particularly because the U.S. used a discriminatory practice that gave substantial preference to Northern and Western Europeans at the expense of everyone else. Many people of Asian and African origin were excluded altogether.

How Did the Quota System Work?

This quota system limited immigration from each foreign country to an annual limit of 2 percent of their current American population. This gave strong preference to those ethnic groups that were already in the country. However, the restriction were even more nefarious than that, in part because U.S. policymakers used the 1890 census figures to determine that 2 percent figure. They picked this census even though 3 more recent censuses had already been conducted. The reason for this choice was because southern and eastern Europeans began immigrating to the United States in large numbers immediately after 1890. By selecting that earlier date, immigrants from those regions could be severely restricted. Further, African-Americans, whose ancestors were largely brought to the United States against their will, were not counted in the quota system at all.

This led to some very striking results. To put in perspective the final results of the system, George Mason University has compiled a chart of the immigration quotas that the United States government used from 1925-1927. The following is how many immigrants per year were allowed in from each country of origin:

  • Germany: 51,227
  • England: 34,007
  • Ireland: 28,567
  • Italy: 3,845
  • Africa and Asia combined: 3,745

The New Face of America

The removal of some of the most highly discriminatory immigration barriers has fundamentally changed the face of America. The INA eliminated all immigration criteria that is based directly on nationality. Instead, America has moved towards immigration criteria that is based on family reunification and immigrant skills. Today, immigrants come to America from every corner of the globe. For reference, the Migration Policy Institute has compiled data on how American immigration was changed by the 1965 reforms.

Largest U.S. Immigrant Groups: 1960

  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Poland

Largest U.S. Immigrant Groups: 2015

  • Mexico
  • India
  • China
  • Philippines
  • El Salvador

The Changing Face of Los Angeles

The face of the immigrants in Southern California have also changed along with the rest of the country. Los Angeles County is home to many immigrants. In fact, the county holds the largest immigrant population in the entire country. It is also has one of the most diverse populations of immigrants. According to the California Immigrant Policy Center, Los Angeles county immigrants now primarily originate from Latin America and Asia, with most coming from Mexico, Korea, El Salvador, Guatemala and the Philippines. Without the contributions of immigrants, our communities would not be able to thrive. Immigrants play an important role in many key industries in our region, from agriculture to entertainment.

We Help Immigrants in L.A.

At the Goldstein Immigration Lawyers, our team of immigration lawyer in Los Angeles is dedicated to supporting the rights of immigrants, including those who work in Los Angeles’ prominent entertainment industry. If you are in need of immigration-related legal assistance, or you are considering moving to L.A., do not hesitate to contact us to set up your initial immigration consultation today. Our firm provides immigration help throughout Southern California, including Glendale, Beverly Hills, Torrance, Downey and Monterey Park.