This first major change in U.S. quota policy greatly altered the ethnic makeup of immigrants entering the United States during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and prompted a massive increase in total immigration.
During the 1920’s, the federal government set fixed immigration quotas for each country of origin. During the very late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the United States had experienced heavy immigration from southern and eastern Europe. Because earlier European American settlers had come mostly from northern and western Europe, many policy makers believed that the more recent immigrants would not fit easily into American society. Accordingly, Congress passed immigration laws in 1921 and 1924 that set quotas for the numbers of immigrants from each region who would be admitted into the country. These quotas were based on the numbers of immigrants who had arrived during earlier eras. The quota system therefore favored northern and western European immigrants.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which substantially changed U.S. immigration policy toward non-Europeans. Johnson made a point of signing the legislation near the base of the Statue of Liberty, which had long stood as a symbol of welcome to immigrants. Lower Manhattan can be seen in the background.
In 1965, Congress amended the 1952 immigration law. In part, this change was a response to the
The new immigration bill was initially introduced in the House of Representatives by New York Democratic representative
Although the 1965 act was later amended several times, family reunification has continued to be the primary basis for immigrant admission. The first preference for quota immigrants is unmarried children, of any age, of U.S. citizens. Spouses of resident aliens and unmarried children of residents fall into the second preference. In practice, this means that after unmarried children of U.S. citizens who have applied for U.S. residence in a given year have been granted visas, the next quota slots are filled first by spouses and unmarried children of noncitizen alien residents. The third preference goes to professionals and persons of exceptional ability in the arts and sciences who intend to work for American employers. Married children, of any age, of U.S. citizens receive the fourth preference. The fifth preference goes to noncitizen sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens. Skilled and unskilled workers coming to take jobs for which American workers are in short supply are classified as the sixth preference.
Amendments to the law have allowed some immigrants outside the quota categories to be admitted without yearly numerical limitations. The greatest number of these are spouses of American citizens. Others, such as political refugees, can also enter the United States without being counted as part of the overall ceiling.
Contrary to the predictions of Senator
Meanwhile, the primary countries of origin shifted from Europe to Latin America and Asia. By the late 1990’s, about one-half of all immigrants in the United States were coming from Latin America and about one-quarter from Asia. During the last three decades of the twentieth century, immigration was the primary source of demographic change and population growth in the United States. As a result, scholars in this field use the term “post-1965 immigration” to refer to the new trends that followed the change in law.
Capaldi, Nicholas, ed. Immigration: Debating the Issues. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1997. Collection of essays examining current U.S. immigration policy and its effects from a variety of perspectives. Isbister, John. The Immigration Debate. West Hartford, Conn.: Kumarian Press, 1996. Extended essay on issues arising from changing federal immigration policy by an economist who is himself an immigrant and the son of a former deputy minister of citizenship and immigration in the Canadian government. LeMay, Michael C. Anatomy of a Public Policy: The Reform of Contemporary American Immigration Law. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1974. Scholarly exploration of changes in U.S. immigration policy with particular attention to the Immigration Act of 1965. LeMay, Michael C., and Elliott Robert Barkin, eds. U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Collection of more than one hundred primary documents–ranging from court cases and laws to editorials–on modern immigration issues. Includes edited versions of the Immigration Act of 1965 and other laws that make them easy for students to understand. Shanks, Cheryl. Immigration and the Politics of American Sovereignty, 1880-1990. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Study of the history of U.S. immigration policy showing how government criteria for admitting immigration have shifted from race to political ideology, wealth, and job skills. Waters, Mary C., and Reed Ueda, eds. The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. Study of modern trends in U.S. immigration that assesses the impact of the Immigration Act of 1965 on American society and government policy.
History of immigration after 1891
Immigration Act of 1921
Immigration Act of 1924
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
Latin American immigrants