Immigration in the USA had been a hotly debated topic since the late 19th century, and numerous laws had been passed to regulate and manage it. Most of the 20th-century laws were based on engineering, rather than managing or curbing, immigration into the States.
Did You Know?Despite its stated intentions of removing barriers based on nationality, the 1965 Act was aimed at promoting the immigration of skilled workers from northern Europe. However, the authorities were completely wrong in their estimates, as Asians were the first to take advantage of the law.
The Immigration Act of 1924, for instance, was passed to keep out Jewish immigrants and immigrants of non-white races. It favored immigration from northern Europe, whose culture resembled that of the USA, and discouraged Italians and central European Jews from emigrating into the USA. This system was called the 'National Origins Formula', since the criteria for immigration were based on the immigrant's nationality and the population of immigrants of that nationality already living in the USA. The 1924 law also barred entry to Asian immigrants, in order to maintain the white-dominated ethnic buildup of the USA.
The 1965 Act, also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, was revolutionary, since it discarded the National Origins Formula, and removed inhibitions based on nationality and ethnicity. Instead, the immigrant's skill set and familial relations with American citizens were given higher preference.
A limit of 170,000 visas per year was set for immigrants entering the United States, in addition to removing restrictions on the immediate family of U.S. citizens, former U.S. citizens, citizens of independent countries in the Western Hemisphere, etc.
The 1965 law was proposed by Emanuel Celler, Democrat Representative from New York. Celler had been vehemently opposed to the 1924 law, when it had passed with little resistance from the Congress; his incessant campaigns eventually bore fruit in 1965. Senator Philip Hart of Michigan was the co-sponsor of the law, while Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts promoted it.
Part of the reason why the 1965 bill was passed was the Cold War. Successive Cold War-era Presidents, such as Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Kennedy, had championed the liberalization of the USA's immigration policy. Lyndon Johnson followed in that vein, believing that immigrants from more nationalities would emigrate to the USA if it loosened its policy, thus forging the USA's reputation as the 'land of opportunities' on the global stage.
In order to get the bill passed, proponents of the bill, such as President Lyndon Johnson and Senator Ted Kennedy, told their colleagues and the public that the general demographic of the USA would remain unchanged, and the bill wouldn't bring about drastic changes in the societal makeup. These estimations, however, were way off the mark.
The authorities were expecting European immigration to increase thanks to the more liberal policy. Since Asians were a very small part of the American population when the bill was passed, the lawmakers didn't expect their numbers to swell up considerably. However, since Europeans had already settled in the USA, they didn't have much immediate family left in Europe to bring to the States. Instead, Asians were quick to take advantage of the priority afforded to familial relations and bring over their spouses and siblings. This led to an increase in the influence of Asian culture in the USA. These Asian immigrants then initiated a chain of immigrants, who first became citizens and then promptly brought over new relatives, who, over time, did the same.
Immigration continues to be a hotly contested topic in the USA, as the intended perception of the country as the 'land of opportunities' has failed to wash off.