Overturning Exclusion, Limiting Immigration
The war had far-reaching consequences for other Asian communities that wanted access to America’s naturalization process as well. When Dalip Saund first came to the United States from northern India in 1919, he had planned to stay for only a few years, pursue his education, and return home. The immigration official at Ellis Island who stamped his passport shook his hand and told him, “You are now a free man in a free country,” but that turned out to be only partly true. Saund moved to California, where anti-Asian policies had created an entire community of second-class citizens. At the University of California, Saund, who later revealed that he had been “cruelly discriminated against many a time because of the place of my birth,” socialized only with other Indian immigrants. “Prejudice against Asiatic people in California was very intense in the early twenties and I felt keen discrimination in many ways. Outside of the university atmosphere,” he wrote in his memoirs, “it was made quite evident that people from Asia—Japanese, Chinese, and Hindus—were not wanted.”72 Among other policies, the state’s alien land laws prevented Saund and other Asian immigrants, including Norman Mineta’s parents, from owning land. When Saund moved to Southern California to begin farming, a friend of Saund’s in Los Angeles put the leases in his own name to circumvent the land laws.73
By midcentury, Saund had carved out what he considered to be a good life in the States. “I was making America my home,” he later wrote. He “had married an American girl,” and together they had three children. He had a successful farming business and had an active social life. But he could not escape the reality that state and federal laws excluded him from political engagement. “I was dedicated to what is called the American way of life and yet when I looked in front of me I saw that the bars of citizenship were shut tight against me.”74
In response, Saund helped create the India Association of America in the early 1940s, a group that worked toward winning naturalization rights and, in effect, overturning the alien land laws. The association raised both money and awareness, and it was not long before he received help from national lawmakers.75 Both Presidents FDR and Truman had recommended extending Asian Indians the opportunity to become naturalized citizens and including them in the national origins quota system. To that end, Representative Emanuel Celler of New York introduced H.R. 3517 on June 20, 1945. Coming just weeks after V-E Day, it garnered widespread bipartisan support as a way to counter Japan’s anti- American propaganda.76 The Senate later added a clause granting immigration and naturalization rights to people from the Philippines, which was about to gain its independence from the United States. The bill became law on July 2, 1946.77
Saund became a U.S. citizen on December 16, 1949. A little more than seven years later, he took the oath of office as the first full-fledged voting Member of Asian descent in the history of the U.S. Congress.
It was around midcentury that public opinion on alien land laws also started to shift, and it was not long before the federal courts began reversing their earlier decisions. On April 17, 1952, in Sei Fujii v. California, the California supreme court declared the land laws unconstitutional and added that they violated the United Nations Charter. California voters finally erased the policy in a public referendum in November 1956. Washington State removed the last alien land law on the West Coast 10 years later.78
By the early 1950s, attitudes toward the Japanese had also undergone a sweeping transformation. Communist regimes in North Korea and China quickly replaced the conquered Japanese as the main U.S. adversary in the Pacific. Instead, U.S.-occupied Japan became a significant ally in the Cold War and an important forward position for U.S. Armed Forces. Under these circumstances, the last vestige of Asian exclusion in U.S. immigration law finally fell : the inability of the issei to become naturalized citizens.
When the 82nd Congress (1951–1953) began in January 1951, the two chairmen of Congress’s immigration subcommittees laid out a comprehensive overhaul. Pennsylvania Representative Francis E. Walter and Nevada Senator Patrick (Pat) McCarran, both of whom were fervent anti-communists and isolationists, drafted H.R. 5678, an omnibus immigration bill that built on the Immigration Act of 1924. Hoping to make immigration law a part of the country’s Cold War arsenal, they added new features to more easily exclude and deport immigrants they considered to be subversive.79
Building on Walter Judd’s 1949 immigration bill, Senator McCarran embedded the Asia-Pacific Triangle provision into the new bill. The triangle clause set a limit of 100 visas per country, but enabled all Asian immigrants to apply for naturalization. Judd’s triangle provision became something of a sideshow to the larger congressional debate on how best to fight communism. But, crucially, the JACL, the major nisei civic association in the country, backed the citizenship provision. Their lobbyists in Washington, Etsu and Mike Masaoka, made their way through the congressional office buildings and argued that McCarran–Walter would honor the parents of those nisei soldiers who fought and died for the country in Europe.80
Although the bill opened up citizenship to thousands of Japanese immigrants, the final version’s limited quotas and anti-communism provisions troubled President Truman, who vetoed it on June 25, 1952. The next day, however, the House overrode the veto, 278 to 112. The Senate followed suit on June 27, 57 to 26, and enacted the McCarran–Walter Immigration and Nationality Act into law.81
McCarran–Walter failed as a comprehensive solution to U.S. immigration policy largely because of its reliance on the controversial national origins quota system developed in the 1920s.82
Moreover, international conflicts and changing foreign policies also continued to influence the flow of people from abroad. America’s failure to contain communist expansion in Southeast Asia created a tide of political refugees that the United States felt obligated to protect, many of whom had been U.S. allies in the defense of South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Moreover, the thaw in U.S. relations with the People’s Republic of China during the 1970s encouraged more open and welcoming policies.
In 1965 Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act, also known as the Hart–Celler Act, making it simpler for immigrants to come to America. It unleashed a host of unintended consequences—chief among them, it opened the doors to large migrations from Asian nations. As such, it serves as a watershed moment in this story.
In the summer of 1963, President Kennedy proposed legislation to phase out the national origins quota system, eliminate the Asia-Pacific Triangle, and institute new entry criteria based on an immigrant’s career path and family status. He sent these recommendations to Congress along with requests for the creation of a new advisory immigration board and emergency refugee authority.83 In the aftermath of JFK’s assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) renewed the campaign for immigration reform.84
As Congress took up reform in 1964, both the House and Senate immigration subcommittees heard testimony against the quotas. Secretary of State Dean Rusk observed that the quota system discriminated against whole groups of people and provided communist countries with a weapon in Cold War propaganda. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy called the immigration process “a standing affront.” “Everywhere else in our national life, we have eliminated discrimination based on national origins,” he said. “Yet, this system is still the foundation of our immigration law.”85
Policy experts did not forecast a huge rise in immigration if national origins quotas were eliminated : 94,000 Asian immigrants could be expected during the first five years (19,000 per year). At that rate, Asian emigration would trend slightly higher than emigration from Europe. The Attorney General expected another 5,000 total would come after removing the Asia-Pacific Triangle.86
The bill stalled in the House that year, but LBJ’s sweeping victory in the 1964 presidential elections created large Democratic majorities on Capitol Hill and set the stage for another attempt at immigration reform in the 89th Congress (1965–1967). The President urged Congress to scrap the national origins quota system and called it “incompatible with our basic American tradition.” Instead, reform proponents sought to replace it with a system that attracted skilled immigrants and those with family already in the States. The same day Johnson submitted his message, companion immigration bills were introduced in the House by Judiciary Chairman Celler and in the Senate by Philip Hart of Michigan.87
After the Judiciary Committee cleared Celler’s bill, the House spent very little time debating the possible impact on APA immigration. But just before the House voted on the bill, Celler addressed the issue. “With the end of discrimination due to place of birth, there will be shifts in countries other than those of northern and western Europe,” the chairman observed. “Immigrants from Asia and Africa will have to compete and qualify in order to get in, quantitatively and qualitatively, which, itself will hold the numbers down.” Celler predicted that immigration from Asia would remain low because few people would be able to take advantage of the provision allowing families to reunify in the States.88 The measure passed, 318 to 25.89
The bill’s path through the Senate followed a similar course. Despite some lobbying resistance from the JACL, which argued that the decision to prioritize family relations would limit Asian immigration, the Senate passed it in September 1964.90 Once again the general debate paid little attention to possible consequences other than generalized fears that America was “throwing the doors open and equally inviting people from the Orient, from the islands of the Pacific, from the subcontinent of Asia, from the Near East, from all of Africa, all of Europe, and all of the Western Hemisphere on exactly the same basis,” according to Democrat Spessard Holland of Florida.91
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 eliminated the national origins quota system, set a ceiling of 290,000 annual visas (120,000 from the Western Hemisphere; 170,000 from the Eastern Hemisphere), and limited yearly emigration from any one country to 20,000. Crucially, it lifted the cap on entries for family reunification. In celebration, Johnson held the signing ceremony outdoors on October 3, 1965, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.92
The Hart–Celler immigration bill quickly became a classic case of unanticipated consequences. Much of the debate had been over allowing more southern and eastern Europeans into the country and over the first entrance caps placed on emigration from the Western Hemisphere. Not even the JACL predicted the large impact the law’s changes would have in encouraging Asian immigration.
Total immigration grew to more than 450,000 annual entries, with only one in five coming from Europe. Much of the increase in Asian migration to the United States came through the family reunification clause, leading some Chinese Americans to call Hart–Celler the “Brothers and Sisters Act.” Ultimately, immigration officials simply miscalculated how few people it took to create an extensive network of relatives.93 The bill’s provision opening visas for skilled and professional workers also drove a substantial part of the new immigration.94 Although the new law affected each community in America differently, the rising immigration rates from China, India, Japan, and the Philippines, in particular, helped reshape America’s social landscape.
72D. S. Saund, Congressman from India (1960; repr., Armitsar, India: Satvic Media Pvt. Ltd., 2002): 35–36, 40.
73Saund, Congressman from India: 63.
76“Naturalization of Natives of India,” CQ Almanac, 1945, 1st ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1946): 710–711, http://library.cqpress.com; Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 15.
77Congressional Record, House, 78th Cong., 2nd sess. (14 June 1946): 6933; Congressional Record, House, 78th Cong., 2nd sess. (25 June 1946): 7458; Congressional Record, House, 78th Cong., 2nd sess. (27 June 1946): 7775; Saund, Congressman from India: 75; “Indian Bill Praised,” 29 June 1946, New York Times: 3; Hing, Making and Remaking Asian America: 36–37; Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: 417; Public Law 79-483, 60 Stat. 416 (1946).
78Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: 412–413; Maki et al., Achieving the Impossible Dream: 55, 249n11.
79Daniels, Asian America: 305; Tichenor, Dividing Lines: 189–190; Stathis, Landmark Legislation: 238.
80Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 20; Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: 413.
81U.S. Senate, Presidential Vetoes: 393.
82Ibid.; Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 61; Immigration and Nationality Act, Public Law 82- 414, 66 Stat. 163 (1952).
83Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 63–64; John F. Kennedy, “Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on Revision of the Immigration Laws,” 23 July 1963, in American Presidency Project, ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, http://www. presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9355 (accessed 12 March 2016).
84Lyndon B. Johnson, “Annual Message to the Congress on the State of the Union,” 8 January 1964, in American Presidency Project, ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=26787 (accessed 12 March 2016); Lyndon B. Johnson, “Statement by the President in Response to a Report on Immigration,” 17 January 1964, in American Presidency Project, ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, http://www.presidency. ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=25994 (accessed 12 March 2016).
85Takaki, Strangers from a Different Shore: 518; quotation in Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 67.
86Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 74.
87Ibid., 66; “National Quotas for Immigration to End,” CQ Almanac, 1965, 21st ed. (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1966): 459–482, http://library.cqpress.com. See, for example, James L. Sundquist, Politics and Policy: The Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Years (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1968): 481; Lyndon B. Johnson, “Special Message to the Congress on Immigration,” 13 January 1965, in American Presidency Project, ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ ws/?pid=26830 (accessed 12 March 2016).
88Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 74.
89“National Quotas for Immigration to End.”
90Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 73; “National Quotas for Immigration to End.”
91Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 76.
92Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Public Law 89-213, 79 Stat. 911 (1965); Stathis, Landmark Legislation: 267; Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Signing of the Immigration Bill, Liberty Island, New York,” 3 October 1965, in American Presidency Project, ed. John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=27292 (accessed 12 March 2016).
93James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996): 578; Lee, The Making of Asian America: 288; Reimers, Still the Golden Door: 94.
94John M. Liu, “The Contours of Asian Professional, Technical and Kindred Work Immigration, 1965–1988,” Sociological Perspectives 35, no. 4 (1992): 673–704.