Hart-Celler Legacies

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 Signing/tiles/non-collection/A/APA_essay3_3_LBJImmigrationActSigning_LBJLibrary.xml Photograph by Yoichi Okamoto; image courtesy of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library/National Archives and Records Administration President Lyndon B. Johnson delivers remarks at the ceremonial signing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 on Liberty Island. The law, also known as the Hart–Celler Act, transformed immigration policy in the United States.
The 1965 Hart–Celler Act overhauled immigration policy in the United States by increasing access for new immigrant groups and producing a demographic revolution in the U.S. population. The long-lasting effects of this legislation have, in large measure, shaped the composition of the modern Congress. Over the last 50 years, APA communities in the United States have grown in both number and diversity. As of 2011, APAs (both foreign- and native-born) made up nearly 6 percent of the entire U.S. populace and their total population stood at 18.2 million. More than half of the entire foreign-born population of the United States has entered the country since 1990, and at the time of this writing, APAs represent the fastest-growing group.7 In fact, in the 30 years between 1980 and 2010, the APA population jumped nearly fourfold.8

This population boom has helped to redefine America’s electoral makeup and changed the face of the national legislature. Including current Members and first-termers, 28 of the 60 Congressmen and Congresswomen profiled in this book have been elected after 1993 (47 percent). Unlike in the previous 100-plus years when statutory representatives accounted for the bulk of Asian Pacific Americans in Congress, only three of the 28 Members in this section serve or have served as Delegates. The remaining 25 Members represent nearly 70 percent of all APA Representatives and Senators ever elected with full voting rights.

A consequential development in Asian immigration over the last 40 years has been the marked diversity of the people coming to America. No longer a story dominated by Chinese and Japanese immigration, Asian immigration in the modern era involves a greater proportion of immigrants from the Philippines, India, Vietnam, and Korea. Whereas Japanese Americans once accounted for nearly half of the entire Asian-American population, as of 2010, they had dropped to around 7 percent. Chinese Americans make up the largest segment of America’s Asian population at around 23 percent. They are followed by Filipinos (roughly 20 percent), Indians (18 percent), Vietnamese (10 percent), and Koreans (also around 10 percent). Many have settled in the States to fill jobs and reunite with family, and many have gone on to become naturalized citizens.9

The Members in this section—both former and current—reflect this new diversity. In addition to Joseph Cao, who fled Saigon, Jay C. Kim was born in Seoul, before Korea’s partition, and immigrated to the United States in 1961; Senator Mazie K. Hirono was born in Japan and grew up in Fukushima before moving to Hawaii around the age of eight; David Wu was born in Taiwan and moved to the United States in 1961 to rejoin his father, who was studying in America; Congressman S. Raja Krishnamoorthi and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal were both born in India; and Senator Tammy Duckworth, whose father was a U.S. military veteran and whose mother was from Thailand and later became a U.S. citizen, was born in Bangkok.10

Seven other Members who were born in the United States had at least one parent immigrate from overseas: Charles Djou’s father was from Shanghai, China, and his mother was from Bangkok, Thailand; Bobby Jindal’s parents came over from India, as did Congressman Ami Bera’s and Congressman Ro Khanna’s. Congresswoman Judy Chu’s mother was from China; Congresswoman Grace Meng’s parents emigrated from Taiwan; Steve Austria’s father was from the Philippines; and Hansen Clarke’s father was from Bangladesh.

America’s Pacific territories continue to play a prominent part in the makeup of the modern Congress as well, and they account for the birthplace of four Members in this section: Robert A. Underwood was born in Guam and later served as its Delegate; Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan was born in Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands; Colleen Hanabusa was born in Honolulu when Hawaii was still a U.S. territory; and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was born in American Samoa.

Although the 1965 Hart–Celler Act laid the groundwork for a substantial portion of Asian immigration to America, much of the recent movement between countries has also been driven by job markets both here and abroad.11

But even that change can, in large measure, be tied to the 1965 law. Along with family reunification, the Hart–Celler Act created a number of opportunities for professional and highly skilled Asian immigrants. As Erika Lee, a noted historian of the Asian-American experience, has observed, that policy remained firmly in place as the country entered the 21st century. Lee points to U.S. companies in high-tech fields that recruit overseas. In fact, Asian immigrants, she notes, receive nearly 75 percent of all H-1B visas set aside for “highly skilled” immigrant workers.12 “The majority of new arrivals,” Lee wrote in The Making of Asian America, “come to join family already here and bring a different set of educational and professional skills than earlier immigrants.”13

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7Erika Lee, The Making of Asian America: A History (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015): 284, 286, 373.

8Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans”: 19.

9Ibid.; Lee, The Making of Asian America: 287.

10Katherine Skiba, “Duckworth Keeps Her Eyes on Prize,” 3 March 2016, Chicago Tribune: C6.

11Pew Research Center, “The Rise of Asian Americans”: 9; Lee, The Making of Asian America: 284.

12Lee, The Making of Asian America: 286. See also Phung Su, “Immigration Act of 1990,” in Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History, vol. 2, ed. Xiaojian Zhao and Edward J. W. Park (Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2014): 538–540; John S. W. Park, “H-1B Visa,” in Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History, vol. 2: 475–478.

13Lee, The Making of Asian America: 287.