Historical Highlights

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

October 03, 1965
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 H.R. 2580, 82nd Congress, 1st sess. Judiciary Committee Chairman Emmanuel Celler introduced H.R. 2580 on January 15, 1965. The bill would eventually become law as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.
On this date, in a ceremony at the base of the Statue of Liberty, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Commonly known as the Hart–Celler Act after its two main sponsors—Senator Philip A. Hart of Michigan and Representative Emanuel Celler of New York—the law overhauled America’s immigration system during a period of deep global instability. For decades, a federal quota system had severely restricted the number of people from outside Western Europe eligible to settle in the United States. Passed during the height of the Cold War, Hart–Celler erased America’s longstanding policy of limiting immigration based on national origin. “Forty years of testing have proven that the rigid pattern of discrimination has not only produced imbalances that have irritated many nations, but Congress itself, through a long series of enactments forced by the realities of a changing world saw fit to modify this unworkable formula so that today it remains on the books primarily as an expression of gratuitous condescension,” observed Celler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. In its place, Congress erected a legal framework that prioritized highly skilled immigrants and opened the door for people with family already living in the United States. The popular bill passed the House, 318 to 95. The law capped the number of annual visas at 290,000, which included a restriction of 20,000 visas per country per year. But policymakers had vastly underestimated the number of immigrants who would take advantage of the family reunification clause. In particular, the law created new opportunities for immigrants from Asian nations to join relatives in America. Following Hart–Celler, annual immigration jumped to nearly a half million people, and only 20 percent came from Europe.

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