By Linda Bentley | october 7, 2015

The unintended consequences of the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act
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WASHINGTON – On Oct. 3, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Hart-Celler Immigration Act, a landmark immigration reform bill at ceremony at the Statue of Liberty.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) held a panel discussion On Thursday, Oct. 1, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, moderated by CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian.

Krikorian opened the discussion by stating, “Saturday will be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Hart-Celler immigration law that ended the old national origins quotas, essentially changed the paradigm for immigration law. Even though there’s been many changes since then, it was a kind of paradigm shift in immigration law from the previous generation – couple of generations, really – of immigration regulation.”

Jerry Kammer, one of the panelists, a senior research fellow at CIS and Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter, issued a paper titled “The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965; Political figures and historic circumstances produced dramatic, unintended consequences.”

Kammer explains, when signing, Johnson declared, “This bill that we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives ... Yet it is still one of the most important acts of this Congress and of this administration. For it does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation.”

Kammer provides a detailed history of our immigration laws and points out the Hart-Celler Act was passed to correct the supposed wrongs imbedded in the Johnson-Reed Act passed in 1924.
The post-war Johnson-Reed Act addressed anxiety about mass immigration from southern and eastern Europe, which nativists thought to be “racially inferior” from those who immigrated from northern and western Europe, and, according to observations by historian John Higham, was “therefore polluting the nation’s bloodstream.”

The Johnson-Reed Act established quotas based on national origin, allotting 70 percent of immigration to northern Europeans, cutting back on immigration from southern and eastern Europe, while imposing barriers against immigration from Asia and Africa.

Meanwhile, immigration from the Western Hemisphere remained unrestricted, in part, to appease American employers’ demand for cheap labor.

Under the Hart-Celler Act, most of the new immigration came from southern Europe, especially Italy, as immigration from Eastern Europe was limited by “repressive Communist governments.”

That stream of immigration played out in about a decade and by 1980 the majority of immigrants were coming from Latin America, Asia and Africa in numbers much greater than the annual average of 300,000 in the 1960s.

Despite assurances by those who supported the Hart-Celler Act that the bill would do little to impact the stream of immigrants, over seven million immigrants entered the country legally during the 1980s, a trend that continues.

During that same period, illegal immigration began its decades-long surge.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2023 the immigrant share of the U.S. population will hit 14.8 percent, its highest level in U.S. history, while continuing to rise.

Stating the worldwide population explosion was another factor in the immigration boom, Kamer notes the population of Latin America increased from 200 million in 1960 to 600 million by the end of the century.

Mexico’s population grew from 35 million in 1960 to 100 million by the end of the millennium and, due to the deeply embedded practices by employers and migrant expectations, immigrant networks continued the massive flow of Mexican immigrants.

Since signing Hart-Celler into law, the United States welcomes about one million immigrants per year.

According to Higham, the 1924 restrictions reduced the immigrant share of the population from 14.7 percent in 1910 to 5.4 percent in 1960 and “a very rapid and widespread assimilation went forward,” attributed to not only being encouraged by the government but “arose mostly from an enormous yearning to become Americans.”

Kammer goes on to explain how the consequences of the 1965 act came to be as he discusses the ideology and ambition of some key figures, including presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, Reps. Emanuel Celler of New York and Michael Feighan of Ohio, and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Another panelist, Philip Martin, professor emeritus, University of California, Davis, stated “We have 5 percent of the world’s people and 20 percent of the world’s international migrants, as the U.N. counts these things. So we are THE major destination.

“What makes the U.S. unique on a global scale is the number of unauthorized foreigners in the U.S. – say, roughly 11 million – is equal to the total number of international migrants in the second-leading country, which is Russia. So Russia has about 11 ½ million residents who were born in another country; the U.S. has a little over 11 million unauthorized foreigners. So the United States stands apart in the numbers. No other country has as many international migrants. No other country has as many unauthorized foreigners as does the United States.”

The panel included Peggy Orchowski, Washington Bureau Chief, Hispanic Outlook, and author of the new book, “The Law that Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965” and “Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria.”

Orchowski stated both the Democrats and Republicans are responsible for what is going on with immigration and will allow it to continue until somebody says, “Hey, we don’t need this next 100,000 people from that country now under pressure,” referring to the government’s plans to admit that many refugees from Syria.

She also pointed out the Subcommittee on Immigration used to be under the Labor Committee but was moved to the Judiciary Committee during the Congressional Committee Reorganization Act of 1947, which Orchowski said brought immigration “into a tenor of justice, social justice, rather than workforce development.”

She suggested Congress should consider bringing it back into the Labor Committee.

Responding to a question as to whether Congress is taking another look at the citizenship clause of 14th Amendment, Orchowski stated there were two bills in Congress.

She said they were very short, maybe a page and a half, and the main premise would state the citizenship clause would not apply to babies born in the United States to parents who are neither legal residents nor on visas for less than a year.

She said it would do away with birthright citizenship for tourists and for children of illegal immigrants.

Orchowski tempered the hype and hysteria over children being torn away from their families and making them illegal by stating, “None of these laws are ever retroactive … and it would probably be 10 years before it would be fully instituted.”

She said the proposed laws are so demonized it’s almost impossible to discuss them and stated even mention of them is considered politically incorrect.

While the big debate between Republicans and Democrats has much to do with comprehensive immigration reform versus piecemeal immigration reform, Orchowski stated, the two groups Obama granted deferred status to, “the Dreamers and the parents of Americans,” will probably end up being legalized.

Kammer stated, “One of the things that’s not examined is immigration as a population policy. It de facto really is. It has an enormous effect on our population. Jeff Passel of Pew has just come out with a study projecting that in 50 years our population will reach 440 million – we’re now at 325 million or thereabouts – and that 90 percent of that growth will be the result of immigration – immigrants and their children. And we don’t have any national discussion about do we want to be a country of 440 million? How about a half billion at the end of the century or, you know, a billion people in the next century? We don’t have any discussion about this.”

He went on to say the size of our population has an enormous effect on the life of our country and numbers matter, yet they’re not talked about.

Kammer said, “I think that’s a big failing.”

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