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Sun, 10.03.1965

The Immigration and Nationality Act is Signed

LBJ signing, NYC

*On this date in 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was signed into law. Enacted on June 30, 1968, it is also known as the Hart–Celler Act. This law is one of the lesser-known triumphs of the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement.

It abolished the National Origins Formula that had been in place in the United States since the Emergency Quota Act of 1921. It was proposed by Representative Emanuel Celler of New York, co-sponsored by Senator Philip Hart of Michigan, and promoted by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Before its signing, numerical restrictions on visas were set at 170,000 per year, with a per-country-of-origin quota, not including immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or "special immigrants" (including those born in "independent" nations in the Western Hemisphere, former citizens, ministers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad).  The 1965 act marked a radical break from the immigration policies of the past. The previous law excluded Asians and Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans to southern and eastern ones.

At the height of the 20th-century American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s African American activist and President John F. Kennedy, who called the then-quota-system “nearly intolerable”, saw the law as an embarrassment. After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic foothold of signing the bill. In order to convince the American people of the legislation's merits, its proponents assured that passage would not influence America's culture significantly.

The act's supporters not only claimed the law would not change America's ethnic makeup, but that such a change was not desirable. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation into law, saying "This [old] system violates the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man.  It has been UN-American in the highest sense because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country".

In line with earlier immigration law, the bill also prohibited the entry into the country of "sexual deviants", including homosexuals. By doing so it crystallized the policy of the INS that had previously been rejecting homosexual immigrants on the grounds that they were "mentally defective" or had a "constitutional psychopathic inferiority". The Immigration Act of 1990 rescinded the provision discriminating against GLBT people.

Reference:
USCIS.gov

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