By Lawrence Downes October 5, 2015 5:55 pm, takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com
Image from, with caption: President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which substantially changed U.S. immigration policy toward non-Europeans. Johnson made a point of signing the legislation near the base of the Statue of Liberty, which had long stood as a symbol of welcome to immigrants. Lower Manhattan can be seen in the background.
Let’s pause a moment to thank an under-appreciated Congress for one of
its great accomplishments: the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 [see],
which turned 50 on Saturday. The law ended the era of racebased
immigration, a quota system based on national origin that overwhelmingly
favored white European immigrants.
If you have ever wondered how and why this country had to stop looking
at itself as the America of the Disney movies of the mid-1960s — the ones with
Fred MacMurray and Keenan Wynn, where everyone seemed to be white and
Midwestern and the men wore bowties to supper — you can look to the 1965
law, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, which greatly widened the gateway to
immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, among
The White House was host to a citizenship ceremony today to celebrate
Hart-Celler. The speakers included the historian Taylor Branch, who quoted
President Johnson’s stirring words at the signing ceremony at the foot of the
Statue of Liberty. The bill, Johnson said, corrected the “harsh injustice” of
national-origins quotas, erasing “a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of
the American nation.”
Mr. Branch said he counted himself among the historians who view Hart-Celler
as “a third pillar of democratic fulfillment from the Civil Rights era,
along with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
He placed the bill on a long, slow timeline of American course-correction
and self-improvement, a step forward for a country that had learned to turn
away from white supremacy, the ownership of human beings and the
subjugation of women and was now confronting the many varieties of legal
and institutional discrimination and forced inequality.
Hart-Celler affirmed, Mr. Branch said, “that the United States is founded
not on any language or ethnic identity,” but rather on the idealism embodied
in its founding document’s first three words: “We the people.”
Speaking to the 15 newly sworn citizens in the room, Mr. Branch said,
“You are a testament to that ideal.”
He noted that the bill gets little attention, is misunderstood by many and
scorned by some. “There is no Martin Luther King of immigration reform,” he
said, “nor any landmark anniversary on par with Selma and the March on
But you could say Hart-Celler’s landmark anniversary is the one held in
the heart of every immigrant on the day he or she takes the naturalization
oath, rejecting old allegiances and joining the citizenry, full-fledged and proud.
For these 15 who became American at the White House today, it’s October
Rosina Emperatriz Del Monaco Morales, Osmin Arnoldo Diaz Rivera,
Ivan Alberto Marinkovic, Ather Anis, Afsheen Ather, Tissa Nopoko Elise
Zougmore, Mohammed Bechri, Grace Njeri Mathu, Michael Strein, Yared
Berhanu Mengistu, Gina Haller, Halyna Hodges, Clint Peron Belmar, Thuy
Duong Truong Nguyen and Liangyan Wang.
Meanwhile, the primary countries of origin shifted from Europe to Latin America and Asia. By the late 1990’s, about one-half of all immigrants in the United States were coming from Latin America and about one-quarter from Asia. During the last three decades of the twentieth century, immigration was the primary source of demographic change and population growth in the United States. As a result, scholars in this field use the term“post-1965 immigration” to refer to the new trends that followed the change in law.