Unintended ironies after 50 years of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act

( 1995 )

Despite modifications, the framework established by the 1965 act remains intact today. And, while the reform proposals now being discussed in Congress, the administration, and the Commission on Immigration Reform would reduce the total number of legal immigrants, they would maintain the fundamentals of the 1965 act — family reunification and employment preferences. So it behooves us on this 30th anniversary to look at the act and the expectations its sponsors had for it.

Under the old system, admission largely depended upon an immigrant’s country of birth. Seventy percent of all immigrant slots were allotted to natives of just three countries — United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany — and went mostly unused, while there were long waiting lists for the small number of visas available to those born in Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal, and elsewhere in eastern and southern Europe.

The new system eliminated the various nationality criteria, supposedly putting people of all nations on an equal footing for immigration to the United States. The new legislation (P.L. 89 236; 79 Stat. 911; technically, amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952) substituted a system based primarily on family reunification and needed skills.