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The 1965 Immigration Act: Anatomy of a Disaster By: Ben Johnson
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 10, 2002


America's current mass immigration mess is the result of a change in the laws in 1965. Prior to 1965, despite some changes in the 50's, America was a low-immigration country basically living under immigration laws written in 1924.  Thanks to low immigration, the swamp of cheap labor was largely drained during this period, America became a fundamentally middle-class society, and our many European ethnic groups were brought together into a common national culture.  In some ways, this achievement was so complete that we started to take for granted what we had achieved and forgot why it happened.  So in a spasm of sentimentality on the Right and lies on the Left, we opened the borders.

Born of liberal ideology, the 1965 bill abolished the national origins quota system that had regulated the ethnic composition of immigration in fair proportion to each group's existing presence in the population.  In a misguided application spirit of the civil rights era, the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations saw these ethnic quotas as an archaic form of chauvinism.  Moreover, as Cold Warriors facing charges of "racism" and "imperialism," they found the system rhetorically embarrassing.  The record of debate over this seismic change in immigration policy reveals that left-wingers, in their visceral flight to attack "discrimination," did not reveal the consequences of their convictions.  Instead, their spokesmen set out to assuage concerned traditionalists with a litany of lies and wishful thinking.

Chief among national concerns was total numeric immigration.  Senate floor manager and Camelot knight-errant Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, assured jittery senators that "our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually."  Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, further calmed that august body, insisting "the total number of potential immigrants would not be changed very much."  Time has proven otherwise. Average immigration levels before the 1965 amendments took effect hovered around 300,000 per annum.  Yet 1,045,000 legal immigrants flooded our cities in 1996 alone. 

The 1965 "reform" reoriented policy away from European ethnic groups, yet implemented numbers similar to 1950's rates in an attempt to keep immigration under control.  However, Congressmen managed to miss a loophole large enough to allow a 300 percent in immigration, because they did not take into account two "sentimental" provisions within the bill.  Immediate family members of U.S. citizens and political refugees face no quotas.  Their likely impact on the nation was ignored, presumably because aiding families and the dispossessed cast the right emotive glow.

Yet leftists could sound like hard-nosed defenders of the national interest when necessary.  In urging passage of the 1965 bill, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, D-New York, wrote in a letter to the New York Times, "The time has come for us to insist that the quota system be replaced by the merit system."  As if merit is the operative principle along the Rio Grande today!  Similarly, Representative Robert Sweeney, D-Ohio, insisted the bill was "more beneficial to us."  In fact, the 1965 bill made "family reunification" - including extended family members - the key criterion for eligibility. These new citizens may in turn send for their families, creating an endless cycle known to sociologists as the immigration chain.  The qualifications of immigrants have predictably fallen.  Hispanic immigrants, by far the largest contingent, are eight times more likely than natives to lack a ninth-grade education, and less than half as likely to have a college degree.

The bill did not end discrimination based on what President John F. Kennedy called "the accident of birth." (This of course begs the question of whether birth within the nation, the basis of common national community, is just an accident, but let that pass for now.) It de facto grossly discriminates in favor of Mexicans and certain other groups.

Not only has the bill failed in its stated purpose, it has realized many of its critics' worst nightmares.  Concern mounted that this bill would radically change the ethnic composition of the United States.  Such things were still considered legitimate concerns in 1965, in the same Congress that had just passed the key civil rights legislation of the 1960's.

Specific influx predictions that were made seem tragicomic today.  Senator Robert Kennedy predicted a total of 5,000 immigrants from India; his successor as Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach, foresaw a meager 8,000.  Actual immigration from India has exceeded by 1,000-times Robert Kennedy's prediction.

Senator Hiram Fong, R-Hawaii, calculated that "the people from [Asia] will never reach 1 percent of the population."  Even in 1965, people were willing to admit that we have a reasonable interest in not being inundated by culturally alien foreigners, and it was considered acceptable to say so on the floor of the Senate.  Try that today, even as a supposed conservative! (Asians currently account for three percent of the population, and will swell to near 10 percent by 2050 if present trends continue.)

The only remaining Congressman who had voted on the 1920s quotas, Representative Emanuel Celler, D-New York, insisted, "There will not be, comparatively speaking, many Asians or Africans entering this country."  Today, the number of Asians and Africans entering this country each year exceeds the annual average total number of immigrants during the 1960s. 

Yet the largest ethnic shift has occurred within the ranks of Hispanics. Despite Robert Kennedy's promise that, "Immigration from any single country would be limited to 10 percent of the total," Mexico sent 20 percent of last year's immigrants.  Hispanics have made up nearly half of all immigrants since 1968.  After a 30-year experiment with open borders, whites no longer constitute a majority of Californians or residents of New York City. 

As immigrants pour in, native Americans feel themselves pushed out.  In 1965, Senator Hugh Scott, R-Pennsylvania, opined, "I doubt if this bill will really be the cause of crowding the present Americans out of the 50 states."  Yet half-a-million native Californians fled the state in the last decade, while its total population increased by three million, mostly immigrants.  This phenomenon also holds true in microcosm.  In tiny Ligonier, Indiana, (population 4,357) 914 Hispanics moved in and 216 native Americans departed during the 1990s.  Hispanics now outnumber the Amish as the area's dominant minority.

Thirty-plus years of immigration at historic levels have also had an economic impact on America.  In 1965, Ted Kennedy confidently predicted, "No immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is likely to become a public charge."  However, political refugees qualify for public assistance upon setting foot on U.S. soil.  The exploding Somali refugee population of Lewiston, Maine, (pop. 36,000) is largely welfare-dependent.  Likewise, 2,900 of Wausau, Wisconsin's 4,200 Hmong refugees receive public assistance.  In all, 21 percent of immigrants receive public assistance, whereas 14 percent of natives do so.  Immigrants are 50 percent more likely than natives to live in poverty. 

Ted Kennedy also claimed the 1965 amendments "will not cause American workers to lose their jobs."  Teddy cannot have it both ways: either the immigrant will remain unemployed and become a public charge, or he will take a job that otherwise could have gone to a native American.  What is presently undisputed - except by the same economic analysts at Wired magazine and the Wall Street Journal who gave us dot-com stocks - is that immigrant participation lowers wages. 

Despite the overwhelming assurances of the bill's supporters, the 1965 Immigration Reform Act has remade society into the image its critics most feared.  Immigration levels topping a million a year will increase U.S. population to 400 million within 50 years.  Meanwhile, exponents of multiculturalism insist new arrivals make no effort to assimilate; to do so would be "genocidal," a notion that makes a mockery of real genocides.  Instead, long-forgotten grudges are nursed against the white populace.  Native citizens take to flight as the neighborhoods around them, the norms in their hometowns, are debased for the convenience of low-paid immigrants and well-heeled businessmen.  All the while, indigenous paychecks drop through lower wages and higher taxes collected to provide social services for immigrants.  And this only takes into account legal immigration.  

These results were unforeseen by liberals easily led about by their emotions.  Others were not so blind.  Jewish organizations had labored since 1924 to unweave national origins quotas by admitting family members on non-quota visas.  The B'nai B'rith Women and the American Council for Judaism Philanthropic Fund, among other Jewish organizations, supported this reform legislation while it was yet in subcommittee in the winter of 1965.  Roman Catholics had the twin motivations of still-evolving social justice doctrine and the potential windfall of a mass influx of co-religionists from Latin America.  Other organized minorities pressured for increased immigration to benefit relatives in their homelands. The ultra-liberal Americans for Democratic Action, the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild joined the chorus.  Further, the Communist Party USA supported higher immigration on the grounds that it destabilizes working Americans.

Americans must realize demographic trends are not inevitable, the product of mysterious forces beyond their control.  Today's population is the result of yesterday's immigration policy, and that policy is as clearly broken as its backers' assurances were facetious.  A rational policy will only come about when native Americans place the national interest above liberal howls of "prejudice" and "tribalism."


Ben Johnson is Managing Editor of FrontPage Magazine and co-author, with David Horowitz, of the book Party of Defeat. He is also the author of the books Teresa Heinz Kerry's Radical Gifts (2009) and 57 Varieties of Radical Causes: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Charitable Giving (2004).


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