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President Johnson Ushers in a New Era in U.S. Immigration Policy

In 1965 the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, were signed by President Johnson, ending the quota system which had guided U.S. immigration policy since the 1920s and which had given overwhelming preference to applicants from Northern European countries. In a speech marking the occasion, Johnson outlined the reasoning behind the new legislation, claiming that the new law was a better reflection of American ideals. The old system, Johnson maintained, "violated the basic principle of American democracy" by allowing only three European countries to supply 70 percent of all immigrants. Over 28 million people have legally immigrated to the United States since 1965, many from Latin America and Asia.

…This bill that we will 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, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power…

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….

This bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.

This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country—to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit—will be the first that are admitted to this land.

The fairness of this standard is so self-evident that we may well wonder that it has not always been applied. Yet the fact is that for over four decades the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system.

Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only 3 countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants…

This system violated 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.

Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.

We can now believe that it will never again shadow the gate to the American Nation with the twin barriers of prejudice and privilege.

Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide.

The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources—because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.

And from this experience, almost unique in the history of nations, has come America's attitude toward the rest of the world. We, because of what we are, feel safer and stronger in a world as varied as the people who make it up—a world where no country rules another and all countries can deal with the basic problems of human dignity and deal with those problems in their own way.

Now, under the monument which has welcomed so many to our shores, the American Nation returns to the finest of its traditions today…

Source | Lyndon B. Johnson, "Remarks on Signing the Immigration Bill, Liberty Island, New York, October 3, 1965," from The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum, http://www.lbjlib.utexas.edu/johnson/archives.hom/speeches.hom/651003.asp
Creator | Lyndon B. Johnson
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Lyndon B. Johnson, “President Johnson Ushers in a New Era in U.S. Immigration Policy,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 5, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1257.

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