President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Immigration Act of 1965 at the foot of the Statue of Liberty on October 3, 1965. Photo Credit: Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library
Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which President Lyndon B. Johnson signed on October 3, 1965 at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Though at the time, Johnson stated the act was “not a revolutionary bill,” hindsight has proven otherwise. The 1965 act marked a significant shift in U.S. immigration policy away from selecting immigrants by national origin and has had a lasting impact in shaping America today as a richly diverse nation.
Why is this act important to know about?
Before 1965, immigrants to the U.S. largely came from Northern European countries based on numerical limits first enacted in the 1920s. In fact, just prior to the law’s passage, Ireland, Germany, and the United Kingdom received nearly 70% of the quota visas available to enter the U.S. After the bill passed, the demographics of the U.S. shifted as the U.S. implemented an immigration policy that favored family reunification, skilled immigrants, and the elimination of the race-based quota system. As a result, immigrants from other parts of the world – notably Latin America and Asia – began to come to the U.S.
According to a recent report released by Pew Research, “among immigrants who have arrived since 1965, half (51%) are from Latin America and one-quarter are from Asia.” The report further shows that without the 1965 act, our nation would be incredibly less diverse today. Comparatively, U.S. ethnic and racial composition would be: 75% white, 14% black, 8% Hispanic and less than 1% Asian. We’d also be slightly older without the arrival of so many immigrants.
What prompted such a significant change?
Scholars often cite the social reforms of the civil rights movement as well as World War II and Cold War era national security concerns as reasons that prompted this significant immigration reform. The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) notes that “the Allies in World War II and the West during the Cold War risked losing support from Third World countries whose peoples were excluded by openly racist immigration laws.” More recent scholarship by Thomas Gjelten in his book Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story offers an in-depth account of the congressional process, specifically the emphasis on family reunification, and the act’s unintended consequences.
What does this mean for the future?
Pew Research also projected immigration trends fifty years from now. By 2065, no racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of the U.S. population. We will increasingly become more diverse with a growing multiracial population. Notably, the share of the foreign born Hispanic population is estimated to fall to 31% while the share of Asian immigrants will rise to 38%.
What does this mean for the classroom?
By 2050, one in three children under the age of 18 will be either an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. As the U.S. immigrant student population grows, the need to cultivate positive, diverse classrooms and libraries, ones that are reflective of all students and various immigration experiences is ever more prescient. Important also, will be the need to actively weed out hate from the immigration debate , welcome immigrant students into the classroom, and value how immigrant students strengthen American schools.
We offer many resources including lesson plans and grants to teach about immigration past and present, but we are especially pleased this week to release a short lesson created by ESL and Human Rights teacher at Newcomers High School, Julie Mann. “Lessons on Acceptance and Forgiveness: A Tale of Two Americas” focuses on changing negative perceptions of immigrants based on the story of Rais Bhuiyan and the Ted Talk by Anand Giridharadas, “A Tale of Two Americas.” The lesson is appropriate for high school students and adaptable for many reading levels.