How U.S. Immigration Changed in 1965

Over the course of its history, the United States government has restricted immigration in different ways. One important era in immigration policy was during the 1920s. In the 1920s, the U.S. government passed a series of laws that limited immigration from certain countries. This was a “quota” system, and only a set number of people from certain places could enter the country under this system. The laws favored western and northern European immigrants. The laws excluded almost all people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and other non-European areas. People got visas based on where they were from. A visa is official permission for a person to come into or stay in a country. People from Ireland, Germany, and the United Kingdom received about 70% of all U.S. visas!

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 abolished the quota system. This act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It created new immigration policies. One of its goals was to try to end racial and ethnic discrimination towards certain immigrants. Rather than giving immigrants visas based on their race or ethnicity, these new policies focused on reuniting family members and getting skilled workers into the U.S. Many visas went to relatives of immigrants who were already settled in the United States. Many more immigrants from Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world entered the U.S. They were no longer kept out based on discriminatory quota systems.

The 1965 law also allowed for 6% of visas to go to refugees. Refugees are people who have been forced to leave their country to escape war, natural disasters, or other dangerous conditions. Today, there are other laws that have created and set policies for refugees seeking to come into the U.S.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 lessened restrictions for many non-European immigrants, but it also placed restrictions on some groups of people who had faced almost no restrictions before 1965. For the first time, a limit was placed on the number of immigrants from the Western Hemisphere, which included Mexico, Central America, and South America. The act affected a lot of migrant workers from Mexico. Many workers who were once allowed to cross the border to work in U.S. farms could not do so anymore legally.

Since the passage of this law, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. One survey in 2018 showed that immigrants accounted for about 14% of the U.S. population. The 1965 immigration law shaped immigration policy for decades. It continues to have a large impact today.