It took Congress more than four decades to develop and legislate a system of immigration control to replace the discriminatory national origins system first set forth in the 1924 Reed-Johnson Act. The new system implemented preferences which prioritized family reunification (75 percent), employment (20 percent), and refugee status (5 percent). Spouses, minor children, and parents remained nonquota immigrants. Each country received the same annual cap of 20,000 and for the first time, countries in the American hemisphere faced numeric caps on immigration. This law opened the door to non-European immigration in unprecedented numbers, with many arriving through the employment preferences which heavily favors highly educated workers and has contributed to the image of Asian Americans, who have immigrated predominantly since 1965, as “model minorities.” However, because the law does not provide for immigration by “unskilled” workers in sectors like agriculture, construction, and domestic service, it has fostered a growing population of unauthorized immigrants who are gainfully employed but lack lawful means to immigrate. A majority of unauthorized immigrants are from poorer countries in the western hemisphere seeking greater opportunity in the wealthier United States.
To amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That section 201 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (66 Stat. 176; 8 U.S.C. 1151) be amended to read as follows:
“SEC. 201. (a) Exclusive of special immigrants defined in section 101(a) (27), and of the immediate relatives of United States citizens specified in subsection (b) of this section, the number of aliens who may be issued immigrant visas or who may otherwise acquire the status of an alien lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence, or who may, pursuant to section 203(a) (7) enter conditionally, (i) shall not in any of the first three quarters of any fiscal year exceed a total of 45,000 and (ii) shall not in any fiscal year exceed a total of 170,000.
“(b) The ‘immediate relatives’ referred to in subsection (a) of this section shall mean the children, spouses, and parents of a citizen of the United States: Provided, That in the case of parents, such citizen must be at least twenty-one years of age. The immediate relatives specified in this subsection who are otherwise qualified for admission as immigrants shall be admitted as such, without regard to the numerical limitations in this Act…
“(e) The immigration pool and the quotas of quota areas shall terminate June 30, 1968. Thereafter immigrants admissible under the provisions of this Act who are subject to the numerical limitations of subsection (a) of this section shall be admitted in accordance with the percentage limitations and in the order of priority specified in section 203.”
SEC. 2. Section 202 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (66 Foreign states. Stat. 175; 8 U.S.C. 1152) is amended to read as follows:
(a ) No person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of his race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence, except as specifically provided in section 101(a) (27), section 201(b), and section 203: Provided, That the total number of immigrant visas and the number of conditional entries made available to natives of any single foreign state under paragraphs (1) through (8) of section 203(a) shall not exceed 20,000 in any fiscal year: Provided further, That the foregoing proviso shall not operate to reduce the number of immigrants who may be admitted under the quota of any quota area before June 30, 1968.
“(b) Each independent country, self-governing dominion, mandated territory, and territory under the international trusteeship system of the United Nations, other than the United States and its outlying possessions shall be treated as a separate foreign state for the purposes of the numerical limitation set forth in the proviso to sub section (a) of this section when approved by the Secretary of State. All other inhabited lands shall be attributed to a foreign state specified by the Secretary of State…
“SEC. 203. (a) Aliens who are subject to the numerical limitations specified in section 201(a) shall be allotted visas or their conditional entry authorized, as the case may be, as follows:
“(1) Visas shall be first made available, in a number not to exceed 20 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), to qualified immigrants who are the unmarried sons or daughters of citizens of the United States.
“(2) Visas shall next be made available, in a number not to exceed 20 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), plus any visas not required for the classes specified in paragraph (1), to qualified immigrants who are the spouses, unmarried sons or unmarried daughters of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence.
“(3) Visas shall next be made available, in a number not to exceed 10 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), to qualified immigrants who are members of the professions, or who because of their exceptional ability in the sciences or the arts will substantially benefit prospectively the national economy, cultural interests, or welfare of the United States.
“(4) Visas shall next be made available, in a number not to exceed 10 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), plus any visas not required for the classes specified in paragraphs (1) through (3), to qualified immigrants who are the married sons or the married daughters of citizens of the United States.
“(5) Visas shall next be made available, in a number not to exceed 24 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), plus any visas not required for the classes specified in paragraphs (1) through (4), to qualified immigrants who are the brothers or sisters of citizens of the United States.
“(6) Visas shall next be made available, in a number not to exceed 10 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), to qualified immigrants who are capable of performing specified skilled or unskilled labor, not of a temporary or seasonal nature, for which a shortage of employable and willing persons exists in the United States.
“(7) Conditional entries shall next be made available by the Attorney General, pursuant to such regulations as he may prescribe and in a number not to exceed 6 per centum of the number specified in section 201(a) (ii), to aliens who satisfy an Immigration and Naturalization Service officer at an examination in any non-Communist or non-Communist-dominated country, (A) that (i) because of persecution or fear of persecution on account of race, religion, or political opinion they have fled (I) from any Communist or Communist-dominated country or area, or (II) from any country within the general area of the Middle East, and (ii) are unable or unwilling to return to such country or area on account of race, religion, or political opinion, and (iii) are not nationals of the countries or areas in which their application for conditional entry is made; or (B) that they are persons uprooted by catastrophic natural calamity as defined by the President who are unable to return to their usual place of abode. For the purpose of the foregoing the term ‘general area of the Middle East’ means the area between and including (1) Libya on the west, (2) Turkey on the north, (3) Pakistan on the east, and (4) Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia on the south: Provided, That immigrant visas in a number not exceeding one-half the number specified in this paragraph may be made available, in lieu of conditional entries of a like number, to such aliens who have been continuously physically present in the United States for a period of at least two years prior to application for adjustment of status.
Analysis of Hart-Celler Act from M. Ngai:
On October 3, 1965, President Johnson signed the Hart-Celler Act into law at a ceremony staged at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. Abolishing the national origins quotas, he said, “repair[s] a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. it corrects a cruel and enduring wrong int he conduct of the American Nation.” In place of national origins, Johnson said, the new law “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.” The new policy, he added, was consistent with the nation’s democratic tradition that “values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man.”
The abolition of the national origins quota system garnered the most attention and defined the law as a progressive measure…But by limiting the meaning of “restriction” to the national origins system, they obscured from view the law’s other restrictive provisions: the numerical ceiling… and the imposition of quotas on Western Hemisphere immigration…
The imposition of a 20,000 annual quota on Mexico recast Mexican migration as “illegal.” When one considers that in the early 1960s annual “legal” Mexican migration comprised some 200,000 braceros and 35,000 regular admissions for permanent residency, the transfer of migration to “illegal” form should have surprised no one…
The Immigration Act of 1965, then, comprised a complex of measures that promoted both greater inclusions and greater exclusions. The chief gain on the inclusionary side of the register was, of course, the abolition of the national origins quota system. Eastern and southern Europeans, the principal objects of exclusion in the Immigration Act of 1924, could not enter the United States in equal numbers as northern and western Europeans… But, as we have seen, the new law was not inclusionary towards all. By extending the system of formal equality in admissions to all countries, the new law affected immigration from the Third World differently-creating greater opportunities for migration from Asia and Africa but severely restricting it from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America…” (pp. 258-263)
Ngai, M. M. (2004). Impossible subjects: Illegal aliens and the making of modern America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.