IHRC Archives

Immigration Reform Debate

Pre-1965 immigration reform debate reflected in the IHRCA's holdings

About half-a-century ago, many voices in the United States were calling for a major overhaul of the immigration law. Of the foreign born at that time, the largest group were those born in Italy. And not surprisingly, Italian Americans were very active in trying to change the immigration laws they viewed as discriminatory and unfair. In the name of equality, they were willing to join forces with some other immigrant groups whose nationalities were not favored by the quota system of the 1952 Walter-McCarran Act. Shortly after the enactment of that legislation, the American Committee on Italian Migration (ACIM) was established by Italian Americans.

American Committee on Italian Migration Records, IHRC159, File 42


American Committee on Italian Migration Records, IHRC159, File 62


The drive for the Italian American initiatives aimed at convincing Congress to act on immigration reform was based in part on the group's ethnic awareness that sometimes found its expressions in very particular, ethnicity-centered demands on the administration. Ironically, while non-discrimination was requested for Italians and other nationalities regarding the immigration law, other representatives of the same group were asking the President to select his appointees on the basis of ethnicity or national origin.

Caesar Donnaruma Papers, IHRC557, Box 1 Caesar Donnaruma Papers, IHRC557, Box 1

As late as 1964, the prospects for the immigration law reform's success in Congress were viewed by the ACIM as rather bleak.


American Committee on Italian Migration Records, IHRC159, File 42

However, only a year later, the new Immigration and Nationality Act was signed into law by President Johnson on October 3, 1965, removing the 40-year-old system of quotas based on race or ancestry. It brought changes not only for the Italians but substantially improved access to immigration options for most potential migrants to the U.S. world-wide. The 1965 immigration reform brought benefits to populations beyond the particular interest groups that had worked actively toward its accomplishment, and perhaps far beyond the intentions of many of the groups' members.

Today, there are again many voices calling for a reform of immigration law. And many sound rather sceptical. Should we look forward to being surprised a year from now by new immigration legislation as (or even more) consequential as the 1965 Act?

As a bonus for reading all the way to this point, another small sample from the IHRC collections can remind us that some aspects of the current immigration debate are not completely new (the selection comments on the proceedings of the 80th Congress in 1947).

Edward P. Hutchinson – Legislative History of American Immigration Policy 1798-1965, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1981, p. 278