This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Major Changes to US Immigration Law

Fifty years ago this week President Lyndon Johnson signed into law a set of major changes to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. As my son, Greg Weeks, and I summarize in our book Irresistible Forces, the changes were dramatic (p.53):

In 1965, amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act (which in 1952 had brought all existing immigration laws under one piece of legislation) raised the total number of immigrants who could enter each year from all countries, from 150,000 to 290,000, and eliminated the numerical restrictions (the “quota system”) established in 1921 that had strictly limited immigration from most non-Western European countries (the vast majority of immigrants thus came from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany). Under the new legislation, for example, a ceiling for the eastern hemisphere was set at 170,000, and no more than 20,000 could come from any single country. In that era of civil rights activism, the idea was to end the blatant discrimination that existed in the immigration policies. For the western hemisphere, 120,000 could enter with no ceiling on any specific country, but there were no restrictions on family members of legal immigrants.
Canada had recently rid itself of the racist quotas and the U.S. followed suit. In signing the bill, President Johnson made the following assessment:
This bill that we 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.
Oh boy, was he ever wrong! And a new Pew Research Center report authored by Mark Hugo Lopez, Jeffrey Passel, and Molly Rohal, tells the story about the massive changes wrought in American society by the shift in immigration policy. There are two headlines making the rounds: (1) the percentage of the US population that is foreign-born is almost back to where we were at the beginning of the 20th century (but you already knew that if you've read my book); and (2) in the past few years, Asians (largely from China and India) have surpassed Latin Americans (largely from Mexico) as the majority of migrants entering the country. That's the beauty of migration--it never stops surprising us.


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