Remembering the INA of 1965
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Posted by: Nick Lee
Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1965, which forever altered the face of America. Prior to this act, very few non-white Americans lived in the United States. Quotas maintained the number of Asian Americans at extremely low levels (tens and not hundreds per year) and there was almost no chance that a person of Asian descent would be able to bring their family here. Family reunification was a privilege only for white Americans, not for the Chinese, Filipino, or Japanese laborers and farmworkers.
In stark contrast to this history of exclusion, the INA was a bipartisan, landmark piece of legislation that forever reformed our immigration system and altered the demographic trajectory of our country. The 1965 law allowed a wealth of new immigrants to come to the United States by abolishing quotas and eliminating discrimination against immigrants based on their country of origin. All tolled the INA increased the number of Asian Americans in the United States ten-fold, from just 0.5% to 5.6% of the total population of the United States. Most significantly for Asian Americans, the INA allowed us the privilege of sponsoring and bringing over members of our families: parents, siblings, and children.
However, despite the INA opening the gates of America to our families, our immigration system today remains restrictive and broken. Asian Americans overwhelmingly immigrate to the United States through family sponsorship and there are currently over 1.8 million individuals of Asian descent waiting to be reunited with their families. Today, Filipino Americans would have to wait 23 years to see their siblings and Chinese Americans would have to wait 17 years. This wait is too long for many in our communities, and oftentimes, small technicalities can send these individuals to the back of the line. Oftentimes, as we have seen with the many Filipino veterans of WWII, beloved family members cannot get through the visa process fast enough to be reunited before their sponsor passes on.
We are well past the time for reform of the immigration system. Congress must act now to increase the amount of family visas available; allow unused visas to be allocated to family members; and speed up the process for acceptance. We must repair our immigration system to support immigrant communities and create fair and humane immigration policies that protect our communities rather than keep our families divided. Those who have laid their roots in this country deserve to have their family made whole and to share their journey toward the American Dream with their loved ones. On this 50th anniversary of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, we must renew our commitment to fair and comprehensive immigration reform, family reunification, and to a vision of America where we can live our lives united with our families.
Michael W. Kwan
OCA National President