The 1965 Immigration Act That Became a Law of Unintended Consequences

When President Johnson Signed the Hart-Celler Bill, He Said It Wouldn’t Reshape the Lives of Millions of Americans. He Was Wrong

“It’s complicated.”

This might be an appropriate way to characterize via Facebook the legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act, one of the biggest changes to the flow of people into America.

At a Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It Means to Be American” event on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, a panel of scholars tried to explain how a piece of legislation could create so many contradictory and unexpected after-effects, and what kind of world created the policy.

The contradictions, in fact, start at its very signing. In front of a full house at the University of California Washington Center, the moderator of the panel, Gregory Rodriguez, Zócalo’s publisher and founder, read these words from a speech that President Lyndon B. Johnson gave at the signing ceremony:

This bill that we will sign today is not a …

Archive: Video