The Undertow of Reforming Immigration

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:40 AM
Stevens C-1 (Hilton Chicago)
Ruth Wasem, University of Texas at Austin
Over the two decades between the end of World War Two and the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, the agents of immigration reform were checked by a strong undertow that kept them just short of achieving their objectives. Powerfully entrenched legislators supported the status quo of the racially-based national origins quotas.

In the years leading up to the Immigration Act of 1965, a growing sense of citizenship as well as an actual increase in naturalization among immigrant groups was shifting the balance. More precisely, the naturalization rate (i.e., percent of foreign-born residents who become U.S. citizens) rose from just over half (52%) in 1920 to over three-quarters (80%) in 1950. Just as the accomplishments of immigrants and successes of their children were directly challenging old notions of selectivity and racial superiority, the electoral clout of naturalized immigrants and their children was beginning to alter the political landscape.

Coupled with the increasing civic engagement of immigrants was a broader societal push toward equality in mid-20th Century United States. There is considerable scholarship on how the war against fascism abroad turned the mirror on inequality in the United States and fueled campaigns for civil rights, workers' rights, women's rights, and other struggles for equality. At issue was how long the undertow of beliefs in a deserving class, race and ethnic superiority and entrenched political power would hold back the societal and political currents for equality.

<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation