Immigration and Nationality Act Media Kit
On Oct. 3, 1965, at the base of the Statue of Liberty, with the island of Manhattan gleaming in the background, President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act, also called the Hart-Celler Act. For the previous 40 years, those who wanted to come to America were subject to a quota system. The law favored immigrants from northern Europe and the British Isles, while discriminating against those from southern and eastern Europe. Those from Asia and non-whites could not enter the country.
The Immigration and Nationality Act abolished quotas, opening the doors to "those who can contribute most to this country – to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit." The new law created a preference system that focused on immigrants' skills and family relations with citizens or U. S. residents.
President John F. Kennedy, whose Irish ancestors had faced prejudice, wanted immigration reform. As president, Johnson turned to Kennedy's brother, Ted, to help steer the bill through Congress. In a telephone conversation on March 8, 1965, the two men talked about strengthening their working relationship and to dispel rumors about a strain between Johnson and Kennedy supporters. The conversation can be heard below.
For historical perspective, the LBJ Presidential Library has collected related photos, videos, audio, and text from the bill signing. All are public domain.
Over my shoulders here you can see Ellis Island, whose vacant corridors echo today the joyous sound of long ago voices. And today we can all believe that the lamp of this grand old lady is brighter today-- and the golden door that she guards gleams more brilliantly in the light of an increased liberty for the people from all the countries of the globe.
- President Lyndon B. Johnson