Panel Transcript: 1965 Immigration Act 50 Years Later

Panel Summary

On the 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Center for Immigration Studies hosted a panel discussion at the National Press Club focusing on the causes and consequences of the legislation, which is the foundation of today's immigration law. Panelists examined the sponsors' original expectations, a helpful exercise at a time when Congress debates making major changes to immigration law.

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Panel Announcement: 1965 Immigration Act 50 Years Later
The Hart-Celler Immigration Act of 1965
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Date: Thursday, October 1, 2015, at 9:30am

Location: National Press Club, Zenger Room, 529 14th St, NW, 13th Floor, Washington, D.C.


Jerry Kammer
Senior Research Fellow, Center for Immigration Studies

Author of a new paper for the Center on the passage of the 1965 act. During more than 30 years as a journalist he worked at the Arizona Republic and the Copley News Service, and has won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for humanitarian journalism and the Pulitzer Prize.

Peggy Orchowski
Washington Bureau Chief, Hispanic Outlook

Author of the new book The Law That Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Author of Immigration and the American Dream: Battling the Political Hype and Hysteria.

Philip Martin/b>
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

Professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California at Davis, chair of the University of California's Comparative Immigration and Integration Program, and author of Importing Poverty?: Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural America.

Mark Krikorian (Moderator)

Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies

Transcript By Superior Transcriptions LLC

MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

And this is a notable week in the immigration business because Saturday will be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Hart-Celler immigration law that ended the old national origins quotas, essentially changed the paradigm for immigration law. Even though there’s been many changes since then, it was a kind of paradigm shift in immigration law from the previous generation – couple of generations, really – of immigration regulation.

And so everybody and his brother is having a forum on the 50th anniversary, and there’s – there was one – this week there’s been the forums at the University of California’s center here in Washington, at the Migration Policy Institute, at the National Immigration Forum. Tomorrow there will be one at the Cato Institute. And as always, the Center for Immigration Studies is the skunk at the garden party because we’re the only organization likely to at least take a kind of somewhat skeptical or jaundiced view of what’s happened over the past 50 years on immigration. And so we decided to put together a panel to talk about it.

The first presenter is going to be Jerry Kammer, a senior research fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who’s done a paper that’s out on the table there looking at how the immigration law actually got put together – what was going on, what were the personalities. It’s kind of – it’s interesting stuff that I hadn’t seen a lot of before.

After Phil (sic; Jerry) speaks, Peggy Orchowski – Margaret Sands Orchowski – will be speaking, because she actually has a book that just came out this week on the 50th anniversary of the – of the new immigration law called “The Law That Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.”

And then, as a kind of respondent to Phil and Peggy will be – I mean, to Jerry and Peggy – will be Phil Martin. Dr. Philip Martin’s a professor emeritus at University of California-Davis, is – I don’t think – he doesn’t describe himself this way, but he’s sort of the guru of immigration and agriculture, the intersection of those two issues, has written extensively on this – has written several books related to this issue, one of them being “Importing Poverty?: Immigration and the Changing Face of Rural America.”

And then after they have their say we’ll open it up to Q&A for the audience.

So, Jerry, you want to start?

JERRY KAMMER: Thanks, Mark.

This was a fascinating opportunity for me to write this paper because it gave me a chance to understand a remarkable era in American history. I started to learn about immigration in 1986, when I was stationed – when I was a correspondent in Sonora, Mexico, the neighboring state to Arizona, for the Arizona Republic. I started just a few weeks before President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

I hadn’t learned a great deal about the Hart-Celler Act until I had the chance to dig into it here, and it’s an opportunity to understand two fascinating eras in American history. In order to understand Hart-Celler you have to go back to the 1924 legislation, the Johnson-Reed Act, which came out of a very different time in the history of our country from that which produced the Hart-Celler Act. 1924 was a postwar era that was fraught with postwar anxieties, with theories of racial superiority, eugenics, directed largely against people like my Italian great-grandfather and Southern and Eastern Europeans, Catholics and Jews; and also a time of economic anxiety and fear of Bolshevism being imported to the United States and other forms of radicalism. These were fears that were, in the eyes of some scholars, exaggerated, but understandable, at least, in their roots. These were times of great turbulence in the world and fear in the U.S. that the turbulence could be imported here through immigration. And the whole set of anxieties, coupled with clear racism and racial bigotry against Jews and Catholics, helped to produce that legislation.

If you want to understand that era, I can’t recommend anything more than the book by the dean of immigration scholars, John Higham, who wrote a book called “Strangers in the Land.” It’s a history of American nativism up to the period of 1924 that produced that Act. Higham’s book is still studied at American colleges.

Interesting to see that Higham, in his later years, pulled back a bit from attributing the 1924 Act just to nativism, and said you have to understand the anxieties and what he called the “status rivalries” within the American public that were all, he says, part and parcel of trying to combine large numbers of groups from different countries into the American experiment. So Higham took a broader view in his later years, and actually called himself a moderate restrictionist before he died in 2002. He did not like to see the polarization and the demonization that is so common in our debate today.

So you go from 1924, which passed this national origins quota system directed primarily to limit immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, and really it maintained barriers elsewhere, but immigration from elsewhere wasn’t really the issue at that time. The issue at that time was immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Interesting that one of those who fought fiercely against the Act in the Congress was Representative Emanuel Celler of New York, who fought against it all the way up through the 1960s. And it’s – he is the Celler of the Hart-Celler Act. Emanuel Celler, the son of Jewish – the grandson of Jewish and Catholic immigrants, and someone who grew up in Brooklyn living with immigrants, admiring immigrants and respecting their role in American culture, was furious at what he saw as the naked bigotry of the 1924 Act.

He was finally vindicated in his efforts to get repeal of that Act in 1965 because 1965 was a greatly different era. Instead of the – 1924’s anxiety, postwar’s anxiety, the 1960s, of course, were the era of the culmination of the civil rights movement, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And then, on August 6th, 1965, shortly before President Johnson signed Hart-Celler, he signed the Voting Rights Act.

And it was a time of great energy. When Lyndon Johnson came in and – was elected, he came in as a result of tragic circumstances that historians say helped, actually, to forge a will in the American people to correct some of our historical wrongs and help Johnson get through the 1965 legislation – which actually began, of course, with John Kennedy – Kennedy, famous for his book “A Nation of Immigrants,” first published in 1958. And in that book, he talks about the contribution of immigrants to our country and he says that we should have selective and limited immigration. That’s something that’s not long – or not frequently acknowledged. John F. Kennedy believed in restriction, but he believed – as his brother Robert believed – in just restrictions as opposed to the unjust restrictions that were based on racist criteria or bigoted criteria.

John F. Kennedy talked about favoring people who had skills and talents that could improve the economy of the nation and the overall life of the nation. And one of the major dynamics of the 1965 legislation, what happened in Congress, was that Kennedy’s bill – which originally proposed to have 50 percent of the visas issued on the basis of education and skill and talent – was changed at the demands of the powerful head of the immigration subcommittee, a guy from Ohio, a Democrat named Michael Feighan, who held up the Hart-Celler Act, who feuded with the – Manny Celler.

Manny Celler regarded Feighan as an anti-communist crank and a – and a Cold Warrior, and Feighan was indeed concerned about what he saw as the potential of immigration law to be used to allow into the country radicals and subversives. And Emanuel Celler fought with him, feuded with him – with Feighan. And Feighan finally came around in 1965, after getting a scare in the 1964 Democratic primary, where he was almost defeated, and after getting what was called “the treatment” from Lyndon Johnson, and after getting pressure from the many Eastern European immigrants and sons of immigrants and daughters of immigrants who lived in his district in Cleveland.

So one of the fascinating parts of researching this was to go to the Feighan archives at Princeton, his alma mater, and to see just how dependent he was on votes of Serbs, Ukrainians, Croatians, Poles who wanted to have a less-discriminatory immigration policy, and so who therefore did not like the 1924 legislation.

So Feighan agrees to play ball with the Johnson administration, finally, after obstructing them for a long time, but he wants his price. He wants to have a system which gives 74 percent of the visas on the basis of family connections. His big thing is family unification, which ironically, as it turned out, he thought would maintain the old system. Because the old system was based on having relatives in the States, and therefore he thought, well, my Eastern European constituents will be really happy because they’re likely to be able – they will be able to bring over their relatives. They were, indeed, happy; they did, indeed, endorse him, as did Italian-Americans who were very upset with the 1924 legislation. And they were on his case as well. He placated them.

But at the same time he managed to placate conservative organizations – the so-called patriotic organizations like the American Legion and the Coalition of Patriotic Societies. He told them, look, this is basically going to accomplish what the 1924 legislation was no longer accomplishing, which was maintaining the pattern – the old pattern of immigration. Feighan pointed out that because of special bills that Congress was passing to admit people outside the quotas, the purposes of the national origin system had basically been defeated.

Now, just moving on quickly, another thing that surprised me, in addition to the role of Feighan in getting this legislation passed and to getting it amended, was how little attention, how little rigorous analysis was conducted by any of the supporters of the legislation. President Johnson, like Emanuel Celler, they wanted to get the 1924 Act repealed. They had a political mission and an idealistic mission, and they did not want to pay attention or give credence to the idea that this Act would do what it ended up doing – that is, greatly expanding our immigration. Immigration in the ’60s ran at an annual rate of about 300,000, and of course now we’re over – you know, well over a million. And Manny Celler, when people tried to bring up the concerns about having a tremendous increase in immigration, he said concerns about population – about immigration-driven population growth are, quote, “totally irrelevant, since the bill before you in no way significantly increases the basic numbers of immigrants to be permitted entry. We are not talking about increased immigration. We are talking about equality of opportunity for all peoples to reach this promised land.”

So that, of course, is an essential American value. But by invoking this value, Celler also managed to divert attention away from the fact that this would do what it has done: greatly increase immigration. There was little attention paid to that and little attention paid in any rigorous sense or systematic sense – scientific sense, you might say – of a woman who testified against the bill who said: “At the very least, the hidden mathematics of the bill should be made clear to the public so that they may tell their congressmen how they feel about providing jobs, schools, homes, security against want, citizen education, and a brotherly welcome…for an indeterminately enormous number of aliens from underprivileged lands.” Well, she was – she was right in this prediction. We had a great increase in immigration.

Ted Kennedy, Feighan, LBJ and his entire administration denied that time after time in the Congress. They were on a political mission. They finally got their bill by giving concessions to Congressman Feighan.

And I think, just to close here, that, as we look ahead – and a lot of people are doing that this week, trying to look ahead to the next 50 years – it’s important that we, I think, have a bit of modesty about our ability to project that far in the – into the future. Projections are dealing with current or recent circumstances and imagining that they will continue into the future. And I think, you know, we’re going to have a far different country, in part because of the bill. But a lot of what we’re seeing now is based upon a fact that I think we should acknowledge.

A U.S. green card I think without doubt is the world’s most coveted document. I think there are tens of millions of people around the world who would love a chance to come here with green cards that give them status as permanent residents and a – and a path to citizenship. And it is the job of immigration policy to decide who gets those green cards. And of course, illegal immigration is a parallel question. But the immigration networks that used to be primarily in Western Europe and then later on in Latin America have now spread far and wide, and there are people – as someone told National Public Radio, someone from Nigeria who was – had just sponsored his mom – he said everyone in the world wants to come to the United States. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s an exaggeration for effect because tens, if not hundreds of millions of people see what we have in our country and would like to be a part of it. And it is the job of our policymakers to make a policy that will decide those questions.

So, thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Jerry.


MARGARET "PEGGY" ORCHOWSKI: Thanks. Well, I’m going to take off from where Jerry went.

My book is about the law, and I’m a congressional journalist. I’ve been covering immigration – or, rather, immigration reform, which is the changing of laws in Congress – for the last 10 years for a Hispanic magazine, the Hispanic Outlook. And so I became very interested in how immigration laws evolved, and I became interested in, why is immigration in the Judiciary Committee when immigration’s really about work? I mean, immigrants say they come here to work. The nation-state has an interest in immigration to bring in skilled workers and to provide prosperity for our nation. So how did it get into the Judiciary Committee?

So all of this is related to the 1965 law. As Jerry said, it starts with the 1920s. We have to understand the context of the times. And it’s very interesting that some of those contexts of the times of 1920, which led to a very restrictive immigration bill, are similar to today: huge income inequality; progressives very concerned about working conditions; the biggest surge of immigrants – we still haven’t even gotten to those numbers – of unregulated immigrants; of fear of foreign invasion by – then it was communism, now it’s ISIS; an absolute fatigue with war, fear that there was going to be a second one. Remember, this was in between World War I and II. There may be a lesson there when you look at some of the drivers that drove the restrictive law in those times in ours.

1965, completely different time. That was postwar euphoria and lots of guilt – guilt about the Holocaust, because we did not let Jews in. Jews were considered a nationality in those days. I have Latvian Jewish relatives who showed me their Latvian passports, even from the ’80s. It’s “Latvia,” and then “Nationality: Jewish.” So that was considered part of the national restrictions – nationality restrictions. And Manny Celler warned about the Holocaust for years and nobody paid attention. So there was a lot of guilt about that.

And then there was also guilt about the treatment of African-Americans who are soldiers coming back from the war and going back to their homes in the South and meeting the huge discrimination of the – what’s it called? – the laws that restrict –

MR. : Jim Crow?

MS. ORCHOWSKI: Yeah, Jim Crow laws, sorry. I’m from California, so – (chuckles) – we don’t know about those.

So those – that was the context of the – of the 1960s. We don’t have such movements now. The 1964 Civil Rights Act passed, forbidding discrimination based on race, creed, religion and national origin. Here we have an immigration law completely based on restriction – on discriminations based on national origin, so of course that had to go. And of course, Kennedy – Ted Kennedy at this point – and LBJ were committed to the civil rights. So the two big movements that really don’t exist today was civil rights and the guilt of the Holocaust. That drove the 1965 Act.

And by the way, I must say they’re very successful. Right now we have a Supreme Court where there’s only Catholics and Jews, so let’s – (laughs) – acknowledge the success of that.

So then the law evolved in the last 50 years. And I say there are three main unintended consequences.

So the first is, as Jerry was saying, a huge surge of legal immigrants. Now, the nationality – the 1965 law did an incredible thing, and it made – it made it, of course, illegal to discriminate against nationality. So all nationalities – all nationalities – were to be treated equally. That means Mexico, too. And by the way, Mexico was not included in the Quota Act. There was – there was no quota for Mexicans. They were kind of considered part of the Southwest, really. They could come and go. And they didn’t – they weren’t really considered immigrants into the mainland.

Now, with the nationality – with the 1965 Act, now every country is treated equally. Anybody – there’s no discrimination to apply for a green card based on your nationality. But no nationality can have more than 7 percent of all the green cards that are given out in one year. That 7 percent rule still exists. I’m not even sure how many congressmen know about it. But no more than 7 percent. We can’t say we’re doing away with preference – and remember, discrimination has two faces. One is discriminated against, the other is preference for. So you can’t either discriminate against or have preference for any nationality, including Mexico now. So some nationalities that were – had a big advantage in the National Quota Act now are all treated equally. That’s what civil rights is about. That’s the only way to be fair. So, of course, many countries have nationals who apply much more than their – than their numbers, so they are put on a waiting list.

But also the other thing that Jerry talked about, the idea of family unification – now, before immigration was always about work. It was even in the Labor Committee. And we based immigrants – I mean, from the day that Ellis Island started, not everyone got through. You had to be work-able in order to come into the country. If you had – I met a gal in Idaho whose great-great-aunt was not allowed. She was about 18. She could not come in with her family because she had glaucoma. She ended up spending the rest of her life in Constantinople. It wasn’t that everybody could come in. You had to be work-able. Now we did away with that. Now the priority goes to family unification. We’re still the – we’re now the only country in the world that has that favor.

So millions of people now qualify for a green card, but we have this national – we have this limit, 7 percent. So when a country has many more applicants than the 7 percent – now it’s 7 percent of 1.2 million – they go on a waiting list. But we still needed workers. I mean, that’s what immigration is about, to bring in workers.

So over the years we started inventing all these so-called temporary visas, which Mark likes to call the most un-temporary of temporary visas – the biggest immigration visa that isn’t. Dozens and dozens – you know, a whole alphabet soup of temporary visas to – for workers and students and religious people and businesspeople and investors. We bring in over – we give out over 2 million temporary visas a year – we give out over 1 million green cards a year – more and more, so that that increased the number of immigrants coming into the country. Huge numbers.

The second impact was a huge increase in illegal immigrants. So a huge increase in legal immigrants, counting temporary visas over 3 million a year. Huge increase of illegal immigrants, people who came in – more and more they’re from people who come in on the temporary visas and overstay them because we didn’t have a way to enforce them. We really – the INS, which is – think of the words, Immigration and Naturalization Services – their main job was to help immigrants naturalize. They didn’t want to do enforcement. And we never had an agency to do enforcement – internal enforcement, not border – until after 9/11, when we did away with the INS, invented the Department of Homeland Security, split INS into two bureaus: Citizenship and Immigration Services – there’s your S – an a whole new bureau we’d never had before, Immigration and Customs Enforcement – E, enforcement. Suddenly we have this huge surge of illegal immigrants, and now we have a problem of internal enforcement. This was never foreseen with the 1965 Act.

I can go on, but the third very important unintended consequence – which I’m really stepping into politically incorrect land here – is that because of the 1965 Act being adopted in the fervor of civil rights – and remember, the only civil right really was you can’t be discriminated on the base of your national origin – but somehow, over the years, immigration has taken on the tenor of a civil right. I saw Ted Kennedy several times on the floor of the Senate pounding the desk in his incredibly lively way of speaking, saying immigration is the next civil right in this country. Well, you know, with all due respect, he was wrong. Just as JFK was wrong about the demographic impact, Ted Kennedy’s wrong about it being a civil right. It isn’t.

There is a paradox about immigration, and that is that you – and it’s written in the U.N. Charter – you have a human rights to leave your country. No country has the right to keep anybody – any human being from leaving that country. But you do not have a human right and you do not have a civil right just to walk in, come in, stay, work and become a citizen of any country just because you want to. That is not a civil or human right. That is a core duty and responsibility of a country, to decide who can come in, who can stay, who can work, who can become a citizen. And of course, the other side of that is who can’t. We have to make a choice. It’s a terrible, difficult choice. It’s a terrible dilemma, especially for liberals. And we’re hearing more and more now how, you know, everybody has the right to come in and work and be – we talk about immigrant rights. Well, of course, when they talk about immigrant rights, they’re mainly talking about the rights of illegal immigrants, because immigrants – legal immigrants – have lots of rights. So that is another huge unintended consequence.

I could go on about that. It has to do with the invention of “Latinos,” because suddenly we can’t talk about Mexicans because Mexicans is a nationality and they’re going to be limited now. So now we have “Latinos” with this consequent Latino vote and immigration as a – as a primary Latino issue, which it isn’t – not among voters. And we have now – we’re watching surges of immigrants in Europe coming to the borders, demanding entrance on the basis of humanitarian and moral rights, and they just don’t have them. It’s not a civil right. Immigrants to get to apply and nation-states get to decide.

So those are the three unintended consequences, and we can talk about it further.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Peggy.


PHILIP MARTIN: Well, thank you very much. And I want to thank everyone who’s here on a rainy day in Washington. But I want to make three points in my 12 or so minutes here. The first is on numbers, the second is on unintended consequences, and the third is on a few myths.

The first, on numbers, you all know that the U.S. basically had three major migration policies: pretty much facilitate or have an open door until the 1880s, then qualitative restrictions, and then quantitative restrictions since the 1920s. And of course, we layered one on top of the other, and so that makes our immigration policy very, very complex. We’ve recorded a little over 80 million immigrants since 1820, when we started recording them, and 60 million came since 1965. So three out of four immigrants that we’ve recorded have actually come in the last 50 years. And keep in mind, as I think the other – as you already know, we are THE country of immigration. We have 5 percent of the world’s people and 20 percent of the world’s international migrants, as the U.N. counts these things. So we are THE major destination.

What makes the U.S. unique on a global scale is the number of unauthorized foreigners in the U.S. – say, roughly 11 million – is equal to the total number of international migrants in the second-leading country, which is Russia. So Russia has about 11 ½ million residents who were born in another country; the U.S. has a little over 11 million unauthorized foreigners. So the United States stands apart in the numbers. No other country has as many international migrants. No other country has as many unauthorized foreigners as does the United States.

The second point is that it’s really hard to predict the outcome of legislation that affects people, whether it’s tax laws or immigration laws. In fact, we used to sometimes say the one way to predict what will happen with an immigration law is read the purpose of the law and assume the opposite – (laughter) – and you will be close to getting it right. I mean, think of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. If you read the purpose, at that time we thought we had 3 to 5 million unauthorized foreigners in the United States – that’s roughly what the select commission estimated the population was – and we legalized 2.7 million under IRCA. And, lo and behold, several decades later we have roughly 11 million unauthorized foreigners. So if you were to read the purpose – which says the purpose of this law is to give a status to people who have developed roots or an equity stake in the United States and reduce future unauthorized migration – you would – the second part of that, at least, didn’t work.

Now, you’ve already heard that in 1965 the idea was to get rid of a national origin preference and substitute for it, first, an economic preference – and a family preference is what it came out to be – but not change the composition. And of course, that was wrong. In the 1950s 90 percent of the immigrants came from Europe, and by the 1980s it was 10 percent. So clearly 90 – going from 90 percent European to 10 percent European was not what people expected to happen.

One of the things that was interesting – and this is where both Jerry and Peggy have done a lot of work – is – a lot – you know, the original idea was to, when we switched away from national origins quotas, was to have economic preferences. A point more – I mean, they didn’t call it a point system, but you would have been selecting on the basis of foreigners’ ability to contribute to the U.S. economy. And I – as far as I can tell, no one ever got to the point system per se. But Canada looked at that, and in 19- – I think it was ’71, a few years later, that’s in fact what they adopted. And so in Canada over half of all immigrants – and remember, Canada has a – we take, let’s say, a little over a million legal immigrants a year; Canada’s about 275,000. And over half of the immigrants to Canada have a member who passes the points test – that is, who – they’re coming in because of the system which is designed to maximize the benefits of the newcomers to the Canadian economy. So the average immigrant in Canada has more education than the average native-born Canadian. We considered that, and for the reasons that you’ve heard, we elected to go with a family unification.

And then the other thing that probably I think is worth keeping in mind, I think the United States has the most expansive definition of family in any immigration law I’m familiar with. If you – if you look at Germany, you don’t get to bring your parents in as an immigrant. In fact, you can’t bring in children under the age – it used to be 18, it was reduced to 16. The theory is, if you arrive as a 17-year-old and you’re going to work in Germany, that means your education could have been in a different language, and that will make it more difficult to integrate into the labor force. So there is an age cut off. Ours happens to be 21. But many other countries say, if you’re looking for that economic contribution, we’re going to actually have a definition of family which keeps that in mind. We also do the adult brothers and sisters and all that sort of thing that other countries don’t do.

So the second thing is we weren’t good at anticipating what actually happened. And I think everybody knows that, but we should keep that in mind when we put in – when we consider new immigration reform legislation given that history. The third is that – is some of the myths that have accompanied actually two things when it comes to primarily Mexico-U.S. migration. In 1964, the Bracero program ended. In 1965, the immigration – the amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act were passed. And many people say that the combination of ending the Bracero program and enacting the 1965 amendments, which treated all countries equally, set the stage for illegal or unauthorized Mexico-U.S. migration.

And there’s a certain surface logic to that, but it really – I mean, I wasn’t there. It really doesn’t – for the people who were there, that’s not the way they sort of look at it. So let me just remind you a couple of things about the Bracero program first, and then a few things about the Immigration Act. Remember, the Bracero program was a program from 1942 to 1964. And what it did was admit Mexicans to work temporarily in U.S. agriculture and for some years on U.S. railroads. Over the course of those 22 years, about 4 ½ million Braceros were admitted.

So they were – that was admissions. The same person could have been admitted several times. In general that didn’t happen. The minimum contract was for six weeks and in general, because of transport costs, they came once, stayed six or eight or 10 months, and went back. Over the course of those 22 years, there were actually more apprehensions of Mexicans than were admitted legally. There were 5.3 million apprehensions. There were 4.5 million legal admissions. So it’s not correct to say that admitting Braceros legally ended illegal migration. There was illegal migration along with the Bracero program.

In the early 1960s, the Bracero program was shrinking rapidly. It peaked in the mid-1950s. It was shrinking as a result of actually the Eisenhower administration beginning to enforce the laws. And the number of Mexicans admitted as Braceros dropped, actually, to well-under 200,000 a year by the end of the program. The number of Mexicans being apprehended each year was less than 100,000. So the number legally coming in was down. The number who were apprehended was going down.

And there is a certain grain of truth that there’s nothing more permanent than temporary workers, because the admission of Braceros over those years had put structural things in place. But the Bracero program was something of an exception in the sense that when it ended Mexican migration was reasonably low. And that had real impacts on the industry most affected, which was agriculture because that’s where most Braceros worked. And if you’ll remember, in 1965 not only was this – were the amendments to the Immigration Act passed, but that was also the year of the grape strike in California.

And in 1966, Cesar Chavez got a 40 percent one-year wage increase for California farm workers – 40 percent. That was a pretty big increase back then. That’s a pretty big increase now. And that set in motion sort of roughly 10 years of what is often called the golden era for California farm workers. It was – what was it? It was an era of one of the few times in U.S. history where average hourly earnings in agriculture rose faster than they did in the non-farm sector, in part because there were Braceros available and there weren’t a lot of unauthorized workers. It was a time of widespread mechanization. It was a time in which the U.S. government commissioned studies that said by 1975 there will be a completely mechanized U.S. agriculture. And there was a – there was a lot of thinking about what are we going to do with the U.S. workers who will soon be out of a job because rising wages are leading to mechanization? But there were a whole series of policy choices.

And so let me just close by saying nothing is ever inevitable. If you look then at why did we have – so the most labor-intensive commodity in North America today is picking strawberries. In the early 1960s, they were picked primarily by Braceros. There were about 10,000 acres. You need about two workers per acre. And the acreage – it did actually shrink after the end of the Bracero program. Today we have 50,000 acres, or five time more. We haven’t mechanized a great deal. And that is probably the single-most important labor-intensive commodity. But what happened in the mid-’60s were a series of things, most of which had nothing to do with – necessarily with migration. But we made a series of policy choices that did – I mean, the reality is, we did have an enormous amount of unauthorized Mexico-U.S. migration. It did have its roots in agriculture. So that part is all right – all correct. But the reasons for that turned out to be a series of policy choices. So what was the story in the mid-’60s?

The story was that wages in agriculture were rising very fast, there was a big surge in mechanization, but there were also some other things going on, including we had an interstate highway system which allowed fruits and vegetables produced in California to get to New York City within 72 hours and look better than the stuff that came from New Jersey, which was very close by. (Laughter.) And so we had an interstate highway system, as far as I know, that was not intended to create a demand for immigrant workers in California agriculture, since it had something to do with defense and the tanks. But nonetheless, it had the effect of creating that demand.

We had some water projects in California which moved water from the north to the south, and therefore opened up a whole lot of new land. And then, of course, we made a policy decision not really to enforce migration laws. So from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s, we had relatively low migration from Mexico and relatively high wages. We had some union activity. There were a lot of strikes. And then there were some peso devaluations in the mid-1970s. And that’s when the upsurge really began to take off. The combination of strikes, which were typically broken by labor contractors who were hiring unauthorized workers, and the fact that we weren’t doing any enforcement is what combined to – you know, it wasn’t as if it all took off at once, but I think we first hit a million apprehensions in 1976.

So I guess the main message is that most of the immigrants who have been reported arriving in the U.S. have come since the 1965 Act was passed. The second is, the unintended consequences, as usual, are more important than the intended. And the third is that at least on – when you hear this sort of seamless web between legal Braceros to unauthorized, I don’t think that’s really the way that history actually happened, from what people who were there tell me. There was roughly a 10-year gap. It didn’t – eventually what happened is what you read about, that today half of all farm workers are unauthorized Mexicans. But it was a series of things that came together and policy choices that were made that wound up producing that reality, as opposed to something that just seamlessly switched from one channel to another channel at the same time.

Let me stop there and thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Phil. And we’ll take questions, if there are any. There’s a microphone there. Usually we provoke somebody when we talk about immigration. OK, Don.

Q: I just had a – thank you. This was a really good panel and you guys really understand this thing far better than I do. But I’d just lay a patina on this. In my lifetime, which is 85 years, we’ve added 6 billion people to the planet. And it’s obvious that that’s going to be a major – a major –

MR. KRIKORIAN: There’s a mic coming. Take the mic.

Q: – (comes on mic) – continuing influence. Is this on?

MR. KRIKORIAN: I think so.

Q: But it seems to me we overlook also the fact that both parties now have an extremely interesting reason to keep going without solving the problem, because they’re both benefitting hugely from the problem. And I called it – I just did a piece on this, which I’m happy to hand out to anybody in the audience who’d like it. The externality parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. And that’s what’s happened. And it’s going to continue unless somebody says, hey, we don’t need this next 100,000 people from that country now under pressure.


Q: So thank you, gentlemen, again – and lady. And I’d like to buy your book. Is your book available?

MS. ORCHOWSKI: I’ve got a coupon outside for 30 percent off. So grab one.

Q: I want you to sign it.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Any comments? Yeah, go ahead.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: OK, can I add something?


MS. ORCHOWSKI: I forgot to mention that the reason immigration laws in the Judiciary Committee – and maybe one thing that needs to happen is to change it back to labor – is because of this stuff us wonky congressional reporters love. In 1947 there was a law called the Congressional Committee Reorganization Act of 1947. Manny Celler – good old Manny Celler – was in charge of – was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Remember he was fighting the National Quota Act for decades. He was able to change the jurisdiction of immigration from Labor to the Judiciary Committee, bringing it into a tenor of justice, social justice, rather than of workforce development. So I think that is a major thing that happened. Like I said, maybe one thing that needs to happen just in the thought process is to bring that – maybe bring immigration back into the Labor Committee.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Just as a point, Peggy, the administration had already moved the INS into the Justice Department in the lead-up to World War II. And so I could be that was also partly kind of a consequence of that, a sort of delayed consequence.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: I’m looking at the law making.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right, right. Yes, in the back, first aisle.

Q: Thank you. Is there any interest in the Congress in taking another look at the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment? Or is that a dead issue?


MR. MARTIN: Sure, go ahead.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: There’s actually two bills in Congress. They are one and a half pages long, so easy reads. (Laughs.) One by Vitter in the Senate and I can’t – it might be – I’m not sure if it’s Steven King in the House, yeah. Very simple. The main idea is – and the way they’re going to get to liberals on this is that I think even Democrats are uncomfortable with the idea that tourists can come in, have a baby, and leave with a – with citizenship. I mean, even that’s a little much. So this law would make it that the 14th Amendment would not apply to babies born in the United States whose parents – whose both parents were not either legal residents or on visas I think for over a year or nine months, something like that. So it would – it would do away with birth citizenship for tourists and for children of illegal immigrants.

Now, you know, some of the hype and hysteria about this is, and O’Reilly really is, you know, we’re going to start taking U.S. citizen children, tearing them out of the house and making them illegals. None of these laws ever are retroactive, ever. And it would probably be 10 years before it would be fully instituted. So nobody who has birthright citizenship now would be denied it. And of course, birthright citizenship is for everyone except those small cases. So those are the two laws, but they’re so demonized that it’s almost impossible to discuss it. And again, I’m just going over into politically incorrect land even mentioning it.

MR. KRIKORIAN: I had a question, actually – since I’m paying for the mic, as President Reagan said – (laughter) – for everybody about an unintended consequence that doesn’t usually get discussed. And that is, like everybody said, when the proponents of this legislation were pushing it, they were all saying – and maybe even some of them believed it – that it wasn’t going to have any affect, it wasn’t going to change the numbers. Ted Kennedy had this famous speech on the floor of the Senate: This will not lead to a million people settling per year in our cities. This will not lead to a change in – you know, in the ethnic composition of the flow. This will not lead to competition for American workers.

I mean – and so my question is, is one of the consequences the inability to believe a single word that comes out of the mouth of politicians now promoting immigration changes because their predecessors, as we saw in pushing the ’65 Act, were, to put it charitably, completely wrong. I mean, you know, I think in a lot of cases it’s sort of a mix. Some of them maybe knew they were lying. But I think – just to – just to deal with it charitably, let’s just say they all believed it. The point is, they had no idea what they were talking about. And why would Marco Rubio, in assuring that his bill is the greatest thing since sliced bread, be any more believable than Ted Kennedy saying that his bill was not going to lead to the exact things that we have now? In other words, the political unintended consequences, rather than the migratory ones?

MR. KAMMER: Teddy Kennedy was politically and idealistically, ideologically committed to a repeal of the 1924 legislation. And he was a deal maker, a legislator. He had his president LBJ, who was famous for that as a leader in the – in the Senate. For them, that was the primary goal. Everything else was secondary. The administration wrote what they called a blue book, which was a playbook that instructed everybody on the administration, the attorney general, the secretary of state and allies in Congress to stick to the message, this will not increase population.

Did they know for a fact that it would? We don’t know. What we do know is that there was no careful or rigorous analysis. And I think that’s because they did not want to know what a negative consequence could be. They wanted to repeal something that they thought was unjust. I think they were right about that. They accomplished it. Everything else was secondary. And we see the legacy that has been created.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And isn’t that, in a sense – I mean, but isn’t that in a sense sort of describing Chuck Schumer two years ago, because Chuck Schumer’s goal, and frankly a lot of the people pushing the legislation, their overriding goal is to legalize the illegal aliens. And so in a similar way, get rid of the ’24 Act, and whatever comes afterwards doesn’t matter because we got – because the goal was to get rid of the ’24 Act. In a similar sense, I would suggest – and I think this is the way a lot of people see it and this is the reason there’s so much resistance to it – is that the point is legalizing all the illegal aliens and whatever consequences happen it doesn’t matter because that’s the only thing that matters.

Anyway, so – yes, Peggy.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: Yeah, I think that is to me the big fight that the press doesn’t cover, because they’re so intent on their kind of football analogy of pro-immigrants versus anti-immigrants, is that the real battle in Congress is over comprehensive versus piecemeal. And there’s – comprehensive means legalizing almost all. And I think that the 2013 Senate bill legalized about 8 or 9 million of the illegal immigrants of today.

But you’re right. They’re – both parties have gotten a lot out of it not passing. I’m not sure that’s true in 2016, and especially with the big problem in Europe. There are a number of bills, a number of issues that both Democrats and Republicans totally agree about. And, you know, E-Verify is one.

Giving visas to foreign students, you know, probably better if it were Ph.D.s not all the master’s degrees, because I don’t know if you know, there’s like almost a million foreign students now in the United States – over 900,000 in 2015, and growing. So, you know, and most of them are graduate students. And, boy, talk about nationality, most of them are Indian or Chinese. So we have some real, you know, nationality preference problems there. But most people agree we should make it easier for foreign students to get visas.

There’s a number of issues they agree on, but the Republicans want to do it piecemeal. The Democrats want to do it comprehensively. I end by book by saying both sides are going to have to compromise. Republicans are going to have to probably legalize some population. Probably the two groups that Obama unfortunately, you know, is sticking his eye on the – on Congress by legalizing those two groups with executive orders. But that’s probably the groups that will end up being legalized – the Dreamers and the parents of Americans.

MR. KAMMER: As a guy who was a reporter for 30 years, I with some regret point to what I think was the failure of our press, certainly our daily press, to question what they were being told by the administration and the sponsors of the bill. If they had shown a little bit of rigor, journalistic skepticism, if they had questioned the assumptions that were laid before them, they wouldn’t have written what The Washington Post wrote about Hart-Celler.

(Phone ringing.) Is that the White House calling, or?

MS. ORCHOWSKI: Yeah, right. (Laughter.)

MR. KAMMER: A Washington Post – this is a line from the paper. A Washington Post editorial said: Feighan, the Democrat in the House, that his move to prioritize family relationships over skills, quote, “had more emotional appeal, and perhaps more to the point insured that the new immigration pattern would not stray radically from the old one.” Well, the Post, obviously, accepted the line, and so did most other journalists.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Did you have something to add, Phil?

MR. MARTIN: Well, it’s really hard to anticipate how people will react to something. So, you know, when the H-1B program was enacted in 1990, the theory was the U.S. had enough workers, we just didn’t have enough highly skilled workers for this new internet age for computers. So the 65,000 a year quota was really about double or three times the number of people being admitted at the time to fill highly skilled jobs, including fashion models and stuff.

What no one anticipated was the rise of outsourcing companies which would turn around and get most of the visas and make a business of bringing some people here and taking work back. I don’t – I mean, having been involved a little bit in that, I don’t think anybody anticipated that economic development, which turned that visa into something – I mean, I don’t think anyone who testified said, wait a minute, once this starts you’re going to have contractors emerge who are going to suck up most of the visas and they’re going to learn about the business and take back.

So when you pass a piece of legislation, it seems to me, and it affects people and the incentives of people, it’s awfully hard to see exactly how those incentives are going to play out in the real world. We do know that a lot – when we pass tax laws, there’s a lot of people trying to make sure that the commas get inserted at the right places because they know how they can be manipulated down the road. In migration, it’s not maybe as important – I mean, there’s also an awful lot of unanticipated consequences that happen, but do – you know, even if one were to do the exhaustive analysis, sometimes it’s just really hard to see around the corner as to what it’ll do.

MR. KAMMER: If I could – if I could just add to that. One of the things that’s not examined is immigration as a population policy. It de facto really is. It has an enormous effect on our population. Jeff Passel of Pew has just come out with a study projecting that in 50 years our population will reach 440 million – we’re now at 325 million or thereabouts – and that 90 percent of that growth will be the result of immigration – immigrants and their children. And we don’t have any national discussion about do we want to be a country of 440 million? How about a half billion at the end of the century or, you know, a billion people in the next century? We don’t have any discussion about this.

I’m old enough to remember when it was a good liberal, progressive thing to want to limit our population growth for a variety of reasons, including human justice, maintaining the welfare state, and environmental protections. The founder of Earth Day was a very liberal senator from Wisconsin named Gaylord Nelson. Well, he was vilified because he wanted to limit immigration. And so it’s very difficult for liberals – and I identify as a moderate liberal – to talk about limiting population, because we’re accused of dark motives. You really just don’t like immigrants if you raise it.

But it has an enormous effect on the life of our country, the size of our population. I think India’s population in 1950 was about – less than half of what it is now. And numbers matter, and yet they’re not talked about in our immigration debate. I think that’s a big failing.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: Let me just add, too, that the – another business that has arisen over visas is the foreign student visa. There’s absolutely no limit to the number of foreign student visas that are given out. And universities are very open that they are – this is a source of revenue for them. And I’ve done some studies on how they have taken places, especially in graduate schools, for Hispanic engineers. I did a story on that last year on an investigative journalism project. But it’s something, again, that’s completed unquestioned, it’s untouchable. So this is another unintended consequence.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, yeah. The microphone?

Q: Well, Mr. Kammer in particular, poured scorn on the ’24 Act, but frankly I’m not quite sure what’s wrong with wishing to maintain ethnic balance of a country. Almost all countries do that. After all, Mexico, as part of its immigration law, it says that there shall be no immigration that will upset the ethnic balance. The immigration policy of Israel is designed to keep Israel Jewish. The Japanese would never dream of an immigration policy that reduced their ethnic balance. So why – my question, I’d like the opinion of all of you, why is that something that was utterly unacceptable if the United States, and bigotry and horrible, but that is routinely practiced without being criticized by virtually every other country?

MR. KAMMER: You’re making the point that Sam Ervin made at the hearing. Sam Ervin, a Southern Democrat, and articulate spokesman for that point of view. And by the way, you are right. Mexican law, it’s the Ley de Migración or something. I forget the name of the law. It said that one of the purposes of the law will be to preserve demographic equilibrium. That is the phrase that is used – equilibrio demografico. I think that law’s been amended so it’s no longer there. I think it was amended because of Mexico’s desire to influence our policy.

This is a – it’s a fraught question, but some people would say, well, one of the principles of the United States is that we do not discriminate on the basis of national origin. That is – that has become part of our civic life. And I think the 1924 law clearly worked in the opposite direction. And so I think it contradicts something that we declare to be part of who we are, part of our civic nature. And so that’s why I think that repeal of the ’24 law was a good thing and that we’re better for it.

I don’t know –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Something that we didn’t, you know, talk about, that fed into the ’24 Act – and I was just wondering if anybody had some thoughts on it – was the Cold War. I mean, that was – in other words, it was really a combination. You were right in talking about the Civil Rights Act or the civil rights movement, as well as guilt and all this, but the Cold War was also integral to it because were competing with the Soviet Union in these newly independent, or soon-to-be independent countries in the Third World.

MR. KAMMER: Yeah, Dean Rusk testified to that. By the way, to your point, Dean Rusk privately told Abba Schwartz, a State Department official who wrote a book called “The Open Society” and writes about this – Schwartz, the night before he testified, basically said, we’re an Anglo-Saxon country. But when Rusk showed up to testify, he saluted and did what LBJ wanted him to do and spoke in favor of the legislation.

It’s a complex question. But it just brings up so many emotions. And if you are on the Italian or Greek side, or Eastern European or Jewish side in the 1920s, I think the emotions of Emanuel Celler, resentful and bitter against this, demanding what the United States says it offered, which was equal opportunity, those sorts of emotions are going to factor into our political decision making. And I don’t think we should say that a Swede is inherently better than an Italian.

By the way, just – everyone has an anecdote. My anecdote is when my Italian great-grandfather married my English great-grandmother, she was disowned by her family because in those days a proper Englishwoman did not marry an Italian. Well, they got along. They started a family and had 13 children – (laughter) – the oldest of whom was a woman very important in my life, my beloved grandma Rosie. So that’s my anecdote. I’ll leave it at that.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s – oh, OK, go ahead, yeah. Go ahead, Peggy, and then we’ve got one more question.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: Now I forget what I was going to say.

MR. KRIKORIAN: If not, that’s fine. OK, let’s take the last question.

Q: You guys have touched on it, but how immigration is seemingly almost an immutable value now, and open immigration is the standard. But Peggy said in the ’20s there was this political climate that led to the law, and you compared it to the political climate today. So do any of the panelists see a sufficient political climate to bring about significant immigration restrictions today?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Phil, do you have any thoughts on that?

MR. MARTIN: I mean, at this point we – I don’t follow Washington are carefully as these people do. But it does seem to me that in many areas, including migration, people are very polarized. And whenever there is polarization, it’s easier to block than to put something through. And so I guess if one were betting, I would bet that there’s nothing significant going to happen for the next at least year or two.

MR. KAMMER: I would say, long term, the demographic and political forces are in place for there to be more immigration, rather than less.

MS. ORCHOWSKI: Well, I end my book talking about the wonderful Millennials. I really like them. They’re going to save us all. The “whatever” generation, the multi-everything – I mean, one of my friends is Chinese-Peruvian Mormon. I mean, these kids are intermarrying, whatever you are it doesn’t matter. I think it’s going to make the boxes – I think the boxes are going to go – the ethnic boxes. I think we’re going to see the end of affirmative action based on racism. This may be the end of a – you know, the last blowout of a civil rights, ethnic – based on ethnicity and actionality.

And I think we’re going to see immigration move more towards work skills, doesn’t matter your nationality. I think the two precepts of the 1965 law are going to be questioned. The national origins, does it really matter anymore in a global world? Family reunification, does it really matter with Skype? I mean, you can talk to your mother-in-law every day if you want to. So, you know, the drivers of immigration, including technology, are changing this whole paradigm that 1965 brought about.

And I do see changes in immigration law, probably based more on workforce development and protecting – you know, the basis of immigration law, the two laurels, is to bring in the workers we want and to protect the workers we have. And I think it’s going to get back to that.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, thank you. Peggy’s book, “The Law that Changed the Face of America,” I assume it’s on Amazon. There’s coupons outside – discount coupons. Jerry, thank you. His paper, the Hart-Celler Act, is on our website, And, Phil, thank you for your contribution too. And thanks, everybody for coming. (Applause.)