President Johnson Asks Congress for Basic Changes in Immigration Law
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President Johnson Asks Congress for Basic Changes in Immigration Law

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President Johnson sent to Congress today a message asking for priority, “long overdue” action to amend the United States immigration laws. He submitted with it a bill to reform the Immigration and Nationality Act to eliminate the national origins quota system and correct other defects.

The President condemned the national origins quota system as “incompatible with our basic American tradition” which, he said, was “to ask not where a person came from but what are his personal qualities.” He told Congress that “violation of this tradition by the national origins quota system does incalculable harm. The procedures imply that men and women from some countries are, just because of where they come from, more desirable citizens than others.”

“We have no right to disparage the ancestors of millions of our fellow Americans in this way,” the President declared. “Relations with a number of countries, and hence the success of our foreign policy, is badly impeded by this proposition.”

President Johnson also pointed out that the quota system has other “grave” defects. “Too often it arbitrarily denies to us immigrants who have outstanding and sorely needed talents and skills, “he said. “I do not believe that this is either good government or good sense. Thousands of our citizens are needlessly separated from their parents or other close relatives.”

To replace the quota system, the President said, the new bill “relies on a technique of preferential admissions based upon the advantage to our nation of the skills of the immigrant, and the existence of a close family relationship between the immigrant and people who are already citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Within this system of preferences and within the numerical and other limitations prescribed by law, the issuance of visas to prospective immigrants would be based on the order of their application.”


The President said first preference would be given to those whose skills or attainments would be “especially advantageous” here. Other preferences would favor close relatives or citizens and permanent residents “and thus serve to promote the uniting of families long a goal of American immigration policy.” Parents of American citizens, he said, could obtain admission without waiting for a quota number.

As in previous immigration reform measures submitted to Congress, the new bill would provide a five-year transition period. It would establish the general rule that no country could be allocated more than ten percent of the quota numbers available in any one year. To prevent hardship, however, to any friendly country by sudden curtailment of its emigration, the bill would authorize the President, after consultation with a new immigration board to be set up under the bill, to utilize up to 30 percent of the quota numbers available in any one year to restore cuts made by the new system in existing quotas.

Similar authority, President Johnson declared, would permit the President to reserve up to ten percent of the numbers available in any year “to meet the needs of refugees fleeing from catastrophe or oppression.”


Other provisions of the bill would permit the transfer of unused quota numbers from one country to another; would give non-quota status to parents of citizens and fourth preference to parents of resident aliens; would not require a skilled, first preference prospective immigrant to find an employer before coming to the United States; and would eliminate technical provisions that the President said hampered effective use of the existing fair-share refugee law.

Mr. Johnson stressed in his message that the total number of immigrants would not be substantially changed. He said the new bill authorized quota immigration would be increased “by less than 7,000” from the present level of 158, 361 per year.

President Johnson assured Congress that “this bill would not alter in any way the many limitations in existing law which prevent an influx of undesirables and safeguard our people against excessive or unregulated immigration. Nothing in the legislation relieves any immigrant of the necessity of satisfying all of the security requirements we now have, or the requirements designed to exclude persons likely to become public charges. No immigrants admitted under this bill could contribute to unemployment in the United States.”

President Johnson concluded his message with an appeal to Congress for favorable action. “I urge the Congress,” he said, “to return the United States to an immigration policy which both serves the national interest and continues our traditional ideals. No move could more effectively reaffirm our traditional belief that a man is to be judged–and judged exclusively–on his worth as a human being.”

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