President Kennedy Press Conference on the Immigration and Nationality Act

Authored by: Ariana Kaleta

President Kennedy Press Conference on the Immigration and Nationality Act June 11, 1963,                     Abby Rowe/White House
“Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we  can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.”
John F Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants

Here we see a relaxed President Kennedy, laughing during a break at a press conference but what he was discussing were serious matters for the future face of America.  The President was compelled to write “A Nation of Immigrants” after repeatedly hearing the stories of immigrant’s rights groups, such as at this meeting with the American Committee on Italian Migration.

When Kennedy first came into office, Henry Cabot Lodge’s Immigration Act of 1924 had been diligently enforced under the firm hand of the Immigration Restriction League (a prominent lobbying group founded in 1884). [1]  For four decades, the Immigration Act of 1924 used quotas to prohibit all ‘non-nativist’ nationalities, in particular Jewish, Irish and Italians fleeing Europe. However, it also had punitive effects on the almost historically unrecognized Arabic and Asian immigrants.[2]  As the threat of communism and post war depression flooded across Europe and Asia, waves of immigrants risked their lives to journey to America, only to be turned away at Ellis Island, due to these racist and religious discriminatory laws.

Although Kennedy worked relentlessly with these immigrants’ rights groups, pursuing what we recognize as Vincentian ideals of truth, love, respect and service to change these laws,[3] it was only after his death, that President Lyndon Johnson was able to fulfill President Kennedy’s legacy and realize these dreams of a nation of social justice, where all Americans could truly work and pursue an honest life without racial or religious intolerance or prejudice.[4]

Today, the Immigrant and Nationality Act provides asylum for those fleeing religious and cultural intolerance, as well as serving as a deterrent for human trafficking.  Reminiscent of the experiences of St. Vincent de Paul himself, who was forced to suffer at the hands of human traffickers and live as an immigrant in a society, where he had to mask his own religious identity to survive, twentieth century immigrants were compelled fight for social justice and truth through service to change the face of America and create a broader, freer society.

[1] Keely, Charles B. Effects of the Immigration Act of 1965 on Selected Population Characteristics of Immigrants to the United States Demography Vol. 8, No. 2 (May, 1971), pp. 157-169

[2] Chishti, Muzaffar, Hipsman, Faye and Ball, Isabel, “Fifty Years :1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape United State”. October 15, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2017. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/fifty-years-1965-immigration-and-nationality-act-continues-reshape-united-states

[3] Forbes, F.A. “St. Vincent de Paul”. Tan Books. January 9, 1999.

[4].) Thomas AleinikoffDavid MartinHiroshi MotomuraMaryellen Fullerton. Immigration and Nationality Laws of the United States: Selected Statutes, Regulations and Forms 2016th Edition. West Academic Publishing, August, 2016.

 

 

References

1.)Kennedy, John F. A Nation of Immigrants. New York: Harper and Row, 1964.

2.) Chishti, Muzaffar, Hipsman, Faye and Ball, Isabel, “Fifty Years :1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape United State”. October 15, 2015. Accessed March 1, 2017. http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/fifty-years-1965-immigration-and-nationality-act-continues-reshape-united-states

3.) Le, C. N. “The 1965 Immigration Act : Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. History, Demographics, & Issues.” The 1965 Immigration Act : Asian-Nation :: Asian American History, Demographics, & Issues. 2017. Accessed March 1, 2017. http://www.asian-nation.org/1965-immigration-act.shtml.

4.) Thomas Aleinikoff,David MartinHiroshi MotomuraMaryellen Fullerton. Immigration  and Nationality Laws of the United States: Selected Statutes, Regulations and Forms 2016th Edition. West Academic Publishing, August, 2016.

5.) Keely, Charles B. Effects of the Immigration Act of 1965 on Selected Population Characteristics of Immigrants to the United States Demography 8, No. 2 (May,1971), pp. 157-169

6.) Forbes, F.A. “St. Vincent de Paul”. Tan Books. January 9, 1999.

7.) “Vincentians Fourth Quarter 2016” Accessed February 27, 2017. https://www.svdpusa.org/

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