There have been three major migration periods in the United States in the last century: a largely laissez faire outlook in the 1930s; the Bracero Program, in effect during and after World War II; and, following the elimination of the Bracero Program, passage of major immigration laws in 1965 (Rosenblum and Brick 2011, 1). The Bracero Program was a formal agreement signed between the United States and Mexico in 1942, establishing “a migrant guest worker program,” which had favorable conditions for Mexican immigrants (Rosenblum and Brick 2011, 4). The Bracero Program experienced significant pushback, and upon its expiration in 1964, was followed instead by the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, which established per-country caps and a tiered preference system for rationing visas within a country (Rosenblum and Brick 2011, 5).
Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA, or the Simpson–Mazzoli Act) had been introduced to the Senate since 1981. However, it took five years of debates until it was passed by the U.S. Congress. It was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on November 6, 1986. The IRCA has two major provisions that are of focus. Firstly, it established penalties for employers who hire undocumented immigrants. Second, it addressed legalized undocumented immigrants who had arrived in the country before January 1, 1982. By far, the IRCA has granted the largest scale of amnesty in U.S. history, since almost three million undocumented immigrants benefited from the legalization program.
Elizabeth Holtzman, letter to Vietnamese Ambassador to Thailand Hoang Bao Son, 28 Feb. 1979, box 35, Garner J. Cline Papers, Center for Migration Studies, (New York, NY.).
In February of 1979, Elizabeth Holtzman, Chairwoman for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and International Law wrote a letter to the Vietnamese Ambassador to Thailand, His Excellency Hoang Bao Son, regarding the quick approval for visas for James Upshaw, an NBC reporter, and his television crew, to travel with her to Hanoi. The letter is part of a collection called the Garner J. Cline Papers, which currently resides in the Center for Migration Studies in New York. The Garner J. Cline Papers consists of fifty-one boxes containing the personal papers of Garner J. Cline, who, at the time the letter was written, was Staff Director for the Committee on the Judiciary in the House of Representatives.Continue reading →
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).  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. 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. Continue reading →