Immigration Reform: Not a 21st Century Idea

Taken during a meeting between President John F. Kennedy and the American Committee for Italian Migration (ACIM) on October 12, 1963. During this meeting, President Kennedy promised to send his proposals on immigration reform to congress.

Authored by Coreen Getgen

Immigration has been one of the hottest topics in recent politics. As a nation, we have treated this topic as something that is new and radical. In all actuality, immigration and immigration reform have been major political topics for much longer than the past few years.

President John F. Kennedy made it a top priority in his presidency with a “pledge to the American people that he would earnestly work for immigration reform” (Kennedy 1965, 138) which eventually lead to new legislation being passed. He worked with the ACIM (American Committee on Italian Migration) to change the national quota system that had been put into place by the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 (Center for Migration Studies, 1964.).

The quota system that was in place before the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 highly restricted immigration from nations that weren’t in Western or Northern Europe (Kennedy 2018, 80). Although this wasn’t outright enacted to keep out minority or oppressed immigrants, that was one of the major issues that it caused. Immigration became more about heritage and nationality, not what was in the best interest of the nation. President Kennedy wanted to push forward a bill that would allow immigration to be based more on the capability of the immigrant being able to help strengthen the nation, than it would be about ensuring a majority being from Northern and Western Europe.

He believed “immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible” (Kennedy 2018, 65). The new legislation “eliminated origin, race, gender, and ancestry as a determinant of immigration to the United States” (Kalaitzidis 2009, 101). This was a huge step in the right direction towards leveling the playing field when it came to accessing admittance to the United States.

Allowing those who are oppressed to gain access to a safe living environment isn’t a radical idea. It isn’t something that is new nor is it an idea that should be considered out of the question. It is our job to reach out to those around us that are in need and “to encourage solutions that are adaptable, effective, and concrete” (St. John’s University, n.d.) in an effort to create a world for everyone to live in. President Kennedy worked on creating a diverse and fair system to help open our nation up to the capable and willing throughout the world, regardless of their nationality or race. This motivation for humane reform is not a new idea, in fact, it should be an ideal that we always hold close to our hearts.



American Committee on Italian Migration. 1964. “Records 1952-1973.”
The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS).

Kalaizidis, Akis. 2009. “From the Quota System to the Preference System.” Immigration: A Documentary and Reference Guide, 101-20|CX2447800015&v=2.1&it=r&sid=GVRL&asid=6c68ddf2#.

Kennedy, Edward M. 1966. “The Immigration Act of 1965.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 365 (September): 137-49

Kennedy, John F. 2018. A Nation of Immigrants. New York: Harper Perennial, Modern Classics.

St. John’s University. 2015. “Our Mission.”