December 14, 2008

President Lyndon Johnson and the 1965 Immigration Act

Ted Kennedy wasn't the only politician who got it wrong about what the 1965 Immigration Act would or wouldn't do to America. The bill was strongly supported and signed into law on October 3, 1965 by LBJ at the Statue of Liberty (Maybe it should be re-named the Statue of Immigration?). Here is an abridged version of his speech that day with some of my comments in bold:

This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power. Wrong - it's one of the most revolutionary bill ever!

Yet it is still one of the most important acts of this Congress and of this administration. For it does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American Nation. What's so cruel about controlling immigration?

The fairness of this standard is so self-evident that we may well wonder that it has not always been applied. Yet the fact is that for over four decades the immigration policy of the United States has been twisted and has been distorted by the harsh injustice of the national origins quota system. Which you promptly replaced with with another injustice - all but totally ending white, European immigration.

Under that system the ability of new immigrants to come to America depended upon the country of their birth. Only three countries were allowed to supply 70 percent of all the immigrants. Now only three countries still supply the same percentage, just three from the Third World.

Men were denied entrance because they came from southern or eastern Europe or from one of the developing continents. This system violated the basic principle of American democracy--the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man. If this were true the Sept 11th attacks never would have happened.

It has been un-American in the highest sense, because it has been untrue to the faith that brought thousands to these shores even before we were a country. We can now believe that it will never again shadow the gate to the American Nation with the twin barriers of prejudice and privilege. So you made immigration to America a civil right, not a privilege as it should be.

Our beautiful America was built by a nation of strangers. From a hundred different places or more they have poured forth into an empty land, joining and blending in one mighty and irresistible tide. The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources--because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples. Who no longer are interested in "joining and blending", but instead keeping their cultures intact and expanding them.

The days of unlimited immigration are past. Dead wrong, with illegal immigration included, it's virtually unlimited now.

…and so it has been through all the great and testing moments of American history. Our history this year we see in Vietnam. Men there are dying… Neither the enemy who killed them nor the people whose independence they have fought to save ever asked them where they or their parents came from. They were all Americans. By eliminating that same question as a test for immigration the Congress proves ourselves worthy of those men and worthy of our own traditions as a Nation. Those traditions are dying, now everyone is either a hyphenated-American, or would rather be known as a foreign national who just happens to live in America.

If that wasn't enough, LBJ also made a speech on July 1, 1968, marking the day the 1965 Act actually went into effect:

It was nearly 3 years ago, on one of the proudest days of my Presidency, that I stood at the foot of the Statute of Liberty and signed into the law of this land the Immigration Act of 1965.
Today that act takes full force. The lamp of liberty has never shone brighter. The golden door to immigration has never stood wider. The lamp of liberty is about as dim as it ever has been, and the golden door has been ripped off of its hinges.

Every American can be proud today because we have finally eliminated the cruel and unjust national origins system from the immigration policy of the United States. We have righted a long-standing wrong. Cruel and unjust because it favored white Western Europeans.

So today, any man, anywhere in the world, can hope to begin a new life of freedom and a new life of greater opportunity in the United States. No longer will his color or his religion or his nationality be a barrier to him. The only preferences will be for those who already have relatives here… No longer will only three nations supply 70 percent of America's immigrants. No longer will the people of one nation be less welcome here than the people of another nation. So now we are in danger of losing our white majority, of having Islam become a major threat to Christianity, chain immigration from the third world, dominated by Mexico, and becoming a hundred little nations within one overcrowded country.

This landmark act will work to enrich the heart of America--the people themselves. All who, over the years, have dreamed and labored for its achievement can take great satisfaction today.
Together we have helped to preserve the American dream--and more than that--we have opened its promise equally to all men everywhere. No, you are destroying the American dream, by overwhelming us with Third World poverty and tribalism.

President Lyndon Johnson left office a broken man, thanks to the tragedy of the Vietnam War. His name has been cursed by many tens of thousands of older Americans who lost loved ones in that war. Now, he can also be cursed as the President who signed the bill that gave birth to Multicultural America, and the birth of an era that I call The Great Transformation, the transformation of America into a potential Third World nation, an era that is now past its midpoint with the election of Obama as President.

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