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Did Multicultural America Result From a Mistake?

The 1965 Immigration Act and Evidence From Roll Call Votes

Between July 1964 and October 1965, Congress enacted the three most important civil rights laws since Reconstruction: The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965. As we approach the 50th anniversary of these laws, it is clear that all three have fundamentally remade the United States; education, employment, housing, politics, and the population itself have irreversibly changed. Arguably the least celebrated yet most consequential of these laws was the 1965 Immigration Act, which set the United States on the path to become a “majority minority” nation. In 1960, because U.S.law restricted immigration by race, eighty-five percent of the population was non-Hispanic white. Since the enactment of the Immigration Act, the Hispanic and Asian American share of the population has more than quintupled, and by 2043 the Census Bureau projects that African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans together will comprise a majority of the population. Based on the legislative history, statements by government officials, and media reports, many scholars argue that Congress did not intend to change the racial demographics of the immigrant stream. Instead, these scholars argue that the diversification of the U.S. population was an enormous unintended consequence, one which Congress, had it appreciated what it was doing, might have thought better of. This Article introduces novel evidence to evaluate that claim: the roll call votes of the House and Senate on these laws. The votes show that nearly identical coalitions of civil rights advocates supported all three laws while the same group of racially intolerant legislators opposed all three. This pattern suggests that all three laws had similar motivations and goals. We argue that the laws were inspired by sincere anti-racism and not cosmetic responses intended to have little practical effect.

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