Fifty years ago, the Immigration and Nationality Act dramatically changed the makeup of the country by ending a quota system based on national origins in favor of one that took into account occupational skills, relatives living in the U.S. and political-refugee status.
Despite the long-term impact of the 1965 law and the highly partisan tone the issue has taken on today, immigration was not highly divisive a half-century ago, and the American public paid it little heed. Of course, a lot was going on in 1965 to occ
upy the public’s attention – Vietnam and civil rights, to name just two mega-issues.
Nonetheless, Gallup polls that year found less than 1% of the public naming immigration as the most important problem facing the nation. And, by the end of 1965, the Harris poll found just 3% naming immigration revision as the legislation most important to them. (Back then, Medicare legislation was cited most often – by 28%.)
While Americans were much quieter about immigration back then, the public was divided about the right level of immigration. A June 1965 Gallup poll found that 39% preferred maintaining present levels, almost as many said they should be decreased (33%), and only a few (7%) favored increased immigration.
But in the end, a majority of the public approved of changing the laws so that people would be admitted on the basis of their occupational skills rather than their country of origin. And after the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed, fully 70% said they favored the new law.