The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 threw out a decades-old reliance on country quotas for determining eligibility for immigration to the U.S. and replaced it with a new standard for admission: family relations. Though President Harry Truman first proposed ending the country quotas that had long favored northern Europeans, President John F. Kennedy picked up the cause, and his successor, President Lyndon Johnson, helped shepherd a bill through Congress.
Johnson signed the act into law Oct. 3, 1965, at the base of the Statue of Liberty, and the public seemed on board for the change. A Gallup poll conducted three months earlier found many more Americans thinking family relations (55%), rather than country of origin (32%), should be a "very important" factor in deciding whom to admit into the U.S. However, they prioritized occupational skills even more, with 71% saying this should be a very important factor.
|Very important||Not very important||No opinion|
|That he has occupational skills||71||21||8|
|That he has relatives, who are American citizens, with whom he can live||55||38||7|
|The country in which he was born||32||56||11|
|Gallup, June 24-29, 1965|
The United States' original immigration quotas, adopted in 1921, favored northern Europeans by making country caps proportional to the national origins of those who were already U.S. citizens. Since most U.S. citizens at the time were northern Europeans, most immigrants were as well.
The 1965 bill originally aimed to replace this quota system with policies that prioritized immigrants with occupations and skills needed in the U.S., and the public backed the change. In answer to a Gallup question, 51% said they would favor replacing the country-quota system with a system that prioritizes immigrants based on their occupational skills; 32% were opposed.
However, a group of legislators who were concerned this would open the door to too many non-European immigrants worked to have the bill prioritize immigrants with family already in the U.S. instead. Yet, as noted by the Migration Policy Institute, "In the following years, however, demand from Europeans to immigrate to the United States fell flat while interest from non-European countries -- many emerging from the end of colonial rule -- began to grow. New and well-educated immigrants from diverse countries in Asia and Latin America established themselves in the United States and became the foothold for subsequent immigration by their family networks."
Separate from the question of what standard should be used for admission to the U.S., the 1965 poll asked Americans about the level of immigration. Only 7% wanted immigration increased while 33% wanted it decreased, 39% said it should be kept the same and 20% were unsure.
Read Gallup's latest release on Americans' preferences for the pace of immigration.
Read more from the Gallup Vault.