Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks to Representatives of Organizations Interested in Immigration and the Problems of Refugees.

January 13, 1964

Members of the Senate, Members of the House, my fellow Americans:

We welcome you to the White House this morning when it is very difficult to get here. We are very pleased that so many of you could make the sacrifice to come through the snow and come here and join us today.

We have met for the purpose of pointing up the fact that we have very serious problems in trying to get a fair immigration law. Thcre is now before the Congress a bill that, I hope, can be supported by a majority of the Members of the Congress. This bill applies new tests and new standards which we believe are reasonable and fair and right.

I refer specifically to: What is the training and qualification of the immigrant who seeks admission? What kind of a citizen would he make, if he were admitted? What is his relationship to persons in the United States? And what is the time of his application? These are rules that are full of common sense, common decency, which operate for the common good.

That is why in my State of the Union Message last Wednesday I said that I hoped that in establishing preferences a Nation that was really built by immigrants, immigrants from all lands, that we could ask those who seek to immigrate now: What can you do for our country? But we ought to never ask, "In what country were you born?"

President Roosevelt and President Truman and President Eisenhower and President Kennedy have all asked for a revision in the present statute. The present statute has overtones of discrimination. President Truman said that the idea behind this discrimination was, to put it boldly, that English or Irish names were better and made better citizens than Americans with Italian or Greek or Polish names. And such a concept is utterly unworthy of our traditions and our ideals.

Now I would hope that each of us--and all of us are descended from immigrants-I hope we would ask ourselves this question: How would we feel, if we were put in the other fellow's place? Maybe by doing that and engaging in a little introspection for a time we would find it a good feeling to apply the Golden Rule and do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Great Britain has a quota of 65,000. It uses less than half of that quota. Germany has a quota of 25,000 which it never fills. Italy has a quota of 5,645, but it has a current backlog of almost 300,000. Greece has a quota of only 308, but it has a current backlog of over 100,000. So I think that the immigration statutes require very special examination.

I would hope that we would do nothing hasty and makeshift, but I hope that we would apply the tests that I have outlined and the standards that I have suggested, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, and asking them what contribution they could make to their country, and asking yourselves how you would feel if some of your very special members of your family were involved and were facing what now appears to be almost insurmountable obstacles.

So instead of using the test of where the immigrant was born, I would hope that we could apply a somewhat more nondiscriminatory test of the very special training and qualifications of the immigrant and his relationship to the persons in the United States and, actually, the time that he applies for admission. These objective standards, I believe, would serve the national interest and I would hope that the Congress at this session would find that a majority of its members could follow this path.

I want to thank each of you for coming here this morning. I want to ask you to dedicate such time and effort and your talents as it may be possible to helping us reason together and achieve the standards that history will record as being fair and just and that we, ourselves, can be proud that we played a part in helping to achieve. I particularly thank the Members of Congress who have come here this morning and who hear many conflicting viewpoints, but who, I believe, all were elected on a platform of doing what they believe to be right and who, I am confident, when the chips are down will see that fair and just legislation is written, that if they used it to apply to themselves they would feel they had had at least a fair shake.

Thank you very much.

Senator Hart is the coauthor of the legislation and it may be that he would want to make a brief observation. He is starting his hearings today and I read his announcement.

[At this point Senator Philip A. Hart, of Michigan, spoke briefly, offering a salute to the President/or "his courage in stepping up and swinging on an issue that really isn't politically good" although right. He expressed hope that the American people would respond.

[Following Senator Hart's remarks, Monsignor John F. McCarthy, representing the American Council of Voluntary Agencies, expressed the appreciation of the group for having been called to the White House for a briefing on immigration matters. The President then resumed speaking.]

In this day, when it is quite important, in the light of the troubles that we face around the world, that America close ranks and that we be free men and Americans and public servants before we are party members, and when this Government is really dedicated to a government of strength to defend ourselves wherever we may be called on, a government of solvency so we will have the wherewithal to do that, and a government of compassion so that we can extend the hand to the fellow that has not done as well as we have, I think that this legislation will meet all those standards.

I think it will give us strength, I think it will promote solvency, and I think it will extend the hand of compassion to those that need it and seek it.

Congressman Feighan is chairman of the subcommittee in the House. I would like to ask him to make an observation.

[Representative Michael A. Feighan, of Ohio, Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed agreement that there should be a revision of the immigration laws, and that a complete and thorough investigation of immigration policy, its impact domestically, and internationally, should be made. He added that his subcommittee would cooperate and conduct hearings on the immigration bill as expeditiously as possible. The President then resumed speaking. ]

Now I would like to ask two distinguished members of the Judiciary Committee to make a brief observation. I haven't given either of them notice, but they will play an important part in the enactment of any legislation that is passed. And they will display judicioushess and fairness, I am confident.

So I am going to ask the distinguished Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, my friend of long standing, Senator Eastland, and the distinguished junior Senator from New York, Senator Keating, to both make a brief statement here for you. This legislation knows no partisan lines. There are times to be patriots and there are times to be partisan and I am sure that Senator Keating will go along with me in being a patriot this morning. We may be partisan a little later in the year. Senator Eastland.

[At this point Senator James O. Eastland, of Mississippi, spoke very briefly, concurring in Representative Feigan's remarks, saying that they were "going into the matter very care/ully and very expeditiously." The President then resumed speaking.]

And now with great pleasure I present to you my friend and colleague of many years the distinguished junior Senator from New York who has taken an intense interest in this field of legislation for many years, Senator Keating.

[Senator Kenneth B. Keating, of New York, responded by expressing gratitude/or the meeting and/or "giving an impetus to these hearings which are starting today and to the final enactment of legislation." He said he hoped the President's "very power/ul and very effective" drive would result in "getting the Congress off dead center on this problem." Stressing non-partisanship in such a matter, he stated that "there are many men of good will on both sides of the aisle who feel that something needs to be done in this area to remove discrimination or injustice from the present immigration laws." He added that he and Senator Hart would do everything in their power to see that effective legislation was enacted at this session of Congress. The President then concluded his remarks.]

Thank you very much for coming and I hope that the time and effort we spent this morning will be rewarded in the days to come in a good bill and we can meet here again to sign that bill at some future date.

Thank you very much.

Note: The group met at the invitation of the President in the Cabinet Room at the White House at 10:00 a.m.

Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks to Representatives of Organizations Interested in Immigration and the Problems of Refugees. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under



Washington, DC

Simple Search of Our Archives