Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Special Message to the Congress on Immigration.

January 13, 1965

To the Congress of the United States:

A change is needed in our laws dealing with immigration. Four Presidents have called attention to serious defects in this legislation. Action is long overdue.

I am therefore submitting, at the outset of this Congress, a bill designed to correct the deficiencies. I urge that it be accorded priority consideration.

The principal reform called for is the elimination of the national origins quota system. That system is incompatible with our basic American tradition.

Over the years the ancestors of all of us-some 42 million human beings--have migrated to these shores. The fundamental, longtime American attitude has been to ask not where a person comes from but what are his personal qualities. On this basis men and women migrated from every quarter of the globe. By their hard work and their enormously varied talents they hewed a great nation out of a wilderness. By their dedication to liberty and equality, they created a society reflecting man's most cherished ideals.

Long ago the poet Walt Whitman spoke our pride: "These States are the amplest poem." We are not merely a nation but a "Nation of Nations."

Violation of this tradition by the national origins quota system does incalculable harm. The procedures imply that men and women from some countries are, just because of where they come from, more desirable citizens than others. We have no right to disparage the ancestors of millions of our fellow Americans in this way. Relationships with a number of countries, and hence the success of our foreign policy, is needlessly impeded by this proposition.

The quota system has other grave defects. Too often it arbitrarily denies us immigrants who have outstanding and sorely needed talents and skills. I do not believe this is either good government or good sense.

Thousands of our citizens are needlessly separated from their parents or other close relatives.

To replace the quota system, the proposed bill relies on a technique of preferential admissions based upon the advantage of our nation of the skills of the immigrant, and the existence of a close family relationship between the immigrant and people who are already citizens or permanent residents of the United States. Within this system of preferences, and within the numerical and other limitations prescribed by law, the issuance of visas to prospective immigrants would be based on the order of their application.

First preference under the bill would be given to those with the kind of skills or attainments which make the admission especially advantageous to our society. Other preferences would favor close relatives of citizens and permanent residents, and thus serve to promote the reuniting of families-long a primary goal of American immigration policy. Parents of United States citizens could obtain admission without waiting for a quota number.

Transition to the new system would be gradual, over a five-year period. Thus the possibility of abrupt changes in the pattern of immigration from any nation is eliminated. In addition, the bill would provide that as a general rule no country could be allocated more than ten percent of the quota numbers available in any one year.

In order to insure that the new system would not impose undue hardship on any of our close allies by suddenly curtailing their emigration, the bill authorizes the President, after consultation with an Immigration Board established by the legislation, to utilize up to thirty percent of the quota numbers available in any year for the purpose of restoring cuts made by the new system in the quotas established by existing law.

Similar authority, permitting the reservation of up to ten percent of the numbers available in any year, would enable us to meet the needs of refugees fleeing from catastrophe or oppression.

In addition, the bill would:

(1) permit numbers not used by any country to be made available to countries where they are needed,

(2) eliminate the discriminatory "Asia-Pacific Triangle" provisions of the existing law,

(3) eliminate discrimination against newly-independent countries of the Western Hemisphere by providing nonquota status for natives of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago,

(4) afford nonquota status to parents of citizens, and fourth preference to parents of resident aliens,

(5) eliminate the requirement that skilled first preference immigrants needed in our economy must actually find an employer here before they can come to the United States,

(6) afford a preference to workers with lesser skills who can fill specific needs in short supply,

(7) eliminate technical restrictions that have hampered the effective use of the existing Fair-Share Refugee Law, and,

(8) authorize the Secretary of State to require re-registration of quota immigrant visa applicants and to regulate the time of payment of visa fees.

This bill would not alter in any way the many limitations in existing law which prevent an influx of undesirables and safeguard our people against excessive or unregulated immigration. Nothing in the legislation relieves any immigrant of the necessity of satisfying all of the security requirements we now have, or the requirements designed to exclude persons likely to become public charges. No immigrants admitted under this bill could contribute to unemployment in the United States.

The total number of immigrants would not be substantially changed. Under this bill, authorized quota immigration, which now amounts to 158,361 per year, would be increased by less than 7,000.

I urge the Congress to return the United States to an immigration policy which both serves the national interest and continues our traditional ideals. No move could more effectively reaffirm our fundamental belief that a man is to be judged--and judged exclusively-on his worth as a human being.


The White House

January 13, 1965

Note: An act to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act was approved by the President on October 3, 1965 (see Item 546).

Lyndon B. Johnson, Special Message to the Congress on Immigration. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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