Daily Video

August 31, 2009

1965 Immigration Bill Changed Face of America

As a first-term senator, Ted Kennedy championed the rewriting of America’s restrictive immigration laws drafted in the 1920s.

Fighting hard for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 Kennedy argued for the end of the existing quota system that used 19th century America’s ethnic makeup as a template for letting in new arrivals, favoring Europeans, and effectively sealing off newcomers from the rest of the world.

In speeches, Senator Kennedy often invoked the Golden Steps he could see from his Boston office, where new waves of immigrants, including his eight grandparents, came off the docks into East Boston.

During debate he reassured his fellow senators that the new law would not bring immigrants pouring into America’s cities, and would not change the ethnic makeup of the country. But as the census statistics indicate, he was eventually wrong, with Latino, black and Asian Americans set to become the majority by 2042.

Congress is now awaiting President Obama’s proposal for comprehensive immigration reform – the first major immigration law debated without Senator Kennedy in half-a-century.


“The origins of who’s coming to the United States as an immigrant has changed dramatically… Between 1880 and the 1920s, it was 23.5 million came, the great majority of them from Southern and Eastern Europe. Today, it’s very largely Southeast Asians, Latinos from Mexico, from Central America. It’s a much different immigration.” – Professor Alan Kraut, American University

“If the country had an open door, people in other countries who had systems that we didn’t agree with would choose to come here, and that would demonstrate that the American way of life was a desirable system.” – Clarissa Martinez, National Council of La Raza

Warm Up Questions

1. Who is an immigrant?

2. Who immigrates to America? Why?

Discussion Questions

1. What did you learn from this video?

2. Do you think that Senator Kennedy knew that the new law would change the ethnic makeup of the country?

3. What role do immigrants play in your community?

4. What is illegal immigration? How would you write a new immigration law to solve the problems of illegal immigration?

Additional Resources

Transcript of this report

President Bush Presses for Immigration Reform

President Obama’s Immigration Policy

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