THE HART CELLER ACT
A rise in deportations of Haitian immigrants at the US-Mexico border has brought another cycle of media attention to the US immigration system and border security apparatus.
The modern US immigration system was largely shaped by the 1965 Hart Celler Act, which passed amidst a wave of civil rights reforms. In a 2010 article, MAE NGAI unpacks the political history of the legislation and its role in defining contemporary understandings of legal and illegal immigration.
From the text:
"The problem of our present system is that it is based on a core paradox: Our system of allocating visas for the admission of permanent residents—the vaunted green card—is based on principles of equality and fairness, yet that very system has generated an ever-larger caste-population of unauthorized immigrants. We rarely, if ever, question the principle embedded in Hart-Celler that we should treat every country the same. It is based on a logic of equality and fairness and was meant to replace the patently inequitable and discriminatory system of national origin and racial quotas that had governed immigration policy since the 1920s. It was also very much in line with the outlook of the civil rights era. That was the ethos of the time—Hart-Celler is often recalled as being of a piece with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was also the self-conscious strategy of immigration reformers in the 1950s and early 1960s who decried the national origins quota system for its discrimination against eastern and southern Europeans.
When the initial hemispheric quotas under Hart-Celler went into effect in 1968, deportations to Mexico increased by forty percent, to 151,000. In 1976, when the country caps went into full effect, the United States deported 781,000 Mexicans. This compares with a total of 100,000 removals to all other countries in the world combined. By 1980 it was estimated that an illegal population of some two million people had accreted. There are now some twelve million unauthorized migrants in the United States. Three-quarters of them are from Mexico and Central America. They are the direct beneficiaries of legislation passed in the era of civil rights, founded on the principle of formal equality."