Today's Immigrants, Their Stories: A New Look at the Newest Americans

Today's Immigrants, Their Stories: A New Look at the Newest Americans

Today's Immigrants, Their Stories: A New Look at the Newest Americans

Today's Immigrants, Their Stories: A New Look at the Newest Americans

Excerpt

On October 3, 1965, the thirty-sixth president of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, journeyed to New York City to sign a new immigration law. Those who knew the tall Texas politician knew that his deep commitment to liberal ideals was also matched by an equally acute appreciation of the symbolic. His campaign for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had included phrases from the anthem "We Shall Overcome," and his War on Poverty speeches contained references to his own roots in rural poverty. Thus, it did not surprise many that when he signed the new immigration law, Lyndon Johnson chose to do so in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the most famous symbol of New York's unique role in American immigration.

The bill Johnson signed very much reflected the dominant, liberal spirit of the 1960s, a spirit that recognized past failures of action but remained committed to the ideal that government could play a decisive role in making opportunity available to those for whom it still remained elusive. The 1965 immigration law also emphasized concern for the weak and respect for equality and individual differences. President Johnson made special mention of these aspects of the new law in his address:

This is one of the most important acts of this Congress and this administration. For it repairs deep and painful flaws in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation. It will make us truer to ourselves both as a country and as a people. It will strengthen us in a hundred unseen ways.... This Bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.... America was built by a nation of strangers. From a . . .

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