23 Defining Moments in Immigration Policy History

15. McCarran–Walter Act (1952)

- This act retained the quota system from the Immigration Act of 1924 and gave preference to certain countries, like Great Britain, Germany and Ireland, while reducing the number of immigrants from colonies in the New World.

- It allowed for deportation of immigrants involved in subversive activities.

- It banned racial and ethnic discrimination over who can naturalize, allowing Asians to naturalize.


President Harry Truman vetoed the bill, which he considered discriminatory, but Congress overrode his veto. (Truman Library)

16. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965

- It abolished the quota system, which limited immigration from individual nations and gave preference to certain European countries. The act moved to a system based on family unity and worker skills.

- While the law was touted as "not revolutionary" by President Lyndon Johnson, it overhauled and liberalized the immigration system.


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Immigration Act as Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Lady Bird Johnson and others look on. (Yoichi Okamoto/LBJ Library)

17. Plyler V. Doe (1982)

- The Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute denying undocumented immigrant children the right to a public school education.


18. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (known as the "1986 amnesty")

- This gave citizenship to nearly three million undocumented immigrants.

- The law made it a crime to knowingly hire an undocumented worker.


President Ronald Reagan in the Roosevelt Room signing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. (Reagan Library)

19. Immigration Act of 1990

- Allowed the president to grant "temporary protected status" to immigrants from certain countries that might be afflicted with armed conflict or a natural disaster.

- Removed the ban on lesbian and gay immigrants.


Post-earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, January 2010. Haitians were granted Temporary Protected Status after the disaster. (Colin Crowley/Flickr)

20. Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996

- The law instituted a ten-year ban for entering the country illegally and staying for more than a year.


President Bill Clinton delivering the weekly radio address in the Oval Office, Nov. 6, 1993. (U.S. National Archives/Flickr)

21. Creation of Homeland Security (2002)

- In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. realigned its immigration agencies, placing all agencies under the new department called Homeland Security.

- In the decade following 9/11, spending on border security and deportations increased dramatically.


President George W. Bush pauses during a meeting in the Oval Office, Oct. 10, 2001. (U.S. National Archives/Flickr)

22. Secure Fence Act of 2006

- Congress approved $1.2 billion for 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

border fence

A section of the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Nogales, Mexico. (Ted Hesson/Long Island Wins)

23. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals 2012

- President Barack Obama used his executive authority to temporarily halt deportations of young undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications, such as attending high school.


A rally for the Maryland Dream Act. (Edward Kimmel/Flickr)

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