IMMIGRATION: The Base of the American Dream

by ANUSHA NATARAJAN

“I again urge the liberalization of some of our restrictions upon immigration…we should double the 154,000 quota immigrants … we should make special provisions for the absorption of many thousands of persons who are refugees.”

— President Dwight Eisenhower

Five years later, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 , also known as the Hart-Cellar Act, passed, reducing barriers for immigrants entering the United States. This legislation helped overturn the Immigration Act of 1924, which barred Asian immigration into the United States. Specifically, the main change that the Hart-Cellar Act modified was removing the restriction of certain ethnic groups from entering the country, thus replacing the Chinese Exclusion Act. With the suppression that Chinese Americans faced, several landmarks, such as Angel Island, hold carved Chinese poems about the exclusion and discrimination that was endured. Today, these landmarks serve as educational icons for Americans and visitors worldwide to understand the pressure and pain that Chinese immigrants underwent, thus increasing awareness on the importance of protecting individuals’ rights.

As a result of the Hart- Cellar Act, Asian immigration rose up to 39% , according to the INS Statistical Yearbook, due to the lax restrictions on the quota system for people coming in from Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. Additionally, the bill mentions specific expansions on preferences of who can enter the country. Whether they are exceptional professors or doctors or political refugees, this act allowed many different age and occupational groups to be permitted into the country.

Thus, this has led the United States Department of Labor to open up applications for H-1B visas for immigrants due to the demand for labor. This is one of the most popular avenues for Asian immigrants to take. According to the Center for American Progress, 70% of the 361,000 H1-B visas were approved for Indian immigrants.

One of the major impacts that this act had on major metropolitan cities was the increased regulation and expansion of the economy. Many Asian immigrant workers that resided in New York or Los Angeles would open up shops and businesses to help improve the economy by offering jobs and selling cultural items. The Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners report that Asian immigrants hired 280 million employees and generated $506 billion. Currently, between 8–16 % of Asian immigrants make up the population of these major American metropolitan cities.

How does Asian immigration look today? The Asian-Pacific Islander racial group is considered one the most diverse demographics both culturally and economically. In particular, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese immigrants are the top six nationalities of Asian immigrants and account for 85 percent of the total Asian immigrant population, as affirmed by the Bureau of Census.

Thanks to the Immigration Act of 1965, this called for the expansion of immigration by reducing quotas, as amended in the Immigration Act of 1990. Respectively, immigration has led to people transferring and practicing their culture freely in the United States. This has also allowed for an increase in cultural understanding and awareness. For example, manga and anime are associated with Japanese pop culture, and their influence have spread to the U.S. where, according to Google Insight, fans have contributed over 70 million views to these pop culture staples.

Thus, Asian-Pacific heritage has strengthened the American dream by sharing strong cultural values , bringing in education, and improving the economy. The Immigration Act of 1965 was just the beginning of making a diverse and prosperous America. Its influence continues to shape the America that we all yearn to create: a land filled with tolerance, opportunity, and compassion.

This article has been published as part of a series of weekly writings by OCA Greater Phoenix’s student leaders for AAPI Heritage Month 2019.

Resources:

Batalova, Jeanne and Zong, Jie, “Asian Immigrants in the United States” , https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/asian-immigrants-united-states

Malik, Sanam, “Asian Immigrants in the United States Today”, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/immigration/news/2015/05/21/113690/asian-immigrants-in-the-unites-states-today/

Smith, Lindsay, “Asian-Americans Make Up Most of the New U.S. Immigrant Population”, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2018/09/asian-immigrants-latin-americans-united-states-study-news/

OCA Greater Phoenix is a chapter of the national nonprofit civil rights organization OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates.

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