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The Source: How The 1965 Immigration Act Shaped America Today

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Standing in front of the Statue of Liberty, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. At the event, he promised the new law would not drastically impact Americans' every day lives and communities. 

NPR corespondent Tom Gjelten explored the history of the act and its effects in a new book, A Nation of Nations​. As it turns out, LBJ was wrong. The act got rid of previous quotas limiting immigration by country of origin, which had an obvious pro-European bias. After 1965, immigrants from all over the world were able to come to America, drastically changing demographics and our country overall.

Did the act change what it means to be American? The law was, and still is, controversial to conservatives, who asked if America needs to accommodate non-European immigrants. In the 60s, racism was  a blatant factor, as opponents would mention their preference for white immigrants. But according to Gjelten, America changed for the better, finally becoming a more diverse country.

In his book, he also looks at how the new laws affected immigrants themselves. Gjelten follows five families and their personal stories about coming to America, the obstacles they faced once there, and how living in the USA shaped the following generations. Ultimately, Gjelten finds that America today is welcoming, accommodating, and a diverse "fruit salad" country. 


  • Tom Gjelten, author of the book "A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story"