IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

1965 Immigration Act That Diversified U.S. Still Reshaping America

The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act ended a white Eurocentric immigration system and has put the U.S. on a path to a majority-minority makeup.
Get more newsLiveon

The nation may be polarized over its policies toward immigrants today but there’s no doubt immigration has expanded and altered the U.S. over the past five decades and is likely to continue to do so for as many years to come.

It was 50 years ago Saturday that former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, a landmark civil rights law that drastically diversified the origin of immigrants to the U.S., who had up to then been largely white Europeans.

In the half century since, the nation’s foreign-born population, previously 9.6 million, has grown to a record 45 million this year, according to Pew Research Center, which released a report on the immigration change Monday. They account for about 14 percent of the nation’s population.

Today, the U.S. has one-in-five of the world’s immigrants, the most of any country. Pew projected that if immigration trends continue as they are, by 2065, the U.S. will have 78 million immigrants. However, it also notes that immigration has slowed from some parts of the world, in particular Mexico, that have been significant sources of Latino immigration.

The U.S. has 1-in-5 of the world's immigrants, the most in the world. By 2055, no racial or ethnic group will be the majority population in the U.S.

Even so, future immigrants and their descendants will continue to be a source of the nation's population growth. They are estimated to account for 88 percent of the U.S. population increase, or 103 million of the increase of the U.S. population to 441 million, Pew reported.

Between 1965 and 2015, new immigrants, their children and their grandchildren added 72 million people to the nation’s population, which grew from 193 million in 1965 to 324 million in 2015.

Latinos' presence as this country’s largest minority group – an estimated 54 million – can be traced in large part to the 1965 law and its shift on the origin of immigrants to the U.S.

Latinos as a share of the U.S. population rose from 4 percent in 1965 to 18 percent in 2015. According to Pew’s analysis, without the 1965 law, the nation’s racial and ethnic composition would be 75 percent white, 14 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent Asian.

Half of immigrants, 51 percent, who arrived since 1965 are from Latin America and a quarter are from Asia.

By 2055, no racial or ethnic group will be the majority population in the U.S. By 2065, Hispanics will be 24 percent of the population and Asians, 14 percent.

Pew projects that the country will see another shift in the country’s racial and ethnic makeup in another 50 years because of the slowdown of immigration from Latin America, particularly Mexico. Immigration from Mexico is at the lowest it's been in half a century, Pew said.

The next group to emerge will be Asian immigrants, whose share of the immigrant population is expected to be the largest by 2055 and 38 percent of the foreign-born population by 2065.

Additionally, black immigrants and white immigrants will increase slightly to 29 percent of the population in 2065, up from 26 percent in 2015.

There are other differences in immigrants of today than of those from earlier times in the nation’s history.

Those arriving today are more educated, compared to those who arrived in the 1970s, but are poorer. Some 41 percent of immigrants had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 20 percent in 1970. However, 28 percent of recent arrivals two years ago were poor, up from 18 percent in 1970.

But today's immigrants are in other ways very similar to immigrants of the 1970s.

In 2013, 51 percent are women, compared to 54 percent in 1970.

Half of arrivals in 2013 lived in California, Florida, New York or Texas. Two thirds lived in those states in 1990; a third lived in those states in 1970.