1960 August 6

Candidate John F. Kennedy Calls for Immigration Reform


Democratic Party presidential candidate Senator John F. Kennedy on this day called for reform of the nation’s immigration law. At this time, the law embodied the discriminatory “national origins” quota system that favored Northern and Western European countries and disfavored Southern and Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East (May 26, 1924). As president, Kennedy renewed his call for immigration reform on June 11, 1963, and sent an immigration reform bill to Congress on July 23, 1963. The immigration reform effort culminated in the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson on October 3, 1965.

Although he had a very good record on immigration, particularly in terms of eliminating the discriminatory national origins quota, President Kennedy’s record on civil rights was very weak. He did not, for example, support the famous Freedom Ride that began on May 4, 1961 (see his comments on May 20, 1961), and took almost two years to deliver on his campaign promise to sign an executive order on housing discrimination (see November 20, 1962). He transformed him image on civil rights on the night of June 11, 1963, but only because the demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama had created a national crisis. And after his speech, he tried to talk civil rights leaders out of organizing what became the famous March on Washington on August 28, 1963. And his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, under pressure from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, on October 10, 1963 authorized wiretaps on Martin Luther King.

Read: John F. Kennedy, A Nation of Immigrants (1964; published posthumously)

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