ASU Insight: What It Means to Be American "The 1965 Immigration Act That Became a Law of Unintended Consequences" (Highlights)

October 2, 2015

At a Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It Means to Be American” event on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, a panel of scholars tried to explain how a piece of legislation could create so many contradictory and unexpected after-effects, and what kind of world created the policy. At the time the act was passed, there was a robust circulation of immigrants between Mexico and the U.S. Between 1942 and 1964, some 4.6 million workers came to the U.S. as “guest workers” under the auspices of the Bracero program. The 1965 Immigration Act suddenly limited immigration from all countries in the western hemisphere, and a 1976 revision to the act further specified that each country (in any hemisphere) would only be allotted 20,000 immigrants.

These changes to immigration law “created an artificial separation between Mexican-Americans and Mexican immigrants,” especially in the 1970s, said panelist Matt Garcia, director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

“It’s very hard to see [the 1965 Immigration Act] as positive from a Latino point of view,” he said. For one thing, “The cap created the ‘illegal immigration’ label,” Garcia said, since the high numbers of Mexican and Central American immigrants going to America couldn’t stop overnight even if the law changed.

It also “imperiled attempts to unionize farmworkers,” Garcia said. Because the main sponsor of Cesar Chavez’s efforts with farmworkers (the AFL-CIO) didn’t consider non-citizens worth organizing, Chavez left out a large population of workers in need of protection.

It also led to laws like Proposition 187 in California, which limited undocumented immigrants’ access to public schools and publicly funded healthcare, among other services, Garcia said. (A federal district court later found the proposition unconstitutional.)

“It’s been very, very wrenching for Latino families,” Garcia said. “They’re the ones who have been the most vocal in saying we need immigration reform.”
“Both [Presidents] Kennedy and Johnson were very conscious of … the tarnishing of America’s reputation as the leader of the free world,” Ngai said. “You had Jim Crow and you had national origins quotas. So a lot of the willingness of the administration to enact civil rights reform is [from wanting] to look better around the world.” Matt Garcia, 1965 panel, Zocalo, Arizona State University Matthew Garcia, Director of the School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University discusses the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965. Download Full Image

Ken Fagan

Videographer, ASU News


Moral philosopher Peter Singer joins ASU's Lawrence Krauss in conversation on ethics

October 2, 2015

An Origins Project Dialogue featuring moral philosopher Peter Singer in a conversation with Lawrence Krauss from Arizona State University will be held 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

"Singer & Krauss: An Origins Project Dialogue" is a candid and unscripted conversation on ethics for the 21st century, covering topics including animal liberation, dying with dignity, food, global poverty and effective altruism. Peter Singer Peter Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, specializes in applied ethics for humans and animals. Photo by: Wikipedia Download Full Image

Singer, the Ira W. DeCamp professor of Bioethics at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University, specializes in applied ethics for humans and animals. He serves on a number of advisory boards and has received numerous awards for his work, including being named the Australian Humanist of the Year by the Council of Australian Humanist Societies and induction into the United States Animal Rights Hall of Fame.

Lawrence Krauss is an author, professor, physicist, public intellectual and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. A renowned theoretical physicist, Krauss also is a best-selling author, is chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and was named Humanist of the Year in 2015 by the American Humanist Association.

“The greatest ethical challenges facing us in the 21st century will involve questions of food, our changing view of life and consciousness in both humans and other animals, and the way we treat the end of life,” said Krauss. “Peter Singer has been called one of the world’s most controversial philosophers for his groundbreaking work on just these questions, and he has a well-deserved reputation for pushing us to think deeply and rationally about our ethical responsibilities as human beings. I look forward to a remarkably stimulating discussion that I hope will both entertain and provoke. It will be an evening to remember.”

Tickets for "Singer & Krauss: An Origins Project Dialogue" are available at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts website at and at the venue’s box office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Additional information is available at the Origins Project website at

Tickets are $18, or $45 for VIP. ASU students with proper ID can receive free tickets (limited seating) but must get the tickets in person at the box office.  

As a companion event to the Singer & Krauss Dialogue, the Origins Project will host a free, on-campus panel featuring Peter Singer and select ASU faculty members discussing the ethics of food and sustainability, gender and dying with dignity.  "Evolving Ethics: Food, Sex, and Death" will be held at noon Oct. 16 in the Marston Exploration Theater, Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Building 4 (ISTB4) on ASU’s Tempe campus.  

For more information on Origins Project events, please go to, or call 480-965-0053.

Director, Media Relations and Strategic Communications