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Hewlett Lecture

The Society for History in the Federal Government presents:

The Annual Richard G. Hewlett Lecture

and Reception

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October 22, 2015

“Legacies of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965”


One Woodrow Wilson Plaza
1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20004-3027Hewlett 2016

This year’s panel offered a penetrating discussion and exchange that brought out the major issues and developments in the passage of the historic 1965 Hart-Cellar Act. The wide-ranging discussion resulted in part from the diversity of the panelists, including an experienced journalist and author, an INS historian, a Congressional Research Service specialist, and a director for immigration policy at a DC advocacy group. Their deep experience and knowledge provided in-depth background and skilled evaluation of the historical record.

Here are ten major points that emerged from the discussion and the question-and-answer period.

Ten points from the Hewlett immigration panel

•  Prior to the 1965 Hart-Cellar, there had been calls for family reunification as one basis for immigration

• Five laws between 1952 and 1965 chipped away at quotas

• Reform of the quota system was pursued by presidents from Truman to Johnson

• The racism inherent in acts from the Chinese Exclusion to the 1924 National Origins Act became far less tenable by 1965

• Immigration was changing despite the law. By the 1960s, the INS could not keep up with manpower or facilities to contain illegal immigration, which largely grew from the search for work in the United States.

• Contemporary mid-1960s civil rights movement lent ideological support to immigration reform, but also prompted racism

• Reform in 1965 had to bypass the old immigration basis that barred the indigent in place of the deserving

• Power over defining immigration was shifting from rural to urban areas that were more favorable to reform

• The INS was little consulted for the 1965 act, but it witnessed firsthand that family reunification was increasingly occurring through immigration

• The 1965 act’s intentions for replacement of quotas by preferences for entry of family members had the unintended consequence of changing the primary source of immigration from Europe to Asia and Central America.

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The Society’s annual Richard G. Hewlett Lecture will be held at the Woodrow Wilson Center on Thursday, October 22. A meet and greet reception will begin at 6 p.m., followed by a roundtable discussion on the Immigration Act of 1965 at 7 p.m.

The roundtable will feature

•  Tom Gjelten, Correspondent for Religion and Belief on the National Desk at NPR

•  Marian L. Smith, former Chief Historian for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

•  Ruth Wasem, currently a Kluge Fellow at the Library of Congress

•  Phil Wolgin, Center for American Progress


Tom Gjelten covers issues of religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, drawing on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world. Since 1986, he has posted from Latin America and Central Europe. His reporting from Sarajevo from 1992 to 1994 was the basis for his book Sarajevo Daily: A City and Its Newspaper UnderSiege (HarperCollins). He is also the author of Professionalism in War Reporting: A Correspondent’s View (Carnegie Corporation) and a contributor to Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know (W. W. Norton). His new book, A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (Simon & Schuster), recounts the impact on America of the 1965 Immigration Act, which officially opened the country’s doors to immigrants of color.

Tom Gjelten

Tom Gjelten

Marian L. Smith

Marian L. Smith

Marian L. Smith served as Chief Historian for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from 1988 to 2003, then its successor the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) from 2003 to 2014. Over those years she built a history program to both serve the federal agency and public researchers and increase access to official records. Her current work focuses on records and information management, particularly connecting 20th-century immigration records to 21st-century technology.

Philip Wolgin

Philip Wolgin

Ruth Wasem

Ruth Wasem

Ruth Ellen Wasem has been a domestic policy specialist at the Congressional Research Service, U.S. Library of Congress, for the past 25 years. She has researched and led seminars on immigration and social welfare policies, and congressional committees and offices have released many of her reports. She also leads CRS’ interdisciplinary Immigration Team and coordinates various cross-cutting briefings for Congress. She has testified before Congress on asylum policy and trends, on human rights protections in immigration law, and on the push-pull forces on unauthorized migration. She is Adjunct Professor of Public Policy in the Washington Program of the University of Texas, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Recent publications include Tackling Unemployment: The Legislative Dynamics of the Employment Act of 1946 (Upjohn Institute Press, 2013). Wasem won the 2014–2015 Kluge Staff Fellowship at the U.S. Library of Congress to research the history of the legislative drive to end race- and nationality-based immigration, which resulted in the Immigration Act of 1965.

Philip E. Wolgin is the Associate Director for the Immigration Policy team at American Progress. He directs research and publications on immigration and has helped lead the team’s work on such issues as immigration reform, child refugees at the United States’ southern border, border security, executive action, rebuttals to nativist claims about immigrants, and E-Verify. He has directed reports on varied subjects from studies on the daily lives of the undocumented through the “Documenting the Undocumented” series, to producing the first-of-its-kind analysis of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. At American Progress, he has held the positions of Senior Policy Analyst and Policy Analyst, both on the Immigration team. Philip is active in local DC-area immigration and refugee causes and serves on the national board of directors of the refugee organization HIAS. His work has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as International Migration Review and The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, as well as in online publications such as The Huffington Post.