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Evolution of U.S. immigration law linked to racial progress

Imagine a country that categorically denies citizenship to specific groups of people. It doesn't matter how long they and their families have lived in the country, how well they speak the language or how completely they have integrated into society; no matter what they do, they can never become citizens. While some people in Lancaster may doubt that there ever was such a country, they may be shocked to learn that the United States routinely prohibited immigration from specific regions of the world. Those that weren't prohibited were seriously restricted by quota systems.

Prior to 1952, in fact the law stated that anyone from Asia was barred from entering the country. Though the law changed in 1952, quotas remained and Asian immigration was seriously restricted. For years, the immigration laws only allowed immigrants in a certain percentage of the population from decades prior.

So what changed? As any immigrant in Pennsylvania could likely tell you, the current immigration system is far from perfect, but there were tremendous changes and improvements following the civil rights movement. It was the opening of society and the government to racial diversity that allowed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 to open the U.S. to more immigrants and immigrants from previously restricted areas of the world.

And as immigration activists advocate for reform, there are an increasing number of connections being made to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the immigration reform movement of today. How Congress will ultimately deal with that reform, however, remains undecided.

Source: The Associated Press, "Civil rights and immigration history connected," Deepti Hajela, Aug. 26, 2013

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