Such questions should have been settled 50 years ago with the passage of the 1965 Act. For supporters, the intent of the legislation was to bring immigration policy into line with other anti-discrimination measures, not to fundamentally change the face of the nation. “We have removed all elements of second-class citizenship from our laws by the  Civil Rights Act,” declared Vice President Hubert Humphrey. “We must in 1965 remove all elements in our immigration law which suggest there are second-class people.”
At the signing ceremony on Liberty Island, President Lyndon Johnson said the new law “corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American nation,” but he downplayed its expected effect. “The bill that we sign today is not a revolutionary bill,” he insisted.
Opponents of the reform proposal had argued that the United States was fundamentally a European country and should stay that way. “The people of Ethiopia have the same right to come to the United States under this bill as the people from England, the people of France, the people of Germany, [and] the people of Holland,” complained Senator Sam Ervin, a Democrat from North Carolina. “With all due respect to Ethiopia,” Ervin said, “I don’t know of any contributions that Ethiopia has made to the making of America.” The critics highlighted population pressures in the developing world and predicted the United States would find itself inundated by desperate migrants from poverty-stricken countries.
Only a few supporters of the 1965 legislation said the country could and should be willing to accommodate more immigrants of color. “The American nation today stands as eloquent proof that there is no inherent contradiction between unity and diversity,” declared Representative Peter Rodino of New Jersey, a Democrat of Italian origin. The more typical response to the nativist arguments was simply to deny that the proposed immigration reform would bring any significant shift in the pattern of immigration. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, testifying in Congress, said he saw no indication of “a world situation where everybody is just straining to move to the United States.”
Such assurances did not sway conservative critics of the reform, but a last-minute change in the legislative language did alleviate their fears of a massive African and Asian influx. The original version of the 1965 Act, cosponsored by Senator Philip Hart of Michigan and Representative Emmanuel Celler of New York, both liberal Democrats, favored those immigrants whose skills were “especially advantageous” to the United States. Conservatives, led by Representative Michael Feighan, an Ohio Democrat, managed to change those priorities, giving visa preferences instead to foreigners who were seeking to join their families in the United States. Feighan, who chaired the House Immigration subcommittee, argued that a family-unification preference in immigration law would establish, in the words of a glowing profile in the American Legion magazine, “a naturally operating national-origins system,” because it would favor immigration from the northern and western European countries that at the time dominated the U.S. population.