Family Reunification and the Limits of Immigration Reform: Impact and Legacy of the 1965 Immigration Act

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23 Scopus citations


Immigration scholars and politicians recognize the importance of family reunification, lauding its role in diversifying the United States' racial and ethnic makeup, modernizing the American immigration system, and uniting families. As the centerpiece of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, family reunification replaced the racially discriminatory national origins quota system. Commentators typically view family reunification policy as a uniquely modern political achievement connected to 1960s civil rights-era laws and emblematic of democratic liberalism. I challenge this characterization by examining immigration policy during the exclusion era and show that family reunification has been a crucial element of American immigration policy since the United States began regulating immigration. In addition, support for family unity sometimes results from exclusionary efforts. I illustrate this further by tracing the legislative history of passage of the 1965 Immigration Act. I conclude that a reassessment of the liberal valuation of family reunification policy is warranted and suggest that there may be limits to immigration reform that targets family.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)528-548
Number of pages21
JournalSociological Forum
Issue numberS1
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Civil rights
  • Ethnicity
  • Family
  • Immigration
  • Policymaking
  • Race


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