The immigration laws of 1965 and 1990 represent perhaps two of the most important reforms to U.S. immigration policy in the last century. After more than 40 years of an immigration system grounded on the basis of race and national origin, favoring immigrants from certain regions of the world over others, the 1965 law abolished the national origins quotas of the 1920s and established a more equitable preference system based on skills and family relations.
Twenty-five years later, Congress once again overhauled U.S. immigration policy in 1990 and built on the structure and principles of the system set up in 1965 to attract even more educated and diverse immigrants. While both laws had significant impacts on immigration trends and characteristics for decades after their enactment, they were also reflections of the specific economic and political realities of their time. Both laws had unintended consequences or were often overshadowed by political and economic trends in the United States and around the world.
Twenty-five years after the last major immigration reforms passed in 1990, this issue brief looks back and provides an overview of the political context, major provisions, and impacts of the immigration acts of 1965 and 1990.