The Immigration and Nationality Act: A Look Back In Time

Blog Category: Immigration

Written by *Alison Palmer

Immigration is deeply rooted in the history of the United States, and much of that history included immigration policy motivated by nativism, racism and selectivism. Congress has plenary power over immigration policy and it created the first federal unified immigration laws with the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) of 1952.  Although the INA was still selective and discriminatory in nature, it set the framework for subsequent progressive changes in immigration policy, such as the elimination of racial disqualifications  in selections and the prioritization of things like labor skills in the selection process.

The amendments to the INA in 1961 and 1965 marked the Golden Age of immigration law, incorporating notions of fairness, humanity, and rationality into the process through increased availability of judicial review at both the administrative and federal court levels. Recently, however, Congress has retreated, once again, to a narrower and more discriminatory immigration policy, with the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996.

With this policy shift,  Congress has effectively diminished the federal courts’ involvement and the notion of judicial review over immigration and deportation proceedings,  removing an absolute check on the legislature by being prevented from ensuring fair administrative review of immigration proceedings.   Robbie Clarke suggests comprehensive immigration reform reminiscent of the ideals set forth in the 1960 INA Amendments to restore judicial review of immigration proceedings by federal courts.

For a review of the history of immigration reform and the balance of power between the legislative and judicial branches relating to immigration reform, see Robbie Clarke, Reaffirming the Role of the Federal Courts: How the Sixties Provide Guidance for Immigration Reform, 17 WASH. & LEE J.C.R. & SOC. JUST. 463 (2011).


*Alison Palmer is currently a staff member on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race. To learn more about Alison Palmer click here to view her page: Alison Palmer

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