Australia and the USA Compared
Monash Studies in Global Movements series
Edited by John Higley, John Nieuwenhuysen and Stine Neerup
Chapter 9: Latinos, Immigration and Social Cohesion in the United States
David L. Leal1 The central focus of any discussion of immigration and social cohesion in the US today is the Latino population, which numbered 44.3 million people in 2006. This population is a diverse mix of families who have lived in the formerly Mexican territories of the US Southwest for many generations and larger numbers of more recent arrivals from Mexico, Central and South America and the Caribbean. Although immigration to the US has diversified considerably since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the public imagination and political debate tend to conflate Latinos with immigrants in general. Immigrants from Asia, Africa and other non-Western regions receive less attention, are the object of less concern, and are often contrasted positively with Latinos. When the INA was enacted in 1965 the official rhetoric was that it did not herald a dramatic shift in immigration policy. At the Act’s signing ceremony President Lyndon Johnson stated that ‘This bill . . . is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives’. Stemming in part from a desire to abolish the internationally embarrassing racial restrictions of the 1920s, and in part from the fact that immigration from Europe had declined far below its allotments, the INA instituted a preference system that prioritized family reunification and to some degree work-related skills. Whether Johnson’s statement was an innocent mistake or a deliberate effort at obfuscation, the reality was a renewal of immigration that would transform...
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