McCarran-Walter Act (Immigration and Nationality Act) (United States) (1952)


The McCarran-Walter Act was an attempt to deal systematically with the concurrent cold war threat of communist expansion and the worldwide movement of peoples in the wake of World War II (1939–45; see World War II and immigration). It codified various legislative acts and policy decisions, continuing the highly restrictive policies of the Immigration Act (1917), the Emergency Quota Act (1921), and the Johnson-Reed Act (1924), which relied on national quotas to determine the nature of future immigration.

The expansion of Soviet political power and the fall of China to the Communists caused many Americans to fear the effects of loosely regulated immigration. This led to passage of the McCarran Internal Security Act (September 1950), authorizing the president in time of national emergency to detain or deport anyone suspected of threatening U.S. security. Senator Patrick McCarran of New York, a Democrat, argued against a more liberal immigration policy, fearing an augmentation of the "hard-core, indigestible blocs” of immigrants who had "not become integrated into the American way of life.” Together with fellow Democrat Representative Francis Walter of Pennsylvania, they drafted the McCarran-Walter Act, which preserved the national origins quotas then in place as the best means of preserving the "cultural balance” in the nation’s population. The main provisions of the measure included

1. establishment of a new set of preferences for determining admittees under the national quotas
a. nonquota: spouses and minor children of citizens; clergy; inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere
b. first preference: needed skilled workers, up to 50 percent of quota
c. second preference: parents of citizens, up to 30 percent of quota
d. third preference: spouses and unmarried children of resident aliens, up to 20 percent of quota
e. nonpreference: siblings and older children of citizens

2. provision of 2,000 visas for countries within the Asia-Pacific triangle, with quotas applied to ancestry categories (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.) rather than countries of birth

3. elimination of racial restrictions on naturalization

4. granting the Attorney General’s Office the authority, in times of emergency, to temporarily "parole” into the United States anyone without a visa

Allotment of visas under the McCarran-Walter Act still heavily favored northern and western European countries, which received 85 percent of the quota allotment.

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