HIAS and immigration reform

At three of HIAS’s annual meetings in the 1960s (when HIAS was known as United HIAS Service), speakers included United States Senators who worked with HIAS to “develop immigration and refugee policies responsive to the demands of our troubled times.” With immigration such an integral part of the work of HIAS over the last century and with its appearance in the current presidential campaign, I thought I’d take a look at what was under discussion 50 years ago.

Senator Hart speaks at HIAS Annual Meeting, 1962
Senator Hart speaks at United HIAS Service Annual Meeting, 1962

Senator Philip A. Hart (Democrat of Michigan) was the principal speaker at United HIAS Service’s 78th Annual Meeting at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City on March 11, 1962. At the time, Hart was chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees.

According to a United HIAS Service “News Release”, Hart said, ” ‘ There is no yardstick with which to measure the impact of our immigration policies on our foreign relations’ … suggesting that ‘in the long run, it may equal the impact of our economic aid program.’ ”  He added, ” ‘it is important that we bring our present immigration concepts and practices more closely into line with our traditions and ideals.’ ” His speech ended with this: “The most insensitive person must realize that great forces have been unleashed throughout the world. As Barbara Ward puts it so well in her recent book, ‘The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations’, we live in ‘a catastrophically revolutionary age.’

Keating Optimistic on Immigration Law Revision, 1963
Keating Optimistic on Immigration Law Revision, 1963

Senator Kenneth B. Keating (Republican, New York) spoke at the 79th Annual Meeting of United HIAS Service on March 11, 1963. At the time he was co-sponsoring the Hart-Keating immigration bill in Congress. Key objectives of the bill, as outlined in his speech, included the “elimination of the outmoded 1920 census as a basis for granting quota visas to nationality groups. Other considerations, such as the importance of uniting broken families and maintaining the flow of skilled labor to our shores are more important guides to a sound immigration program than the population of this country in 1920 … A nation with our traditions and heritage must also continue to do its part in the world-wide effort to resettle homeless refugees and escapees”.

In 1965, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at the United HIAS Service’s 81st Annual Meeting on March 14. Also fighting for immigration reform, Senator Kennedy said that the current bill in the Senate “would eliminate from the statute books a form of discrimination totally alien to the spirit of the Constitution.”

Liberalized Immigration Law Urged at United HIAS Annual Meeting
“Liberalized Immigration Law Urged at United HIAS Annual Meeting”, 1965

Another speaker at the meeting was Abba P. Schwartz, Administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs at the United States State Department, who said, ” ‘The foundations of this nation were laid by people escaping oppression.  Surely our concern is not for the accident of place of birth but for the inherent moral work of the individual who seeks to come to our shores.’ ”

Times change, immigration priorities and public opinion on immigration evolve, and it remains an important and hotly contested plank in the current campaigns. HIAS continues to rescue those in need and resettle them in the United States and elsewhere.

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