Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Pub.L. 82-414, 66 Stat. 163, enacted June 27, 1952), also known as the McCarran–Walter Act, restricted immigration into the U.S. and is codified under Title 8 of the United States Code. The Act governs primarily immigration to and citizenship in the United States. It has been in effect since December 24, 1952. Before this Act, a variety of statutes governed immigration law but were not organized within one body of text.



H.Res. 5678 was named after its sponsors, Senator Pat McCarran (D-Nevada), and Congressman Francis Walter (D-Pennsylvania).

Truman vetoed the Act because he regarded the bill as "un-American" and discriminatory. His veto message said:[1]

Today, we are "protecting" ourselves as we were in 1924, against being flooded by immigrants from Eastern Europe. This is fantastic...We do not need to be protected against immigrants from these countries–on the contrary we want to stretch out a helping hand, to save those who have managed to flee into Western Europe, to succor those who are brave enough to escape from barbarism, to welcome and restore them against the day when their countries will, as we hope, be free again....These are only a few examples of the absurdity, the cruelty of carrying over into this year of 1952 the isolationist limitations of our 1924 law. In no other realm of our national life are we so hampered and stultified by the dead hand of the past, as we are in this field of immigration.

Truman's veto was overridden by a vote of 278 to 113 in the House and 57 to 26 in the Senate.

In 1953, McCarran said:[2]

I believe that this nation is the last hope of Western civilization and if this oasis of the world shall be overrun, perverted, contaminated or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished. I take no issue with those who would praise the contributions which have been made to our society by people of many races, of varied creeds and colors.... However, we have in the United States today hard-core, indigestible blocs which have not become integrated into the American way of life, but which, on the contrary are its deadly enemies. Today, as never before, untold millions are storming our gates for admission and those gates are cracking under the strain. The solution of the problems of Europe and Asia will not come through a transplanting of those problems en masse to the United States.... I do not intend to become prophetic, but if the enemies of this legislation succeed in riddling it to pieces, or in amending it beyond recognition, they will have contributed more to promote this nation's downfall than any other group since we achieved our independence as a nation.


The Act abolished racial restrictions found in earlier immigration statutes. It retained a quota system for nationalities and regions. Eventually, the Act established a preference system which determined which ethnic groups were desirable immigrants and placed great importance on labor qualifications.

The Act defined three types of immigrants: immigrants with special skills or relatives of U.S. citizens who were exempt from quotas and who were to be admitted without restrictions; average immigrants whose numbers were not supposed to exceed 270,000 per year; refugees.

The Act allowed the government to deport immigrants or naturalized citizens engaged in subversive activities and also allowed the barring of suspected subversives from entering the country. It was used to bar members and former members and "fellow travelers" of the Communist Party from entry into the United States, even those who had not been associated with the party for decades.

It expanded the definition of the "United States" for nationality purposes, which already included Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to add Guam. Persons born in these territories on or after December 24, 1952 acquire U.S. citizenship at birth on the same terms as persons born in other parts of the United States.[3]

A 1962 guideline explained procedures under the Act:[4]

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 requires an alien to apply for a petition for naturalization. This form may be obtained from any office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, a division of the Department of Justice, or from any court authorized to naturalize aliens. Before applying, an alien must be at least 18 years old and must have been lawfully admitted to live permanently in the United States. He must have lived in the United States for five years and for the last six months in the state where he seeks to be naturalized. In some cases, he need only have lived three years in the United States. He must be of good moral character and "attached to the principles of the Constitution". The law states that an alien is not of good moral character if he is a drunkard, has committed adultery, has more than one wife, makes his living by gambling, has lied to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, has been in jail more than 180 days for any reason during his five years in the United States, or is a convicted murderer.


Until amended in 1990, the Act was used to exclude many prominent individuals. These include British sociologist Tom Bottomore, Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Uruguayan scholar Angel Rama, philosopher Michel Foucault (France), Italian playwright and Nobel Laureate Dario Fo, and authors Graham Greene (Great Britain), Doris Lessing (Zimbabwe (Rhodesia)-Great Britain), Dennis Brutus (South Africa), Farley Mowat (Canada), Kōbō Abe (Japan), Carlos Fuentes (Mexico), and Jan Myrdal (Sweden),[5] as well as Pierre Trudeau prior to becoming Prime Minister of Canada.[citation needed] Mowat wrote a book about his experience.


Parts of the Act remain in place today, but it has been amended many times and was modified substantially by the Immigration and Nationality Services Act of 1965.

12 years after the promulgation of the regulations at issue in Haig v. Agee, Congress enacted section § 707(b) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 1979 (Pub.L. 95-426, 92 Stat. 993, enacted October 7, 1978), amending § 215 of the Immigration and Nationality Act making it unlawful to travel abroad without a passport even in peacetime. Prior to this since enactment of the Travel Control Act of 1918, passports were only required in time of war.

As a result of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Act underwent a major restructuring beginning in March 2003 and its provisions regarding the admissibility and removability of terrorist suspects has received much media and scholarly attention.

See also


  1. ^ David Jacobson, Rights Across Borders: Immigration and the Decline of Citizenship (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 49-50; Daniel J. Tichenor, Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America (Princeton University Press, 2002), 195, quotes part of this passage
  2. ^ Senator Pat McCarran, Cong. Rec., March 2, 1953, p. 1518
  3. ^ A later amendment, effective November 3, 1986, added the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands."Acquisition of U.S. Nationality in U.S. Territories and Possessions" (PDF). U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 7 – Consular Affairs. U.S. Department of State. 06-01-05. Retrieved 2011-06-022. 
  4. ^ 1962 World Book Encyclopedia, Page 52, Book-13. Petition for Naturalization
  5. ^ [1]

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