History Ph.D. Dissertations


Whom We Shall Welcome: Immigration Reform During the Great Society

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Amílcar Challú

Second Advisor

Stephen Ortiz (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Vibha Bhalla (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Timothy Messer-Kruse (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Christopher Frey (Committee Member)


This work examines the economic debate over the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and the end of the bracero program. Although the United States was still experiencing the post-World War II economic boom in the 1960's, the John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations became increasingly concerned with poverty. Through the assistance of a friendly Congress, Kennedy and Johnson signed legislation designed to provide opportunities for employment for the nation's impoverished and unemployed. As unemployment numbers dropped, geographical pockets of unemployment remained high. Yet, business needs for skilled workers persisted. Economic planners and policymakers viewed immigration as a means to meet business needs and strengthen the American economy by removing nation-based quotas and favoring occupational skills and innovation in the immigration code. However, reform detractors successfully altered the final wording of the bill away from its initial intentions, putting more emphasis on family reunification and unintentionally opening immigration increasingly to Latin America and Asia. Despite Congress's altering of the bill and the subsequent unintended consequences, my dissertation seeks to reorient the focus of the study of this piece of legislation on what Congress initially intended. By investigating War on Poverty legislation, I argue that policymakers viewed immigration reform in the 1960's as a means to further the economic planning of this decade. By studying these intentions, I hope to shed light on the economic debate surrounding immigration reform today.