1990 Immigration and Nationality Act – It’s The Lottery, Baby!


Let’s play the lottery and see who gets to enter the country! Yes, the 1990 Immigration and Nationality Act introduced a lottery program. But, don’t be fooled. Lottery is just a fun way of saying “quota”. Quota was a bad word in the history of United States immigration policies. I guess legislators thought this was a pretty slick maneuver.

November 29, 1990, President George Bush, Sr., spoke to the nation and made these points about the bill he signed into law:

  • He respected immigrants: “… the fundamental importance and historic contributions of immigrants to our country…”
  • He appreciated the need for family unity: “… our tradition of family reunification… support for the family as the essential unit of society…”
  • He acknowledged the economic benefit of the immigrant, “… immigration of skilled individuals to meet our economic needs… cultivation of a more competitive economy… encourage the immigration of exceptionally talented people, such as scientists, engineers, and educators… promote the initiation of new business… and the investment of foreign capital in our economy…”
  • He was honest about the “bad” element among immigrants: “… swift and effective punishment for drug-related and other violent crime… aliens who, by their violent criminal acts, forfeit their right to remain in this country… jeopardize the safety and well-being of every American resident… improves this Administration’s ability to secure the U.S. border…”

Annually, the Attorney General would review statistics that had been gathered for five years from all over the country. Nations would be designated as “High Admission” or “Low Admission”.  High admission countries had at least 50,000 immigrants that had become permanent residents. Immigrant hopefuls of these nationalities would not be permitted entry unless the “lottery” was unable to be fulfilled by immigrants from the “Low Admission” nations who received preference. The purpose of this was to achieve more ethnic diversity within the United States. The gringa supposes this seems okay on the surface. Let’s dig a little deeper and see how it all works out.

These were the regions that comprised the “High Admission” and “Low Admission” zones considered in the new visa lottery system: Africa; Asia; Europe; North America (Canada and Greenland); Oceania (the geographical area including Micronesia, Fiji, all Polynesia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Melanesia, and Australia); South America; Mexico; Central America; and the Caribbean. In order for an immigrant hopeful to get a visa, not only do they have to come from a “Low Admission” country, but they also have to have a high school diploma and two years of work experience. If an immigrant hopeful was lucky enough to get a visa, their children and spouses were included. The United States considered family unity in this immigration reform policy and the gringa is happy ‘bout dat!

To get down to the specific numbers, America would issue about triple the number of visas than it did prior to the passage of this act. Most of these visas were issued to immigrants who were sponsored by employers. Guess what was required of these employers? They had to show documentation that they were unable to fill the position with an existing American citizen worker. Now, when will all these people stop griping about immigrants coming over here and stealing American jobs? It just ain’t so! Funny how the politicians know these laws exist to protect American jobs yet when an election year comes around some will campaign on headline grabbing, voter stimulating issues that are absolute lies, such as, “We’ve got to do something about immigration! Unemployment is so high and Joe Bob can’t get a job because those damn immigrants are pouring over the border and taking jobs away from good ol’ Americans!” Liar, liar, pants on fire. There are so many jobs that an humble immigrant is grateful to get paid to do that a spoiled American will turn their nose up at. That’s why most of these visas were issued!

For the first five years of this law, maximum limits were put in place. A total of 700,000 would be allowed in annually during this first five year period. Family based immigration was preferred so 465,000 visas were set aside for this type of immigrant. 55,000 visas were designated for spouses and aliens who had spouses or parents who had been legalized in the U.S. under the amnesty plan of 1986. 140,000 visas were set aside for skilled laborers to enter. 40,000 immigrants from “adversely affected” countries were given their own special group.

An example of “adversely affected” people would be the 1,000 displaced Tibetans who entered the country in 1991. On April 30, 1990, China announced the end of martial law in Tibet’s capital. For thirteen months Tibetans had suffered under military rule, harshly silenced and oppressed from any protest against the Chinese government. Military rule had existed in Tibet for decades but China cracked down in 1989 when Tibetans started getting too big for their britches and actually wanted a little freedom and independence, particularly in the area of practicing their religion, and began protesting in public. Too bad it was only 1,000 that made their way here. The gringa wishes all of them could have made it.

Did this immigration reform achieve its goal of creating more diversity in the American population? Prior to this bill, Asia and Latin America were the source nations for the majority of immigrants entering the United States. Under the provisions of this act, the American workforce was primarily supplied with Mexican and Filipino laborers. Indians, Canadians, Chinese and Africans made up the balance. Even today the Latin and Asian immigrants are the predominant ethnicities represented in the immigrant population. So it seems the goal of diversity wasn’t achieved. The most significant change was that fewer of these immigrants were poor.

However, the ethnic fabric of American medicine, science, education and sports was enriched as the result of this immigration reform. To keep these skilled workers in the country, deportation laws were relaxed as well as many stipulations that otherwise would have excluded an immigrant hopeful for qualifying for entry. One of these stipulations, which really seems to get xenophobes all worked up, is that the requirement to speak English was passed over. It makes no difference to the gringa. The gringa likes a challenge, especially a challenging conversation.

The ultimate culmination of the aftermath of this legislation is what we have today. For those who are not threatened by cultural and language differences of other people, the gringa being one those people, we shrug and say, “Who cares. Let ‘em stay as long as they’re minding their own business, working and caring for their family and community.” For the xenophobes, this is their worst nightmare. They have to suffer the indignity of pushing the number one button on their phones to select English. It’s all just so much more damn work and inconvenience that’s been created by these non-English speaking foreigners. It seems American government was socially evolving (except during campaign years when they regressed for the sake of garnering votes). Now the work is to help these hard-headed, scaredy-cat xenophobes evolve.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1990_immigration_and_nationality_act.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1990/05/01/world/martial-law-ends-in-tibet-s-capital.html

http://immigrationinamerica.org/592-immigration-act-of-1990.html

http://cis.org/ImmigrationHistoryOverview

http://online.sfsu.edu/mcollier/AAS_write/aas%20essays/1990act.pdf

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=19117

Photo credit: www.tibetanreview.net

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gringaofthebarrio

A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

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