When President Eisenhower announced in his State of the Union Message that he would seek changes in the McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, most opponents of the Act predicted that the President would continue to mouth platitudes about the need for revision, but do nothing to pressure Congress into action. Fears that the President would just continue to whistle his vague tune were happily corrected by his message to Congress last week, when he spelled out a program that seems to please even the strongest foes of the present immigration law. If he gives these measures the Presidential support necessary to pass during an election year there will be even greater grounds for congratulation.
The President's suggestions certainly go far toward removing the inequities of the present law. Not only does the President favor an over-all increase in immigrants from 154,000 to about 220,000, but he also would let unused quotas, from nations like England, Ireland, and Germany--which now account for two-thirds of the total quota--be distributed among nations that need higher allotments. Greece, for instance, now has a total quota of only 308, Turkey 225, and Japan 185. The President would also remove altogether from quotas the refugees who have entered under the special Refugee Relief Act and who have used up large portions of Eastern European allotments far into the 22nd Century.
These specific changes are not as far-reaching as a suggestion in the President's message that the whole idea of quotas based on national origins needs review. Established by a not-so-international Congress in 1924, the present quota system frankly discriminates against Southern and Eastern Europeans and Asians under the theory that people with English or Northern European names make better citizens. In view of the number of contributions made by the unfavored groups in the past, this thesis is absurd. In this respect the President's suggestion for a special, experimental quota of 5,000--to be distributed with regard not to nationality, but to cultural and technical skill--is a welcome prelude to a fulll-scale review of the whole concept of quotas based on national origins.
Even the unexpectedly strong plea for basic revisions in the McCarran-Walter Act is not going to effect the needed reforms in an election year. Faced with President Truman's veto of the Act just before the last election, over two-thirds of the House and Senate, voted to over-ride. And among those who voted to pass the Act were many Democratic Senators who now control important posts--Johnson, George, Fulbright, Byrd, Eastland--as well as both Knowland and Bridges. If the President puts his full authority behind the changes, however, Congress should accept some, even if not all, the proposals. In the past when the President has fully utilized his popularity--on such issues as Reciprocal Trade and the Bricker Amendment--he has generally had his way. The President has shown that he is not just whistling for immigration reform; he should now demonstrate that he will work for it.