The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was commonly referred to as the MacCarran-Walter Act. The Act established three basic premises: (i) family reunion; (ii) protection of domestic labour force; (iii) the immigration of specially skilled persons. The act still followed the National Origins formula of 1924. It based the annual quota of immigrants on one sixth of one per cent of the population as it was in 1920. It also meant that the Maltese were barred from sharing the quota allowed to migrants from Great Britain as was done in the past. This meant in practice that no more than one hundred Maltese were to be allowed in every year- Also included in this meagre quota were Maltese born in Malta but resident in other countries. Excluded from the quota were wives and dependent children of Maltese who had taken U,S. citizenship. The MacCarran-Walter Act allowed five categories of immigrants according to the following priority:
- Those whose presence was urgently needed in the U.S.A.
- The parents of sons and daughters already in the U.S.A. The sons and daughters must be over 21 years of age and unmarried.
- Partners of those who are legally married with their dependent children.
- Brothers and sisters and married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
- Those who apply but do not fall under the said categories.
Needless to say one of the most vulnerable groups was that made of families stranded in Malta because their heads had already gone to the U.S. but had not taken American citizenship. If such husbands decided to stay where they were they would have to wait at least seven years before being able to be reunited with their families because they needed a residence of five years before they could obtain their American citizenship and another two years for the other papers dealing with the entry of their dependents to be processed.
In 1954 the Emigration Department in Malta claimed that almost 5,000 people were being denied entry in the U.S.A. because of the limitations imposed by the MacCarran-Walter Act. At that time the number of applicants who had been hit by the measure were:
- wives and dependent children wishing to join their heads: 489
- brides wishing to join their bridegrooms: 18
- parents wishing to join their children: 759
- brothers and sisters with brothers and sisters in U.S.A.: 2,288
- other relatives wishing to join other relatives: 1,346
This gave a total of 4,900 applicants who had a good, if not a sentimental reason, forjoining another person or persons dear to them. (12)
Mr Joseph M. Fasi wrote from Detroit on the human aspect of this enforced separation. He wrote: "it was heart breaking to hear stories of women whose husbands are here but they were not allowed to join them. Now they know that they will have to wait for years before their families are re-united. Most irritating to us Maltese are the provisions of the MacCarran-WalterAct which we now know have limited Maltese immigration to one hundred immigrants annually". (13)
The MacCarran-WalterAct continued to regulate the inflow of aliens into the U.S. till 1965. Although many American politicians and immigrant associations expressed reservations about the Act It also had very influential backers. Its opponents condemned it as being against traditional American immigration policies and because it showed a lack of confidence in the future of the country while harming the domestic and international needs of the country. It was also claimed that the Act harmed the prestige of the country abroad because it still carried with it a vestige of racial prejudice against some ethnic groups. (14)
America could not ignore such criticism. A commission was set up which made its report in January 1953. A re-codification of the Act was suggested. Senator Herbert H. Lehan and Representative Emmanuel Celler issued their proposals on February 25, 1955. They criticised the Act as disciminatory, oppressive and ruthless. Their proposal said: "In the present state of world affairs we dare no longer tolerate on our statute books the present shameful law which is losing us friends " holding us to contempt in the eyes of the Free world and working havoc among our own people."
Thirteen senators and eight representatives introduced a comprehensive immigration and citizenship bill completely revising and replacingt he MacCarran-Walter Act. The new Lehan-Celler proposal made the following suggestions:
- Eliminate the National Origins Quota System with its built in discriminations based on place birth.
- Eliminate statutory discriminations and distinctions between native born and naturalised Americans.
- Elimininate present insubstantial grounds for revocation and denial of citizenship.
- Eliminate "fractious" and "arbitrary" grounds for denial of admission to the U.S.
- Make a clear distinction in requirements for entry between a) aliens seeking permanent residence in the U.S. and b) alien visitors going to the U.S. for scholarly or scientific purposes, for pleasure or for business.
- Eliminate special immigration barriers against Asians and Blacks.
- Establish an annual immigration ceiling for approximately 250,000 per year, but permit immigration to that limit.
- Require all ordinary immigration from the Western Hemisphere to be included within the annual quota limits.
- Establish a United Quota System based on national need, individual aptitude, and the requirements of American foreign policy.
- Establish statutory reviews and appeals procedures in all cases of deportation and exlusion and for denials of visas.(15)
The Labour Government of the time followed developments with interest. In 1956 the Prime Mr D. Mintoff, said in the Legislative that his government had great interest in the question of emigration to the U.S. and that he was in touch with the Colonial Office in London. Mr Mintof also let it be known that discussions had been held in Geneva with Washington's representatives. It was Mr Mintoff's intention to send a Maltese delegation to the U.S.A. but he thought time was inopportune because of presidential elections. (16)
Martha W. Griffiths, a Congresswoman for Michigan, also moved an amendment in May 1956. In her intervention Mrs Griffiths specifically referred to the human hardship caused in Malta by the MacCarran-Walter Act when she moved ... "That the people born in Malta be allowed access to the U.K. immigration quota". She thought that about 2,000 Maltese would probably wish to emigrate to the U.S.A. every year. (17)
Congresswoman Griffiths tried again in January 1960, when she introduced in the House of Representatives Bill H.R. 784. She asked that the people living in the Dependency of Malta be granted unlimited access to the immigration quota reserved for Great Britain. In 1960 the British quota was 64,000 a year of which only half was used. She also urged the full utilisation of the present quota of 157,000 of which, Mrs Griffiths claimed, 55,000 were left unused every year.
On October 25 1961, Mr Edmund E. Cummings of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in New York, took up the case of those prospective emigrants from Malta who had been hardest hit by the imposition of the limitations which allowed only one hundred Maltese immigrants a year.
Mr Cummings said that there were 5,677 persons living in Malta who had registered as prospective emigrants to the U.S.A. Of these 5,366 were in the non-preferential category. Mr Cummings thought that very few of these had any real chance of being admitted in the U.S.A. (18)
Congresswoman Katerine St George from New York introduced Bill H.R. 1171 which was almost identical with Bill H.R. 784. Mrs St George was a Lady Grand Cross of the Sovereign Order of St John. That same Order known throughout the world as Knights of Malta, urged the Congresswoman from New York to do all that was in her power to help the Maltese.(19) However, not even the new U.S. Consul General in Malta, Mr Edward P. Montgomery, could see much hope in altering the prevalent situation caused by the MacCarran-Walter Act. In an interview held at that time he admitted that he saw no prospects for easing the regulations concerning the entry of Maltese in the U.S.A.
Between November 20-26, a census was held to find out how many Maltese wished to emigrate to the U.S.A. The findings were submitted to the Government of the U.K. and of the U.S.A. It was found out that four hundred and thirty three males and three hundred and seventy one females were interested in establishing themselves permanently in the U.S.A.(20)
In 1959 a slight relaxation was made in the immigration procedure when a new category was created. This consisted of persons who had parents living in the U.S.A. even if the parents were not American citizens. The persons had to be unmarried sons or daughters over 21 years. The quota for the Maltese remained as it was since 1952, but it was hoped that the concession would benefit a few who otherwise did not stand a chance of being admitted in the U.S. (21)
In November 1960 a youthful and energetic politician was elected as president of the U.S.A. John F. Kennedy was himself the grandson of Irish immigrants and his three years in office at the White House ushered in a new frontier with a progressive type of leadership which promised a more effective and more just use of human and economic resources. Mr Kennedy had made a name for himself in the Senate as a champion of the oppressed and as a determined opponent of racism.
Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7