December 24

This Day in History

Cold War

Dec 24, 1952:

McCarren-Walter Act goes into effect

The McCarren-Walter Act takes effect and revises America's immigration laws. The law was hailed by supporters as a necessary step in preventing communist subversion in the United States, while opponents decried the legislation as being xenophobic and discriminatory.

The act, named after Senator Pat McCarren (Democrat-Nevada) and Representative Francis Walter (Democratic-Pennsylvania), did relatively little to alter the quota system for immigration into the United States that had been established in the Immigration Act of 1924. The skewed nature of the quotas was readily apparent. Immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany were allotted two-thirds of the 154,657 spots available each year. However, the act did specifically remove previously established racial barriers that had acted to exclude immigrants from nations such as Japan and China. These countries were now assigned very small quotas.

The changes that were of more concern for many critics centered on the act's provision of much more strenuous screening of potential immigrants. It banned admission to anyone declared a subversive by the attorney general and indicated that members of communist and "communist-front" organizations were subject to deportation. In defending the act, Senator McCarren declared, "If this oasis of the world should be overrun, perverted, contaminated, or destroyed, then the last flickering light of humanity will be extinguished." President Harry S. Truman took a very different view, calling the legislation "un-American" and inhumane. When the bill was passed in June 1952, Truman vetoed the bill. Congress overrode his veto, and the act took effect in December. The McCarren-Walter Act set America's immigration standards until new legislation was passed in 1965.

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