This year marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act, or INA, which ushered in the birth of America’s current legal immigration system. The INA represented a sea change in U.S. immigration policy; it abolished the racially based quota system that defined American immigration policy for four decades and replaced it with a policy whose central purpose was family reunification, with a preference for immigrants with specific skillsets. In the words of former President Lyndon B. Johnson, the INA’s passage “correct[ed] a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American Nation.”
Yet while the INA represented a fairer approach to immigration, it also created new restrictions on admissibility, specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people. The INA replaced the exclusion for immigrants possessing a so-called psychopathic personality with a ban on “sexual deviation,” a catch-all to exclude LGBT people from entering the United States. Although the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of medical conditions in 1973, the INA entry restriction remained in place until “sexual deviation” was removed by the Immigration Act of 1990.
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