The Immigration Act of 1965 changed the face of America and is one of three laws passed that year—the others being the Voting Rights Act and the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid—which collectively represent the high-water mark of twentieth-century American liberalism. Yet the immigration statute was not always so perceived. At the signing ceremony on Liberty Island, with Ellis Island in the background, President Lyndon Johnson minimized the act's importance: "The bill that we sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or add importantly to our wealth and power."
The law, in fact, changed the focus of immigration to the United States, greatly increasing the share going to Asia and the Western Hemisphere, and, through its heightened emphasis on family migration, led to a massive increase in the volume of immigration. Johnson was not dissimulating in his assessment. He was repeating what his advisers in the State and Justice departments had told him. They had focused on righting what they saw to be past mistakes of American immigration policy, and Johnson, following them, stressed the wrong done to those "from southern or eastern Europe." Members of both departments had testified before Congress that few persons from the Third World would enter under its provisions, and it is highly doubtful that the law would have been recommended or enacted had anyone understood what the results would be. Political scientists later developed the concept of unintended consequences. As Stephen M. Gillion points out in "That's Not What We Meant to Do" (2000), the 1965 Immigration Act is one of the prime examples of this phenomenon.