McCarran–Walter Act of 1952

The McCarran–Walter Act, formally known as the Immigration and Nationality of Act of 1952, was a comprehensive reworking of the nation’s immigration laws. Passed at the height of the cold war, the law reflected anxiety about the large numbers of asylum-refugees-and-the-convention-against-torture.html">refugees from southern and eastern Europe who entered the United States following World War II and their possible connection to Soviet Communism. It also removed many of the racial exclusions, primarily affecting Asians, of earlier immigration laws. The act prohibited immigration of any person found to be a member of a subversive organization by the attorney general and allowed for the deportation of resident aliens who were, or had been, members of communist and ‘‘communist-front’’ organizations.

The McCarran–Walter Act built upon earlier prohibitions regarding radical aliens. U.S. immigration law had prohibited admission of anarchists since 1903, and the Smith Act of 1940 had allowed for exclusion of members of organizations advocating the violent overthrow of the government. The act specifically allowed for the admission of a formerly communist alien if that individual had been actively opposed to Communism for at least five years or had joined the Communist Party under threat or compulsion.

The McCarran–Walter Act provided for greater administrative discretion in exclusions and deportations and curtailed federal courts’ ability to review immigration decisions. All grounds for deportation were made retroactive, and noncitizens might be deported for acts that were legal at the time committed. These provisions caused President Harry Truman to veto the act, stating that its lack of adequate judicial safeguards departed from the traditional American insistence on established standards of guilt. Congress overwhelmingly overrode his veto, and the McCarran–Walter Act set America’s immigration standards until 1965.

The act also provided for the denial of a visa of any person who advocated Communism or the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, while allowing for a waiver under the attorney general’s authority. This section was used to exclude a number of foreign intellectuals from touring the United States and speaking or teaching at universities. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972), but was limited by amendments in 1977 and repealed in 1990, though restrictions remained on travel from Cuba. A similar provision, allowing the government to deny visas to those advocating or publicly endorsing terrorist activity, was enacted in the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.

DANIEL LEVIN

References and Further Reading

  • Hull, Elizabeth. Without Justice for All: The Constitutional Rights of Aliens. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Kleindienst v. Mandel, 408 U.S. 753 (1972)
  • Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 66 Stat. 163 (1952)
  • USA PATRIOT Act, 115 Stat. 272 (2001)

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