The fact that Harris’s background is not so unusual in the US today is primarily the result of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It abolished national-origins quotas established in the 1920s. The quotas were designed to preserve the makeup of the immigrant population in the US as it was in the 1890s. At that time, most immigrants were from western European countries, like England, France, and Germany.

Civil rights activists fought against these quotas, which they deemed racist, eventually leading to the 1965 Act. The new law prioritized giving visas to people with family already in the US and highly skilled immigrants. A maximum of 20,000 visas were given to people from any country on a given year. The law would dramatically change the size and composition of immigration to the US. Only about 5% of the US population was foreign-born in 1965; by 2018, that share was almost 14%. The law also led to a surge in the number of Asian, African, and Latin American immigrants, specifically people from India and the countries that make up the West Indies.

Kamala Harris’s parents came to the US as students before the 1965 Act. But it is because of this law that Harris’s multi-ethnic Indian and Jamaican background won’t seem as surprising to many American voters as it would have a generation ago.

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