Today In History: Luce-Celler Act Signed in 1946

JULY 2, 2014

The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 was a bill proposed by Republican Clare Boothe Luce and Democrat Emanuel Celler in 1943 and signed into law by President Harry Truman on July 2, 1946. The act allowed a quota of 100 Indians to immigrate to the United States per annum. It also permitted Indian nationals already residing in the U.S. (of whom there were approximately 2,500-3,000 at the time) to become naturalized American citizens.

Support for the bill came from diverse segments of American society, including colleges and universities, churches, writers and intellectuals, corporations, and, of course, Indian Americans themselves. Notably, W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, Pearl S. Buck, and Upton Sinclair were proponents of the bill. Albert Einstein praised the legislation as "[an] advantage for the United States and in general for the stabilization of peace and prosperity in the international sphere."

Prior to the passage of the Luce-Celler Act, only “persons born in India of races eligible to naturalization in the United States” could immigrate to America. French and English nationals born in India could become U.S. citizens, but Indians were barred from entry except as visitors and tourists. With the onset of WWII, however, the U.S. realized it needed to cement India’s friendship. The Luce-Celler Act was inspired by the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943, which struck a blow to Japanese propaganda that pointed repeatedly to Chinese exclusion from the U.S. in order to weaken ties between America and China. It was in the U.S.’ interest to extend a similar gesture of goodwill to India to ensure the country would remain a stalwart against Japanese imperialism in Asia.

Proponents of the bill also pointed to Indian soldiers’ record of fighting for the Allied powers in Burma, North Africa, and Italy as reason to lift the immigration ban. But beyond the tactical advantages the bill could provide to the U.S. during the war, the bill was often described in terms of the global struggle for racial equality. "Democratic and freedom loving Americans are certainly not shedding their blood for the continuance of racial discrimination, racial intolerance, [or] racial superiority, which are Hitlerian theories," wrote Sirdar J.J. Singh, President of the India League of America, in a memorandum on the proposed bill. The passage of the Luce-Celler Act signaled an enormous political victory for Indians in the U.S. who had long been fighting for the right to naturalize in America.

By Grace Pusey, 7/2/2014