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Emanuel Celler, a New York Democrat who served in the House of Representatives for nearly half a century (and more than once encountered blatant anti-Semitism on the House floor), was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1888. Celler, who entered the House in 1923, made discriminatory immigration laws his major target, including during World War II, when he called President Roosevelt’s restrictive policies “cold and cruel” and criticized the State Department’s “glacier-like attitude” towards Jews fleeing Nazism. In the 1950s, he was a forceful supporter of anti-trust legislation and had to defend himself against attacks by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, Celler said in a speech at the 1952 Democratic Convention, was deliberately “undermining the faith of the people in their government” while dealing in “coercion and in intimidation, tying the hands of citizens and officials with the fear of the smear attack.” Celler’s most influential role was as chair of the House Judiciary Committee from 1949 to 1973, which enabled him to steer major civil rights legislation through Congress. In 1965, he also won passage of the Hart-Celler Act, which at last eliminated national origins as a consideration for immigration.
“On the one hand we publicly pronounce the equality of all peoples; on the other hand, in our immigration laws, we embrace in practice these very theories we abhor and verbally condemn.” -Emanuel Celler