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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke January 14, 2019

McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 never banned Muslims from public office

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib became the first Muslim women to serve in the U.S. House this month as the 116th Congress was called to order. It was an historic moment, though some bloggers have used the occasion to rewrite history instead.

"The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 bans Muslims from holding public office in the United States," reads a Facebook post from Jan. 6.

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Time for a history lesson.

The McCarran-Walter Act is actually the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. It’s named for Pat McCarran, then a Democratic senator from Nevada, and Francis Walter, then a Democratic representative from Pennsylvania. Both men worried about communists infiltrating the country through the immigration system, and they wanted to limit who could come to the United States.

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The resulting McCarthy era-law codified an existing quota system for immigration. It also introduced a new system that gave preferences to some immigrants based on their skill sets and whether they would be reunited with their families. As the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Historian notes, the new act revised the 1924 National Origins Quota System by admitting people of different nationalities to the United States at a rate of one-sixth of 1 percent of however many immigrants from a country were living in the United States in 1920.

That meant that 85 percent of about 154,000 visas available annually went to people from northern and western European lineage. President Harry Truman worried that the law was discriminatory, but Congress had enough votes to override his veto.

Still, the law does not mention religion nor Muslims. And as other fact-checkers found last year, the claim that it bars Muslims from holding office is incorrect.

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McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 never banned Muslims from public office

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