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Viral Posts Misinform on McCarran-Walter Act

Quick Take

The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act codified immigration policies. It doesn’t bar “Muslims from holding public office,” as social media posts erroneously claim.

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When the Trump administration announced its controversial travel ban in January 2017, suspending immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries, it cited a provision enshrined in U.S. law six decades earlier.

Specifically, the executive order cited a section in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also known as the McCarran-Walter Act, which gave the president power to “suspend” or “impose…restrictions” on the entry of all or certain immigrants, if he finds that such entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

But deceptive, viral posts on Facebook in recent weeks have distorted the law beyond recognition, falsely claiming that it “bans Muslims from holding public office in the United States.”

In fact, nowhere in the law is there a mention of religious standards for those seeking public office, including Muslims. Such a ban would contravene the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion.

The 1952 law largely codified the country’s immigration policies. It implemented changes — officially ending the exclusion of Asian immigrants, for example — and upheld other aspects such as the national-origins quota system established in 1924.

President Harry Truman, saying that the national-origins quota system was “based upon assumptions at variance with our American ideals,” vetoed the bill — which Congress was able to override. Those quotas were ultimately repealed a decade later and subsequent immigration legislation also overhauled parts of the law.

We debunked a story earlier this year that falsely claimed that the Supreme Court had upheld a 1952 law barring Muslims from serving in government. That story, first published on a self-proclaimed satirical website, didn’t mention the McCarran-Walter Act by name.

The claims about the non-existent restriction circulate as the first two Muslim women prepare to enter Congress.

Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were elected to the House this month to represent districts in Minnesota and Michigan, respectively. They will join Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indiana, who is also Muslim.

Omar will replace Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, who in 2006 became the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Angelo Fichera, with Chloe Wilson and Catherine Monk

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


8 U.S. Code § 1182 – Inadmissible aliens. Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School. Accessed 28 Nov 2018.

Cebula, Judith. “Second Muslim elected to Congress.” Reuters. 11 Mar 2008.

Chishti, Muzaffar and Stephen Yale-Loehr. “The Immigration Act of 1990: Unfinished Business a Quarter-Century Later.” Migration Policy Institute. July 2016.

Chishti, Muzaffar, et. al. “Fifty Years On, the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act Continues to Reshape the United States.” Migration Policy Institute. 15 Oct 2015.

Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” White House. 27 Jan 2017.

Gajanan, Mahita. “Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib Just Became the First Muslim Women Elected to Congress.” 7 Nov 2018.

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Muslims Aren’t Banned From Government.” FactCheck.org. 3 Jan 2018.

Immigration and Nationality Act. Pub. L. 82 – 414. 66 Stat 163-282. 27 Jun 1952. 

Minnesota voters send first Muslim to Capitol Hill.” CNN. 8 Nov 2006.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (The McCarran-Walter Act).” Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State. Accessed 28 Nov 2018.

Veto of Bill To Revise the Laws Relating to Immigration, Naturalization, and Nationality.” Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum. 25 Jun 1952.

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"The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 bans Muslims from holding public office in the United States."
Saturday, November 24, 2018