1. Which of the following religious groups faced efforts to restrict their passage to the United States?
2. Immigrants from which of the following countries have NOT faced significant efforts to restrict their passage to the United States?
Answer: f (France) and c (Denmark)
3. Immigrants from which countries currently face opposition to their efforts to immigrate to the United States?
Answer: a (Guatemala), b (Syria), and c (Mexico)
Photo above: Italian immigrant family, 1913. Italian immigrants were demonized, like many other immigrants over the decades.
Anti-Immigrant Bias, Then and Now
When Donald Trump first entered the race for the Republican presidential nomination in June 2015, there were already eight candidates in the running. In his announcement speech, Trump made immigration a centerpiece of his campaign. His comments about Mexican immigrants being criminals, drug dealers, and rapists instantly brought him a media spotlight that never diminished throughout the campaign. Trump made equally outrageous comments about Muslim immigrants, many of whom are refugees from war-torn countries.
Trump also scapegoated Mexican immigrants for the loss of decent-paying jobs for non-college-educated workers. For much of American history, "They're taking our jobs" has been a familiar refrain among those opposing immigration.
Trump’s promise to build a "wall" between the U.S. and Mexico became a rallying cry at his campaign events.
By fanning fears of terrorism and "job stealers" in aggressive, unapologetic anti-immigrant speeches, Trump gained the enthusiasm of a large faction of the Republican Party. This group became a rock solid basis of support that the party’s other candidates were never able to equal - no matter how much they attempted to echo Trump's anti-immigrant message.
This helped enable Trump, a totally inexperienced candidate, to defeat more qualified politicians in both the primary and the general election. Trump went on to win the presidency, gaining nearly 47 percent of the vote. (Democrat Hillary Clinton received 48 percent of the vote, but lost the election because she had fewer votes in the Electoral College.)
Bias against immigrants to the United States has a long history - though which groups are targeted has changed over time.
In the 1830s and 1840s, the largest immigrant groups came from Ireland and Germany. Reaction against these immigrants took the form of anti-Catholicism: Most of the Irish and many of the German immigrants were Catholic. The anti-immigrant movement was neither subtle nor merely expressed in words.
- A nativist party called the "Know-Nothings" became a major political party, winning House and Senate seats and pushed for federal anti-Catholic legislation. ("Nativist" means a policy of favoring "native" inhabitants as opposed to immigrants. Of course, the great majority of those who considered themselves "Americans" at that time were themselves descended from immigrants.)
- The Know-Nothings took total control of the Massachusetts legislature. They proceeded to require reading only the Protestant bible in schools. They also fired Catholic state workers, and even tried to limit voting to men who had lived in the state for over 20 years.
- "No Irish Need Apply" was added to help wanted ads.
- Anti-Catholic riots in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Kentucky, and Maine left churches burned, and dozens killed.
Italians (also mostly Catholic) were also targeted by anti-immigrant groups--including the Ku Klux Klan.
- In 1891, eleven Italian men were lynched after being accused of killing the police chief. One of the lynch mob's organizers (who was later elected governor), John Parker, said Italians were "just a little worse than the Negro, being if anything filthier in their habits, lawless, and treacherous."
- The New York Times wrote, in reaction to the lynching: "These sneaking and cowardly Sicilians, the descendants of bandits and assassins, who have transported to this country the lawless passions, the cut-throat practices, and the oath-bound societies of their native country, are to us a pest without mitigation. Our own rattlesnakes are as good citizens as they... Lynch law was the only course open to the people of New Orleans to stay the issue of a new license to the Mafia to continue its bloody practices."
- Italian-Americans were branded as terrorists early in the 20th century and almost 2,000 immigrants were placed in internment camps during World War II.
- Italian immigrants were stereotyped as violent, criminal, vengeful, hot-headed, ignorant and uncouth. They were referred to as "Wops" or "Dagos."
Immigrants from Asia began arriving in the United States in the mid 1800s. Anti-immigrant action against them began in the 1860s and continued for the next 100 years.
- The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Bayard-Zhang Treaty of 1888, and the Geary Act of 1892 specifically restricted Chinese immigration.
- The Naturalization Act of 1906 restricted citizenship to whites and people of African descent. Asians were largely excluded, and in 1922, the Supreme Court confirmed that Japanese people were indeed excluded under the language of the legislation. In fact the Court ruled that people from India were not white, and Indians who had already been naturalized were stripped of their citizenship.
- Anti-Japanese agitation was concentrated on the west coast. In 1905, sixty-seven labor unions united to form the Japanese and Korean Exclusion League (later the Asiatic Exclusion League). The "Anti-Jap Laundry League" tried to force Japanese immigrants out of the laundry industry. Their posters read: "Are our boys and girls wrong in expecting you who make your living exclusively off the white race to stop patronizing Jap laundries, and thereby assist your fellow men and women in maintaining the white man's standard in a white man's country?"
- In 1906, San Francisco required all Japanese-American school children attend segregated schools.
- In 1942, 120,000 Japanese-Americans (most of them American citizens) were rounded up and forced into internment camps because the country was at war with Japan. They were not accused of any traitorous actions, but were considered potential spies or saboteurs because of their national origin.
- In 1988, the U.S. government apologized for the internment and authorized reparation payments to each individual camp survivor. The government admitted that its actions had been based on "race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."
Immigrants from Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th century were mostly Jewish and mostly poor. From 1880 to 1920, 3 million Jews emigrated to the U.S. to escape the pervasive, often violent anti-Semitism of Russia, Poland and countries nearby.
- Jewish immigrants were stereotyped as dirty, diseased, greedy, and devious. They faced discrimination in employment, education, social clubs, and housing.
- Such national figures as Henry Ford, Charles Coughlin, and Charles Lindbergh fed the popular perception of Jews as the "other"—not American, not white, not worshipers of the same god, and not loyal. A 1938 poll found 60 percent of Americans had a poor opinion of Jews.
- The 1924 Immigration Act severely restricted Eastern European immigration in favor of "white" immigrants from Northern Europe.
- During the Nazi era in Europe, Jewish refugees were denied entry into the United States though they faced almost certain death in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The politics of immigration are not simple. Though much of the support for anti-immigrant policies comes from the right wing of the Republican Party, there are cross-currents, even among some who consider themselves conservative.
- Many business interests advocate for fewer restrictions on specific kinds of immigrants, such as high-tech workers or farm workers.
- Faith-based organizations have been in the forefront of welcoming refugees with aid in their own communities.
- Labor unions have largely reversed their anti-immigration stance in recent decades, though union households in "rust belt" states voted in large numbers for Donald Trump.
It is not clear how Donald Trump intends to follow through on the anti-immigration policies he advocated in the campaign. His appointment of Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart News executive, to be his chief strategist, and his support for Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General, has fueled protests by immigrant and civil rights advocates across the country.
However, Trump has modified some of his campaign rhetoric. He has begun to call the "wall" a "fence." And in recent comments, his promise to deport all 11 million "illegal aliens" has been reduced to 3 million "criminal aliens." Internal divisions in the Republican Party, especially over immigration, may impede passage of anti-immigration legislation. So will the vocal opposition of the huge number of Americans who support and defend the immigrants among us.
- What are your thoughts and questions about the reading?
- How does the experience of past waves of immigrants (from Ireland, Italy, Japan and elsewhere) relate to the current debate over immigration? What does this history suggest to you about the role of immigrants in our country?
- Why do you think that now and historically many of the people who want stricter immigration policies resort to using hateful language and making false accusations against the immigrants they want to exclude?
- At least half of Americans today are descended from people whose own immigration to the United States was opposed by anti-immigrant groups at one time or another. Is it fair for those of us whose own ancestors were hated by many Americans to now "close the door behind us"?
- Governments make a distinction between migration due to poor economic conditions and refugees from dangerous situations. The United Nations estimates that there are currently 60 million refugees in the world, displaced in their own country or living in other countries. Where should the refugees go? Who should decide?
- Alex Tabarrok at the Atlantic Magazine questions the justification for borders, period. Read the following quotation and discuss:
- What are the arguments against the abolition of borders?
- Is the author right that there is no moral argument that supports enclosing people in countries?
What moral theory justifies using wire, wall, and weapon to prevent people from moving to opportunity? What moral theory justifies using tools of exclusion to prevent people from exercising their right to vote with their feet?
No standard moral framework, be it utilitarian, libertarian, egalitarian, Rawlsian, Christian, or any other well-developed perspective, regards people from foreign lands as less entitled to exercise their rights—or as inherently possessing less moral worth—than people lucky to have been born in the right place at the right time.