FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump’s Comments Recall a Racist Past in Immigration Policy

The condemnation of Trump’s remarks on immigration has been swift and widespread. Most of the denunciations cast his ideas as seriously out of line with American ideals on immigration. The problem is that they aren’t really. From the very beginning of our nation, there has been a white nationalist core driving our immigration priorities. Even as we struggled to be a “nation of immigrants,” most of the people we allowed in were chosen on the basis of national origin from the “whitest” parts of Europe.

The first US naturalization law of 1790 required that anyone who wanted to become a citizen had to be a “free white person.” At its start, the Framers envisioned the US as a political society for members of a specific racial caste. This requirement stayed in place until the mid-20th century.

In 1924, the US passed the Johnson Reed Act, one of the most significant comprehensive immigration reform bills in our history. It limited the number of immigrants each year and those allowed were selected on the basis of their country of origin. Immigrants from North and Western Europe (such as Norway) had almost no restrictions on entering, while Southern and Eastern European immigrants were severely controlled. Immigration from Asia had been almost completely prohibited for several decades by this point.

The shocking issue with the act is its little known origin story. The law was the brainchild of a notorious white supremacist named Madison Grant. In 1916, Grant wrote a book, The Passing of the Great Race, which argued that the truly white people in the US, the Nordics, were at risk of going extinct because of the massive influx of Poles, Italians, Greeks, and Jews who Grant did not consider white. Grant’s book became a bestseller and reading groups were formed among members of Congress. Grant chaired the committee to advise Congress on immigration. The result was Johnson Reed. Grant went on to inspire the Racial Integrity Act for the state of Virginia that prohibited interracial marriage. It was widely copied throughout the US. So for almost 40 years of the 20th century, US immigration policy and marriage law was specifically designed to create a white majority population.

Congress didn’t remove this system until 1965, replacing it with one that shifted the demographic makeup of most immigrants. Since 1965, the large bulk of immigrants have been from Asia and Latin America. The new policies today favor creating a diverse pool of immigrants rather than one based on national origins, and they encourage immigrants, once here, to bring their family members from their former home countries in a process called “chain migration.”

Trump’s remarks, and the policy proposals on immigration that he has released in the past year, indicate that he wishes to return US immigration policy to the way it was under Grant. Clearly, his preference for individuals from Scandinavia versus Africa or Latin America would have pleased Grant immensely.

Trump’s advisors have also proposed to reduce the total number of immigrants that can enter each year and those allowed would be selected by a merit system. Those immigrants demonstrating English proficiency and the right job skills would have a preference. This obviously will favor immigrants from those countries with the educational systems that can give people experience with the American way of life. Such a system will drastically limit immigration from Latin America, Asia, and Africa by eliminating chain migration.

About a century ago, Americans struggled to find a language to describe what a multicultural, racially diverse, and democratic society would look like. One group of progressive thinkers, led by figures such as John Dewey, Alain Locke, and Jane Addams, urged us to imagine a nation where immigrants were not forced to assimilate to a single mold, but encouraged to keep their traditions and enlarge the possibilities of what it means to be an American. This theme is missing from public discussions on immigration today. But if we are looking to the past for hints today about what to do with our immigration policy that do not involve reinventing a white nationalist vision, then perhaps this is a conversation we need to remember.

More articles by:
September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail