USA Immigration: America NEVER Wanted the Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses – The Atlantic

The U.S. is a diverse nation of immigrants — but it was not intended to be, and its historical biases continue to haunt the present. 

Caitlin Dickerson | The Atlantic 

When David Dorado Romo was a boy growing up in El Paso, Texas, his Great-Aunt Adela told him about the day the U.S. Border Patrol melted her favorite shoes. Romo’s aunt was Mexican and had a visa that allowed her to commute into South Texas for her job as a maid. Every week she had to report to a Border Patrol station, in accordance with a program that ran from 1917 into the 1930s requiring most Mexican immigrants to bathe in government offices before entering the United States.         

Great-Aunt Adela would dress up in her nicest clothing, because those who looked dirty or were thought to have lice were bathed in a mixture of kerosene and vinegar. Years later, when Romo visited the National Archives outside Washington, D.C., he found photos and records of gas chambers where the belongings of the Mexican workers had been disinfected with the chemical Zyklon B, as well as a large steam dryer of the sort that had melted his aunt’s shoes. He discovered that a German scientist had taken note of the procedures being carried out at the American border and advocated for them to be implemented in Nazi concentration camps. Eventually, the Nazis increased the potency of Zyklon B in their gas chambers, and began using it on human beings. 

Romo also learned that just as the bathing and gas-dousing program was winding down, the American government began using a different dangerous chemical to delouse Mexican immigrants:

From the 1930s through the 1960s, border agents sprayed DDT onto the faces of more than 3 million guest workers as they crossed the southern border. 

Romo was shocked that he hadn’t learned this earlier. He became a historian dedicated to exposing truths that have been buried along the borders. “We have deep amnesia in this country,” he told me when I spoke with him recently. “There’s a psychological process involved in forgetting that is shame from both sides — from both the perpetrator and the victim.”  

This forgetting has allowed the racism woven into America’s immigration policies to stay submerged beneath the more idealistic vision of the country as “a nation of immigrants”. “It’s in our DNA,” Romo says. “It’s ingrained in the culture and in the laws that are produced by that culture.” 

THAT VISION HAS A BASIS IN TRUTH: We are a multiethnic, multiracial nation where millions of people have found safety, economic opportunity, and freedoms they may not have otherwise had. Yet racial stereotypes, rooted in eugenics, that portray people with dark skin and foreign passports as being inclined toward crime, poverty, and disease have been part of our immigration policies for so long that we mostly fail to see them.

The first American immigration laws were written in order to keep the country white, a goal that was explicit in their text for more than 150 years. Over time, the understanding of “whiteness” changed and expanded. Well into the 20th century, only those of Northern and Western European descent were considered white; Italians and Jews, for instance, were not. Even after the laws were finally changed, allowing large numbers of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa into the country starting in the 1960s, the eugenic ideas that supported earlier versions of them remained embedded in our society, and still provide the basis of many modern restrictions.

President Joe Biden’s immigration plan would make citizenship available to millions of unauthorized immigrants. Democratic members of Congress rallying behind it have said it would establish a more inherently American system, arguing implicitly that the Trump administration’s often overtly stated preference for white immigrants, or no immigrants at all, was an aberration from the past.

As the country moves forward from the past four years of the harsh immigration policies of the Trump era, it must reckon with a history that stretches back much further, and that conflicts with one of the most frequently repeated American myths: 

“This idea that somehow immigration was based on the principles stated on the Statue of Liberty? That never happened,” Romo said. “There has never been a color-blind immigration system. It’s always been about exclusion.” 

Most American children are taught in school that the United States’ immigration policies help make the country special and, yes, great. A haven for outcasts who faced persecution in their home countries, the nation was founded, the story goes, on the principle of welcoming others who were treated similarly in their own homelands, with the idea that granting them individual rights and freedoms would allow distinct cultures and traditions to thrive together.

This tale resonated in my own Central California school district, where I sat alongside classmates whose parents had come from Mexico, India, Laos, Vietnam. But the cracks in that story began to show as soon as we hit the schoolyard, where kids of different backgrounds played together, but also hurled insults that stung because they had the weight of centuries of American law and rhetoric behind them.

When the Pilgrims crossed the ocean to settle in the New World, they brought with them ideas that would evolve into “manifest destiny”, which held that the United States was a land that had been bestowed by God on Anglo-Saxon white people. 

In 1790, the first American Congress made citizenship available only to any “free white person” who had been in the country for at least two years. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act blocked Chinese immigrants — and in 1917, it was expanded to block most Asians living between Afghanistan and the Pacific. These laws were upheld numerous times by federal courts, including in a seminal Supreme Court case from 1922, in which the government prevailed by arguing that citizenship should be granted as the Founders intended: “… only to those whom they knew and regarded as worthy to share it with them, men of their own type, white men.” 

In the early 20th century, the term progressive became synonymous with preserving or improving the racial “stock” of the country — and that meant keeping it white. Harry Laughlin, whose work would provide a model for Nazi Germany’s sterilization laws, served as the House Committee on Immigration and Naturalization’s “expert eugenics agent”. In 1922, he presented evidence of the “hereditary feeble-mindedness” of non-white immigrants. Laughlin categorized the subjects of his research into overlapping subgroups that included “the criminalistic,” “the diseased,” and “the dependent.” Two years later, Congress passed the “progressive” Johnson-Reed Act, which established immigration quotas based on national origin. Adolf Hitler hailed the law as a model to emulate. “Compared to old Europe, which had lost an infinite amount of its best blood through war and emigration, the American nation appears as a young, racially select people,” he wrote.

Beginning during World War II, geopolitical and economic interests became important factors in the development of new immigration laws, but protecting the nation’s whiteness remained a priority. 

The historic Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 did away with the quotas based on national origin and instead allowed citizens of the United States to petition for family members to join them. But the overtly race-blind language in the new system belied its intent. For his book Dividing Lines, Daniel Tichenor, a scholar at the University of Oregon, scrutinized the Congressional Record and found that legislators designed the system the way they did because they believed that people of European origin, who made up the majority of the population at the time, would also make up the majority of those petitioning to bring in new immigrants. In the 1980s, the so-called diversity-visa program was created to help the thousands of Irish immigrants who were coming into the country illegally each year enter instead as legal residents.

However, since 1965 the flow of immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Africa has, as ever, outpaced expectations — to the point where America is on track to become a majority-minority nation sometime in the next few decades.

Various attempts have been made to acknowledge the enduring presence of immigrants of color by granting them legal status: In 1986, President Ronald Reagan ushered in an amnesty policy that allowed nearly 3 million undocumented immigrants, most of them Mexican, to become citizens. And in 1990, President George H. W. Bush amplified the demographic effects of the 1965 law by increasing the visa caps it had established. But by the time these efforts were made, racial tropes that had once painted Irish, Italians, and Chinese as unassimilable and prone to crime, poverty, and disease were already embedded in the nation’s culture, as well as in its laws.

As a reporter covering these issues for the past several years, I have seen how discrimination against immigrants of color has been meted out not just in the ways the laws are written but in the ways they are enforced, sometimes as a consequence of policies not explicitly tied to race. For example, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, under pressure to carry out more deportations, have at times prioritized Mexicans over other groups of unauthorized immigrants, in part because Mexico doesn’t generally require American authorities to obtain travel documents for deportees before they can be returned. Mexicans are “easy to find, easy to remove,” Jim Rielly, a retired officer from the agency’s Chicago field office, told me. Rielly and several of his colleagues told me that the direction they would get from their superiors was “No OTMs” — the ICE acronym for “other than Mexicans.” They told me they knew of Chicago workplaces where ICE could have easily picked up large numbers of undocumented Irish or Polish immigrants, but none of them could recall that ever happening. 

Well into the mid-20th century, while Mexicans were being bathed in kerosene, sprayed with DDT, and subjected to Jim Crow laws in the American South, Northern and Western European immigrants were being given periodic opportunities to legalize their immigration status. One such program, called pre-examination, allowed tens of thousands of Europeans to gain residency. Their descendants could then claim that their families had entered the United States the “right way”, as a means to argue for the exclusion of others who could not make the same case.

Mexicans were ultimately not eligible for these programs. Instead, their communities were policed with increasing ferocity. Mae Ngai, a historian at Columbia University, notes that in the 1920s, the earliest Border Patrol agents were instructed to act with civility toward white immigrants only. Within a decade or so of the agency’s establishment, its officers were apprehending nearly five times more people along the Mexican border than along the Canadian border. By the 1980s, when Mexicans made up just over half of the undocumented population, they accounted for nine out of 10 immigration arrests.

This over-policing of Latinos and other non-white immigrants by federal authorities continues to the present day as a result of policies implemented by prior administrations — both Republican and Democratic. Collaboration between police and immigration authorities, which began under Bill Clinton and was expanded under Barack Obama, compounded the racial biases of each. Sheriffs began to campaign on platforms arguing that keeping communities safe meant ridding them of immigrants. The supposed relationship between immigrant and crime has become implanted in the national psyche, even though evidence consistently shows that U.S. residents born outside the country commit fewer crimes than the native-born. 

Once you begin to notice examples of how the past is still present, they become difficult to ignore. Trump enacted the most stringent border closure of his administration by citing the threat of disease, even though COVID‑19 outbreaks were far worse inside the United States than just outside its borders. In fact, Americans were actively deporting the virus abroad. Trump persistently blaming Chinese for outbreaks in the U.S. helped incite violence against Asian Americans that continues today, mirroring similar attacks from centuries past.

In moving toward the more inclusive system that some elected officials now say they want, the country would be not returning to traditional American values, but establishing new ones.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/20/2021 at 2:02 am

    The Guardian View On An America First Caucus:

    A WARNING DEMOCRACY IS UNDER SIEGE

    EDITORIAL

    No one can be sure how far might a radicalised Republican party go

    In 1944, George Orwell felt that the word FASCISM had “lost the last vestige of meaning” so liberally had it been used. But fascism remains very much alive.

    Decades after Orwell’s message, one of the challenges today is to identify and name it.

    Whether the label could be applied to Donald Trump had divided expert opinion, until the 6 January assault on Capitol Hill by a mob whose passions had been inflamed by his speech earlier that day. This melted the resistance historians of fascism like Columbia University’s Robert Paxton felt to using the F-word. The use of violence against democratic institutions, he wrote, “crosses a red line”.

    If anyone wondered what American fascism might look like then they could start with the proposed congressional “America First Caucus”, which emerged this weekend from the office of extremist Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.

    Carrying the torch for Trumpism, this fringe agenda conceals its racial argument behind muscular populist ones. The caucus plans were welcomed by legislators who had fanned the flames of the Capitol riot.

    Before being elected to Congress, Ms Greene peddled conspiracy theories, made racist statements and indicated support for the execution of Democratic leaders and FBI agents. She renounced those beliefs on the eve of being kicked off congressional committees but made no apology for having held them.

    THE PROPOSED CAUCUS PLATFORM CONTAINED NOT SO MUCH DOG WHISTLES AS FOGHORNS FOR WHITE SUPREMACY.

    America, the document claims, is based on “respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions” and decries “post-1965 immigrants” for depressing workers’ wages, highlighting the year when the US ended its policy of giving preferential treatment to western European migrants.

    It calls for rebuilding the US with an “aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture”. Thankfully the plan exploded on the launch pad.

    Republican leaders calculated it would hurt their electoral chances in moderate swing seats. Ms Greene disowned the caucus proposals.

    FASCISM NOT ONLY PURSUES RIGHT-WING POLICIES, IT SEEKS TO BUILD UP MASS-MOBILISING MOVEMENTS AND PARAMILITARY ORGANISATIONS WITH THE AIM OF ESTABLISHING A SINGLE-PARTY DICTATORSHIP.

    Mr Trump saw armed citizens as a political asset. His heirs see despotism as a viable alternative to the current political structure. In Congress, 147 Republican lawmakers promoted Mr Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

    Republicans in 47 states have 361 proposed laws to restrict voting access on grounds of baseless claims of electoral fraud.

    Around the world, electorates will have to become reacquainted with fascism.

    Voters must attune themselves to what it looks and sounds like. In the UK, Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer was caught out earlier this year on a national radio phone-in when he failed to recognise a conspiracy theory popular with fascists, and Fox News star Tucker Carlson, known as the “great replacement”.

    It falsely claims that dwindling white birthrates have been orchestrated by multicultural global elites in an attempt to make whites a minority.

    There is no suggestion that Sir Keir agreed with the racist caller but there was criticism in the way he handled the call. There is an urgent and pressing need to recognise both the real threat of fascism as well as the rhetorical and emotional motifs it employs.

    • kamtanblog  On 04/20/2021 at 2:38 am

      Facism will never be exterminated (cease to exist)
      Neither will the possibility of Armageddon !
      Both fears will remain ever present in political
      dogma/beliefs.
      The stigmata of extremism’s is alive …it never dies. A belief system for a few not the many.
      January 6th a stark reminder of the past/present inhumanities/discriminations.
      We learn from past by not ever repeating it !

      IMO
      QED
      RIP

      Kamtan uk ex-EU

  • Clyde Duncan  On 04/20/2021 at 3:33 am

    THIS IS AMERICAN FASCISM

    Like Mussolini’s March on Rome and Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch, Donald Trump’s Insurrection is the beginning of years of street violence.

    Louie Dean Valencia-García | Open Democracy

    For years now, scholars at conferences have argued about whether or not we can talk about FASCISM in the 21st century. Some scholars stalwartly defended a belief that fascism was something left in the past, and not like every other “-ism” (liberalism, feminism, socialism, communism, anarchism, etc.) — which all have evolved and had different waves and iterations.

    For them, SOMEHOW FASCISM WAS EXCEPTIONAL. Some went as far as to argue that Nazism was not fascist, and only Mussolini’s Italy could claim that title.

    Scholars warned that we can’t make the error of imposing the present onto the past — ignoring the fact that the past also affects the present and doesn’t simply disappear into a void.

    To add to the confusion, popularly, some confused feminists as “feminazis” and the likes of Dinesh D’Souza propagated an alternative history which claimed the Nazis were leftist, rather than right-wingers, as I discussed in my book, Far-Right Revisionism and the End of History: Alt/Histories.

    Decades of bait and switch tactics left even people like the eminent former United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, to confuse fascism, communism and authoritarianism in her massively popular book, FASCISM: A Warning.

    Curiously, even as some non-academics started recognising US president Donald Trump’s fascism, many academics stuck to their spurious rejections of Trump as FASCIST — whilst simultaneously writing books and garnering lucrative commentator positions that promoted themselves as scholars explaining how fascism works, its anatomy and theorising about strongmen dictators, capitalizing on the Trump era, whilst still refusing to call a spade a spade.

    One would think that as scholars of fascism, these academics’ primary job is to sound the alarms when it rises, but too many didn’t, with the exception of some heavyweight scholars like Timothy Snyder. Only now some of the stalwarts have started to call Trump a FASCIST — too late.

    Finally, it’s become so obvious that one senior Trump official has even told New York Magazine, ‘This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now — things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We’d say, “Trump’s not a fascist”, or “He’s not a wannabe dictator”. Now, it’s like, “Well, what do you even say in response to that now?”’

    WHEN IS A FASCIST NOT A FASCIST?

    One source of this confusion began with the political scientist Juan J. Linz, who in his 1975 book, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, exculpated the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco from being considered a fascist according to his own definition that, unfortunately, many academics have since latched onto.

    Linz claimed Franco was against pluralism but not fascist. Being against pluralism, of course, was always a wobbly euphemism for racist, xenophobic, sexist, classist, queerphobic, and other exclusionary prejudices and practices.

    This sort of thinking, contributed to scholars of fascism not being able to recognise it. They limited fascism to Mussolini’s fascist party, or they looked at the most virulent cases of fascism for communalities at its worst, rather than looking at its earliest manifestations within those contexts. Even Umberto Eco’s famous article on Ur-Fascism, left out obvious queerphobia and misogyny from his analysis.

    Today, in right-wing media in the US, similar rhetoric is frequently leveraged against “globalists,” “communist and socialist Democrats” and “Hollywood”. The similarities do not end there. Franco’s regime frequently brandished the slogan “¡Una, Grande y Libre!” (One, Great and Free) — a slogan one could easily imagine being chanted at a Trump rally.

    Comparatively, like Franco, Trump has had no qualms using the images of Christianity to his benefit.

    Moreover, one can certainly see that a sort of “Christian Nationalism” has grown-up in right-wing circles in the United States, advocated for by the likes of Steve Bannon, Betsy DeVos, and a slew of cronies.

    Trump has created anti-Muslim policies, placed migrants in concentration camps, attacked transgender people, and – like Franco did with Mussolini and Hitler – has tried desperately to make alliances with dictators globally.

    Whilst history doesn’t repeat, it certainly rhymes, and Trump’s ideology and political programme certainly is a strain of fascism. Trump’s brand is particularly Islamophobic, misogynist, racist, xenophobic, queerphobic, and against both liberalism and socialism.

    THE MOMENT HAS COME WHERE TRUMP SUPPORTERS HAVE BEEN REVEALED AS NOT BEING BELIEVERS IN DEMOCRACY OR FREEDOM BUT WHITE SUPREMACY AND DICTATORSHIP.

    Trump supporters were NEVER patriots, they were white nationalists. Their conspiracies and violence replaced truth and justice. ‘The American Way’ was paved by white supremacy and enslaved black people.

    While fascists today might not wear hoods or swastikas, opting instead for red hats and confederate flags, their attempt to overthrow the US government in January 2021 could have ended very differently.

    Even if Donald Trump disappears from the stage forever, this isn’t over. More than a hundred congressional leaders have contested a fair and democratic election with falsehoods and conspiracy theories. They blame the deep state, communists, socialists, liberals, antifascists, big tech, queer people, the global elite, and protesters who advocate for black lives for their state of alienation under late capitalism.

    Fascism and conspiratorial thinking have seeped into the minds of millions of Americans. If we compare Mussolini’s March on Rome and Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch to Donald Trump’s Insurrection, we should be reminded that the former examples were only the beginning of years of street violence. We can’t address this problem until we call it by its name: FASCISM.

    • Brother Man  On 04/20/2021 at 10:08 am

      “For years now, scholars at conferences have argued about whether or not we can talk about FASCISM in the 21st century. Some scholars stalwartly defended a belief that fascism was something left in the past, and not like every other “-ism” (liberalism, feminism, socialism, communism, anarchism, etc.) “

      Society is too hung up on people with credentials who may necessarily be the smartest bulbs on the tree. But credentials give them cover. It’s like an alcoholic hiding his illness in public but beats his wife in private. At the same time many ordinary people, who were not as privileged to obtain credentials, may be way smarter than some of the so-called ‘academics’.

      We have dunces on this site trying to convince us how educated they are and how much we peons need to be schooled by them. Just a few days ago one of them was trying to suggest he was being indirectly slandered.

      The irony is, this so-called academic doesn’t know what the definition of slander is. He confuses libel with slander, neither of which is illegal.

      Fascism is alive and well in the twenty-first century. It is definitely alive and well in America.
      The racist, white supremacist occupant, who desperately tried to hang on to power, proves it. But the fake academics are too full of themselves to see it.

      Brother Man

  • wally n  On 04/20/2021 at 1:22 pm

    WOW!
    think there might be opposing views….

    so confused.

  • Dennis Albert  On 04/20/2021 at 9:07 pm

    The ABCEU countries want migrants who have money to buy mansions for the Boomers.

  • Dennis Albert  On 04/22/2021 at 1:47 pm

    Now I understand why African-American brethren want to “flee” to Guyana and South America:

    Why do cops in America, Canada and the G7 resort to lethal force on unarmed non-white men?

    • Dennis Albert  On 04/22/2021 at 1:50 pm

      This was the police video:

      The video above is when the police don’t do anything to protect non-whites, but the police will arrest non-whites for anything.

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