A History of Xenophobia in U.S. Immigration Policy and the new McCarthyism

Discrimination against those that are seemingly foreign-born and ‘different’ from the

(White Protestant) norm is pervasive in the immigration control history of United States.

It goes back to when the United States was a budding new nation of (illegal) immigrants from Europe and conscious of the ‘dangerous’ Irish and ‘revolutionary’ French migrating into the country.

Response: Congress passed legislation in 1798 lengthening the period of years required for citizenship from five to fourteen and also gave the President the power to deport any alien deemed a threat to public safety.

Next came discrimination against Chinese laborers most of whom had been welcomed into the country as cheap labor in the 1860s but with the economic crisis of 1873, faced nativist fears.

Response: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which created the category of ‘illegal immigrant’ for the first time, establishing border controls and sparking violence against Chinese migrants.

But the country still needed cheap labor and migrants continued to flow into the United States to fulfill that role, this time from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Response: Besides the many acts of violence against these immigrants, Congress passed the National Origins Quota Act in 1924 that strictly limited immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe.

Entering the Cold War period, we are struck with the lunacy of McCarthyism, and hence heightened fear of ‘strangers’ and dissent.

Response: The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 set quotas of 100 immigrants only from each country in Asia, while immigrants from the United Kingdom and Germany consisted seventy percent of the annual immigrant quota. On top of this, noncitizens faced deportation for simply harboring radical and supposedly subversive ideas.

The witch hunts were truly on at this shameful period in United States history. However, we came out of our ‘temporary insanity’ made progress in the 1960s with the Immigration and Nationality Act that abolished discriminatory quotas and gave preference to skilled workers.

As immigration from across the border increased and we noticed a proliferation of ‘brown’ skin and Spanish languages in school, anti-immigration efforts were launched again, this time squarely at Latinos. In the 1990s, Proposition 187 in California was an act to deny public education to children of illegal immigrants, and soundly defeated by the Courts.

The anti-immigrant fervor did not let up, especially with 9-11 and the economy taking a nose-dive, again we were more fearful of ‘difference.’

Response: International students were restricted and hassled by immigration authorities, visa petitions incredibly backlogged especially from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines, and for a short while, even post-operative transsexuals denied residency based on marriage to partners of the opposite sex.

Now we have ICE agents conducting raids, separating children from their parents and locking teenage students in detention centers for months, deporting students for being truant and even going after sanctuary cities.

I am having a déjà vu of the witch hunts conducted during McCarthyism. Think about the similarities for a second. This anti-immigration climate is ideologically-driven and we are using countless resources to round-up and question hard-working Americans all over again, separating them from loved ones and smearing their names.

I wonder what we would call this era when we look upon it shamefully in the distant future. Let’s hope we wake up from this period of temporary insanity soon.

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