Saturday, February 4, 2017

Xenophobia Nothing New—The Immigration Act of 1917 Inspires Trump

Trump's Big Beautiful Wall catapulted him to the Oval Office.

Donald Trump first surged to the top of the pack of Republican presidential wannabes early in the brutal primary battles on the strength of his crowd pleasing promise to “build a big, beautiful wall” to keep out hordes of crazed and criminal illegal immigrants and that “Mexico will pay for it.”  He coupled that with vows to deport every undocumented immigrant he could lay his hands on.  Another vow sure to bring his crowds to their feet was to institute a “Muslim ban” on legal immigration and the issuance of visitor visas as well as rejection of refugees from the war torn nations that the U.S. had invaded, bombed, and destabilized.  Whenever his campaign would be in danger of crashing down around him, as it often was over some outrageous statement, revelation of sexual misconduct, and business scandal after scandal, Trump would return to hate peddling and his numbers would recover and climb to new heights.
It should be no surprise then that the Cheeto in Charge’s first aggressive move was signing a series of executive orders to build the Wall—but we are paying—and step up deportation accompanied by threats to cut off Federal funds from immigrant friendly Sanctuary Cities.  A second wave or orders implemented his promised anti-Muslim programs and refugee ban immediately.  Chaos and massive protests, of course ensued.
The problem is that both of these policies address nearly nonexistent or already well under control problems at enormous cost.
The 2008 collapse of the American economy and the anemic recovery hemorrhaged of jobs of U.S, citizens and immigrants alike.  Bleak economic prospects cut to a trickle the flood of immigrants over the Mexican border that had so alarmed many.  Tough Federal enforcement by the Obama administration—no other came close to deporting so many—and near lunatic state laws in Arizona, Alabama, North Carolina, and elsewhere have actually driven many back to their nations of origins, resulting in widespread labor shortages and billions of dollars in economic loss.
Not only has illegal immigration sharply dropped in absolute numbers.  Out migration by those returning to their homelands and Americans  going expatriate for retirement and other reasons is now significantly higher than all immigration, legal and illegal combined.
In other words, as so often happens in American, Trump is battling yesterday’s problem.

Praying Mulim protestors link Trump's twin racist programs.
The same is true of his Muslim and refugee bans.  The numbers admitted have never been great in either category especially after rigorous screening procedures put in place under Obama.  No domestic American deaths have been attributed to refugees from the Middle East and only 3 by Islamic immigrants compared to scores killed by white supremacists, Patriot militia, neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and right-wing radicalized lone wolfs. 
And then there is the politics of the issue, which center on the inevitable demographic slide of White Americans into minority status.  Even with immigration largely stanched, the growth of families already in the country are inevitably changing the color palette of the population.  That terrifies man whites, especially older ones, and drives them into the arms of those like Trump who promise to restore a glorious past in which everyone knew their places and kept to them.
The few panic stricken Republicans who have suggested the current anti-immigration absolutism is suicidal and powerful business interests who once called the shots in the party and who rely on plentiful immigrant labor have been beaten back and marginalized.
Perhaps it is instructive to look back at the immigration legislation that the hard core recalls fondly hope is the model for the future.
On February 5, 1917 Congress over rode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto making the Immigration Act of 1917, also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, the law of the land.  It was the most restrictive legislation yet enacted and banned immigration from most of Asia and the Pacific Islands.
China was not included only because the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 already barred entry from that country and the Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan in 1907 restricted immigration from there.  The act was aimed at potential new reservoirs of immigrants like Korea and especially India which was then exporting cheap labor to every corner of the British Empire and which were beginning to trickle into the States.
Wilson vetoed the 1917 act only because of its Literacy mandate.

Wilson, not known for his racial enlightenment, had vetoed the measure not over its sweeping anti-oriental provisions, but because it also required immigrants to be literate.  He feared that would choke the supply of cheap labor to American industry.
Besides illiterates, the act banned a laundry list of other “undesirables” including idiots, feeble-minded persons, criminals, epileptics, insane persons, alcoholics, professional beggars, the mentally or physically defective, polygamists, and anarchists. 
Widely derided as racist by most historians, today the Act is held up as model legislation by those few Trump supporters literate in history.


1 comment:

  1. Great blog! Mine is similar in interest, but different in tone: