Friday, 17 August 2018
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    Immigration policy of the US – Part 1

Best of times … Worst of times …
Immigration policy of the US – Part 1

Syed Nasir Ershad

President Donald Trump has come under fire recently after reportedly asking lawmakers why the United States would accept more people from “shithole countries” — which he defined as Haiti, El Salvador and parts of Africa — during a meeting in the Oval Office about a potential immigration deal. While the President’s vulgar phrasing may be unprecedented, his question comes with a long history. At various times in the past, America’s immigration system has openly favored some countries over others, with the system set up to specifically keep out immigrants from “countries that are doing badly,” as Trump put it in a follow-up tweet, often for reasons that were based on prejudice.Trump’s comments suggested that he would want the immigration system to favor potential immigrants from some countries and make things harder for those from other places. But this is not the first instance. In the 19th century, the US had virtually open borders. Laborers from Europe just came in. The only exception was the Chinese, who came for the same reason that European laborers did in the late 19th century — but because of racism, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion law in 1882. The Chinese were the first and only group to be singled out by name for exclusion. We’ve now singled out countries under the “Muslim ban,” but until that time, the Chinese held that dubious distinction. The Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943 during World War II, because China was a war ally of the U.S., but it was a foreign policy measure. They set a quota of 105 people per year, so that shows that they didn’t want more Chinese immigrants.
Targeting China was a racialization of economic competition. They came over for the Gold Rush. They came over to work. Everyone in California, practically, was a migrant, except for the indigenous people and people of Spanish descent who had been there for hundreds of years. The political nativism against the Chinese was based on a racist theory that the Chinese were slaves. Nativists thought having slaves would depress the rights and wages of free workers. They were using it as a racial epithet. The Chinese suffered not only exclusion but violence, discrimination, harassment throughout the period of exclusion. But these Chinese weren’t slaves; they were voluntary immigrants like everyone else.
Things changed during the great wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century.There was high immigration from Europe, especially from Southern Europe, like Italy or Greece, and also Eastern Europe; Poland, Russia, Hungary. There was a nativist movement against these immigrants, who were almost entirely low-skilled workers who came and fueled the industrial revolution. The industrialization of the U.S. was done by these workers. About 25 million people came during this period, and there was a lot of debate similar to what you hear today, things said about Italians similar to what Trump says about Mexicans — “they’re criminals”; “they steal American jobs.”
In 1924, Congress passed the National Origins Act quotas, which restricted immigration to 15% of what it had been before World War I. So only 150,000 were let in a year, whereas it had been a million a year just coming naturally before the war. So for the first time, there was numerical limits, and they distributed that number according to racial favorites. Great Britain had a huge quota, as did Germany, but Italy and Hungary, had tiny, tiny quotas, and that was an attempt to stop that immigration. There has always been this history of favoring some over others.

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