Home-grown hostility toward immigrants goes back a long way. That hostility has been directed toward Southern and Eastern Europeans, Jews in general, Asians and Africans in particular, and most lately Mexicans and Central Americans. I’m going to focus on the latter in light of yesterday’s announcement about ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, and its impact on the young immigrants called “Dreamers.”
In 1883, English scientist Francis Galton first introduced the term “eugenics” in his study of the biological inheritance of leadership qualities of Britain’s ruling class. Galton later defined eugenics as “the study of the agencies under social control that improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally.” Drawing from the new science of genetics, eugenicists understood various human and social problems as rooted in the defective germ-plasm of individuals or certain racial/ethnic groups. Claiming to base their theories on scientific evidence and methods, eugenics supporters rationalized “scientific racism” in the late-19th and early-20th centuries and helped shape state policies of sterilization, miscegenation prohibition, and immigration restriction. For example, in the United States, eugenicists were influential in passing the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 to halt the influx of Southeast European immigrants, who eugenicists viewed as immigrants “of the lower grades of intelligence” and immigrants “who are making excessive contribution to our feeble-minded, insane, criminal and other socially inadequate classes.” —Immigration History Research Center
The Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted to from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States as of the 1890 census. The law restricted immigration of Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, especially Italians and Eastern European Jews. In addition, it banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians, while severely restricting the immigration of Africans. Surprisingly, there was no cap on immigrants from Mexico, large numbers of whom had come north to work in war production during WWI.
The Immigration Restriction Act remained the law of the land until 1965, when it was superseded by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, also known as the Hart-Celler Act. Resistance from conservative congressmen and senators was strong, and President Johnson and other leaders had to reassure Congress that Hart-Celler would not alter the U.S. demographic mix. Promises aside, the ethnic composition of immigrants did change following passage of the law. The change has been most pronounced in immigration from Asia, Mexico, and Central America, accounting for over half of the population change from 2000-2010, according to the Census Bureau. Even so, it was this 1965 law that first put caps on immigration from Mexico and Central America, making it harder for Latino immigrants to come here legally, contributing to the large numbers of undocumented Latino immigrants living in the U.S. today.
The 1924 immigration law was enacted during an openly racist period of American history; the 1965 law was part of the reaction to racism ushered in during the Civil Rights era. With the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013 and today’s renewed emphasis on deporting “illegal aliens” and the recent banning of immigration from some Muslim nations, we’ve cycled back to the more openly racist version of America.
People opposed to repealing DACA keep saying “This isn’t America.” Au contraire, this is America. It’s the way America’s been since the Naturalization Law of 1790, which limited citizenship to free white immigrants of good character.
I don’t mean to go over the entire history of U.S. immigration law, just to point out that it’s based on racism and the pseudo-science of eugenics, and that the purveyors of racism and the pseudo-science of eugenics are not only still around but are back in power. Watch Jeff Sessions announcing the end of DACA yesterday and you could be looking through a time portal to 1924, when white Americans believed non-Northern European peoples were congenitally feeble-minded, with a racial propensity toward dependency and crime (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” —Donald Trump, 2016).
In 2010, Tom Horne, then the state schools superintendent of Arizona, drafted AZ HB 2281, the law that banned Mexican American and Native American Studies classes in public schools. When the state forced Tucson Unified School District to stop teaching these classes, he described what he saw as “a 500-year civilizational war,” going on to state that the histories of Mexican-Americans and Native Americans are not based on “Greco-Roman” knowledge and are thus incompatible with Western civilization. Oh, yes, he really did say that.
What civilizational war, you might ask? Well, the deplorables believe there is one, and they’re horrified by the increasing numbers of ethnic Latinos in the U.S. A number of cities in Southwestern states are now majority-Hispanic, including my own, Tucson. Never mind that most of these cities are located in parts of the US that were once actually Mexico, the demographic balance of the Southwest has clearly changed. And it’s not just the Southwest: Hispanic-Americans (90+% of whom are American citizens, by the way) are far more visible in other parts of the US than they were in the past.
I didn’t grow up thinking about immigration law, but I was always aware of what I saw around me. People like Jeff Sessions, hiding under cover of organized religion, are what drove me from the Southern Baptist church I was raised in. People like Jeff Sessions are about to drive me into renouncing my species entirely and applying to become a dog, a species unbothered by differences in size, coloration, or hair. Here are a few of the reactions to DACA repeal protests I’ve seen on Twitter this morning:
- DACA Protestors: “No Justice! No Peace!”
- Translation: “You must allow people to break the law without any consequences or we’ll stage violent riots.”
- They get free Hcare, food, fones, housing, ed, lawyers. All things a U.S. citizen doesn’t.
- We need to stop all free stuff for anyone but qualified citizens.
- Go Dream somewhere else! Wave that Mexican flag in Mexico and demand your free stuff there!! GOOD LUCK GOD BLESS AMERICA.
Where does this shit come from? Anyone with eyes can see how hard Mexican and Central American immigrants work to support their families, often in low-paying jobs, and anyone with a brain knows people who aren’t here legally aren’t getting “free stuff.”
I’ll admit it: there was a time when I’d picture a black woman in a Cadillac when someone said “welfare queen.” No more. Today, this is what I see:
Wouldn’t you rather be a dog too?
p.s. I’m enough of a Type A that when something’s broken I can’t rest until it’s fixed. The cause of my current distress is Flickr, which seems to have eaten my account.
I’m trying to work it. Flickr’s owned by Yahoo now, and their customer care service is anything but easy. In the meantime, years’ worth of photos and graphics are missing from Paul’s Thing, Crouton’s Kitchen, and the Half-Mind Weblog. If I seem distracted, that’s why.
Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, please come around, something is missing and must be found.
© 2017, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.