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America’s latest immigration debate has long history rooted in bigotry

'Huddled masses’ routinely rejected

Merdies Hayes Editor In Chief | 7/13/2018, midnight
Immigration enforcement has become a top priority in the Trump administration since the..
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Immigrants

Immigrants

Immigration enforcement has become a top priority in the Trump administration since the president’s rather apocalyptic inauguration speech 18 months ago in framing the issue around the “American carnage” scenario of endemic urban violence and unsecured borders.

Within two weeks after taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump had signed an executive order sharply curtailing immigration from some Muslim-majority nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) and virtually halting illegal crossings at the southern border. To date, there have been extensive moves by the Trump Administration to eradicate constitutional protections, promote police powers in the face of abuses and, as an unforeseen byproduct, the encouragement of violence against minorities.

No Irish, Germans or Catholics

When non-citizens, including legal and undocumented (adults, families and children) are picked up, they are placed in confinement until the government can determine what to do with them whether that be a jail sentence, deportation or, in rare occasions, asylum. While these actions may be the first such directives in recent years, they are hardly new to American immigration policy.

The U.S. Constitution provides Congress with broad powers over immigration. For about the first 100 years of American history, Congress did not place any federal limits on immigration. During those years, Irish and German immigrants arrived in the United States in large numbers as did Chinese immigrants who, by the 1860s, had come to work as laborers on the continental railroad and stayed to rear generations of families.

Many Americans disapproved of the aforementioned groups. They rejected the Catholic religion practiced by the Germans and Irish, and had an unfavorable opinion of the Chinese who were often viewed as convicts, prostitutes and competition for American jobs.

Europe was in turmoil in the mid 19th Century. Democratic and nationalist uprisings swept through nations like France, Germany and Italy resulting in more than 3 million people immigrating to America. It was the largest increase in immigration in the nation’s history. Cities in the Northeast reacted with aggressive nativism that would encourage widespread anti-immigrant sentiment.

Chinese Exclusion Act

In 1882, Congress moved for the first time to limit the number of immigrants by enacting the Chinese Exclusion Act that effectively banned the majority of Chinese women and workers. President Chester A. Arthur signed the act into law which focused primarily on the West Coast entry points of San Francisco and Seattle to pacify native-born Americans who attributed rising unemployment and declining wages to Chinese workers whom they viewed as racially inferior. Later, through the Geary Act of 1892, the law was extended for another 10 years to prohibit Chinese persons from becoming citizens.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was eventually repealed by the Magnuson Act of 1943 during World War II, when China became an ally against Imperial Japan. Still, the repeal allowed only 105 Chinese immigrants per year and that did not change until the Immigration Act of 1965 which eliminated the previous national-origins policy. Large-scale Chinese immigration to America was allowed to continue after a hiatus of more than 80 years.