Multiculturalism and Immigration History in the United States II: Origins of Modern Immigration

My last post on this segment covered some past views on immigration in the U.S. over the last couple centuries. I want to take this time to cover what I feel to be the horrendous origins over the outright xenophobic and racist campaign covering the propaganda of what has come to be known as illegal immigration. I want to highlight the groups responsible for the mass public hysteria over the fears of such illegal immigration, beginning with FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and the opinions about this politically active organization from The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The modern Latino immigration debate can be dated back to Jan 2, 1979 with the founding of FAIR by a man by the name of John Tanton. John Tanton, a man who has a remarkable history of making racially insensitive, and inflammatory remarks concerning the fear of losing his white identity to the influx of Latino immigration, and fears “As Whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?” This is the leader of the debate, its founder, its initial propagator, and a man fond of making blatantly white nationalist remarks such as this one. FAIR has outright opposed the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 which made illegal previously racist immigration quotas. FAIR has since lobbied for strict immigration quotas to be reinstated “at the lowest feasible levels”. In 1997, FAIR president Dan Stein had this to say to Tucker Carlson:

“Immigrants don’t come all church-loving, freedom-loving, God-fearing … Many of them hate America, hate everything that the United States stands for. Talk to some of these Central Americans.”
— FAIR President Dan Stein, interviewed by Tucker Carlson, Oct. 2, 1997 (SPLC)

This horrible rhetoric is the same we have heard since the early 20th century and dating back throughout the 19th century. Simply, this rhetoric and more, along with Neo Nazi associations, gives us plenty of insight into where these debates originated. Just like the historical comments made concerning immigration, these remarks have proven time and again to be seriously unfounded and false. It is this rhetoric against migration, which has only benefited our nation over time, that has polarized the far right in this country. These are racial theories, fears of Caucasians becoming a minority, and the slandering of multicultural peoples in a nation that is considered ‘white owned’ by opponents.

We’ve seen the Arizona Senate Bill SB 1070 severely gutted by the Supreme Court. The founder of this bill, former Republican Arizona state senator Russell Pearce, was the bill’s principle author. His bill naturally received vast support from FAIR. Russell Pearce called for a renewal of 1950’s immigration enforcement, coining the campaign, “Operation Wetback”. He has emailed supporters of the bill with texts by the white separatist group National Alliance, which hosts Holocaust deniers and conspiratorial theories of multiculturalism being a Jewish, anti-white movement. Pierce has also had questionable associations with alleged child murderer and suicide victim, J.T. Ready, a known Neo Nazi supporter and former candidate for the Arizona House of Representatives.

Multiculturalism has been effective in growing our nation, and we are one of the few nations that can still keep our general political ideals intact while hosting multitudes of peoples throughout history. When looking back at the authors of this debate, including the Tea Party movement, we can easily choose which side we stand on, and refute the veracity of such outrageous claims.


Multiculturalism and Immigration History In the United States I

Immigration policy has been a contentious issue practically throughout our entire history. If we were to take a look back on historical policy governing immigration reform, then hopefully we can shed some light on the culture of America, and the issues of the past comparable to the modern influx of undocumented immigrants.

A popular way of referring to immigrants since the 1980’s has been to call them illegal aliens. After this pejorative term was abandoned, we adopted the slightly less offensive term of illegal immigrant. Now in 2013, unrepresented migrants to the U.S. are still widely considered to be “illegal immigrants”. No person in the United States can be considered “illegal”. The unreported stay of any person in the United States cannot be labeled criminal until they are charged by a court and convicted.  Essentially, until the Court tells you that you have done something wrong, then in this country, you are innocent. That said, it is reprehensible that we should refer to any individual who has crossed our border as a criminal, or “illegal” in any sense until they are caught, and charged by the courts. There have been many people to cross our borders due to political strife without first asking permission. If that person happens to be a refugee who does this, we are far less quick to consider that person illegal.

Since the founding of this nation, the American people have continued to slander, and libel immigrant peoples of all sorts. German and Irish migration began in the early half of the Nineteenth century. Benjamin Franklin was quoted in a letter:

“Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them, and will never adopt our language or Customs any more than they can acquire our Complexion?”

When the Chinese began immigrating to the U.S. prior to the 1870’s, after a brief acceptance of them, their migration came to be known as the Yellow Peril. Chinese immigrants built our railroads, mined our coal and participated in the Gold Rush of 1849. Congress would later draft the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. During Irish migration by the mid-Nineteenth century, they were depicted as ape-like and bestial. There was a fear by Protestants at the time that Irish Catholics would be overly loyal to the Pope and try to subvert the government. A national literacy test was implemented in 1917, in which MA Senator, Henry Cabot Lodge, was quoted as stating:

“[The test] will bear most heavily on the Italians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians, Greeks, and Asiatics, and very lightly, or not at all upon English-speaking emigrants or Germans, Scandinavians, and French.”

Many national immigration quota laws were also adopted in the U.S. during the 1920’s until the Immigration Reform Act of 1965 repealed all quotas.

Institutional bias, racism, and general antipathy towards migrants throughout history has been prevalent since the conception of the Union. We must consider how poorly the Irish have been treated throughout the Nineteenth century, and basically Catholics in general. The underlying fear of immigration is the cultural impact, and the fear of the infusion of new ideals in place of hardened traditions. The Grapes of Wrath tells an abrupt story of how migrant Oklahomans were treated in California during the great dust bowl of the 1930’s. Even interstate immigration can be an ugly affair.