For as long as ours has been a nation of immigrants, we have been a nation that fears immigrants. Fear of the other is woven into the fabric of our American culture, and unscrupulous people in power have exploited that fear in pursuit of political advantage. In the mid-1850s, the first significant third-party movement in the United States, the so-called Know-Nothing Party, rose to popularity on an anti-immigrant platform. In 1882, an act of Congress banned Chinese immigrants to the country. In 1917, Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto in order to establish a host of new restrictions on immigrants, including a literacy requirement. Concerns about growing numbers of newcomers from Southern and Eastern Europe resulted in the imposition of immigration quotas in 1924. In 1939, nearly 1,000 German Jews fleeing the Nazis in a ship called the St. Louis were turned away from the United States. A plan to allow 20,000 Jewish children into the country was outright rejected. And shortly after, the U.S. government interned some 117,000 people of Japanese ancestry. More recently, as globalization has robbed the country of millions of jobs and displaced huge swaths of the middle class, immigrants have become convenient targets for blame. When the Great Recession ravaged rural America, a number of Republican politicians pointed to immigration as the problem, even as they filibustered a bill that would have created new jobs. Despite the profound role they have played in building and shaping America, immigrants who come here to seek a better life have always made for an easy scapegoat.
Link · 1941