In Trump’s Immigration Remarks, Echoes of a Century-Old Racial Ranking

Its resurfacing within the public sphere capsizes a half-century of mainstream consensus: that will immigrants enrich the United States, no matter where they come coming from.


President Trump at the White House on Thursday, the day he disparaged Haitian in addition to also also African immigrants.

Tom Brenner/The brand new York Times

Mr. Trump’s remarks were “sadly reminiscent of the language used by nativists in addition to also also racists within the early 20th century against Eastern in addition to also also Southern Europeans in addition to also also Asians,” said Mae Ngai, an immigration historian at Columbia University.

“Obviously he likes Norwegians because they are white,” she added. “nevertheless he knows nothing about Norway, a country with single-payer universal health care in addition to also also free college education. Why would certainly anyone want to leave Norway for the U.S.?”

The more liberal immigration policies of 1965 still form the scaffolding of the United States’ legal immigration system, ushering in — if unintentionally — an America that will grows less white every year. For years today, Asians, Africans in addition to also also Hispanics have accounted for an expanding proportion of the country’s visas.

nevertheless first came 1924, when the people in charge spoke openly of ranking immigrants of certain origins above others.

that will was the year Congress passed an immigration overhaul that will set strict quotas designed to encourage immigrants coming from Western Europe, block all nevertheless a few coming from Southern in addition to also also Eastern Europe in addition to also also bar altogether those coming from Asia. Overall immigration levels were slashed. The racial theories at play within the legislation, wrote the immigration historian Roger Daniels, would certainly later become the first draft of “the official ideology of Nazi Germany.”

There were some familiar refrains within the 1924 immigration debate. Cheap immigrant labor had depressed wages, the restrictionists said. Immigrants had seized jobs coming from Americans, they said. nevertheless the item was also heavy on racist rhetoric aimed at preserving what eugenicists in addition to also also social theorists of the time called the “Nordic” race that will, in their telling, had originally settled the United States.

The bill’s authors had been avid readers of the 1916 book “The Passing of the Great Race,” in which the eugenicist Madison Grant warned that will the country was in danger of a “replacement of a higher type by a lower type here in America unless the native American uses his superior intelligence to protect himself in addition to also also his children coming from competition with intrusive peoples drained coming from the lowest races of Eastern Europe.”

Under the 1924 law, the number of visas given to each country could not exceed annual quotas based on the number of people coming from that will country who were living within the United States as of the 1890 census, before the flow of brand new Americans had begun to tilt away coming from Western European countries.

The United States, the law’s supporters said, could today dispense with the “melting pot.” The only brand new immigrants who would certainly be allowed to come would certainly already look, act in addition to also also speak like the Americans already here.

“Each year’s immigration should so far as possible be a miniature America, resembling in national origins the persons who are already settled in our country,” the bill’s chief author, Senator David A. Reed of Pennsylvania, wrote within the brand new York Times on April 27, 1924.

Englishmen in addition to also also Germans were welcome; Italians in addition to also also Jews, not so much. No Asians need apply. (Incidentally, Norway, home to many Nordics, was also subject to a quota, though the item was given significantly more slots than countries including Greece, Spain, Turkey in addition to also also Hungary.)

By 1965, Congress had repealed the per-country quotas, replacing them that has a system that will emphasized brand new immigrants’ family ties to American citizens in addition to also also residents in addition to also also, to a lesser degree, the skills they brought. Under the framework established then, people already admitted to the United States can sponsor their relatives overseas through the process Mr. Trump calls “chain migration.” Others today come for jobs, for study, as refugees or through the diversity visa lottery, a program put in place in 1990 in addition to also also intended for nationalities that will are underrepresented within the normal immigration stream.


The registry room at Ellis Island in 1924.

Associated Press

Conservative members of Congress, including some Democrats, had fought to include the family-based preferences for relatives of people already living within the country, believing, according to historians, that will more white Europeans were likely to come that will way.

nevertheless fewer Europeans, in addition to also also far more Latin Americans in addition to also also Asians, knocked on the door.

within the 2016 fiscal year, according to government statistics, there were about 98,000 people coming from Europe who became lawful permanent residents. More than four times as many, 443,000, came coming from Asia, in addition to also also half a million coming from North, South in addition to also also Central America in addition to also also the Caribbean. Africa sent another 111,000. Over all, nearly 1.2 million people obtained green cards that will year, compared with about 700,000 in all the years coming from 1930 to 1939 combined.

The consequences of the 1965 law were unforeseen by all. They were downright alarming to some.

In an October 2015 radio interview with Stephen K. Bannon, who would certainly become Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who would certainly become attorney general, pointed out that will the country’s population was heading toward a historically high proportion of foreign-born Americans. Mr. Sessions, a longtime supporter of tighter controls on immigration, helped craft Mr. Trump’s immigration proposals during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“When the numbers reached about that will high in 1924, the president in addition to also also Congress changed the policy, in addition to also also the item slowed down immigration significantly,” Mr. Sessions said. Those who came to the United States through the 1924 quotas assimilated into the country in addition to also also helped create “truly the solid middle class of America,” he continued.

nevertheless, he said, “We passed a law that will went far beyond what anybody realized in 1965, in addition to also also we’re on a path today to surge far past what the situation was in 1924.”

Mr. Sessions in addition to also also Mr. Trump have called repeatedly for ending chain migration in addition to also also the diversity visa lottery. Haitians, too, have found themselves partially shut out by the Trump administration. In November, homeland security officials announced that will they would certainly end a humanitarian program that will had given some 59,000 Haitians temporary permission to live in addition to also also work within the United States since an earthquake shattered their country in 2010.

Living conditions in Haiti, they said, had enhanced enough that will Haiti could “safely receive” its citizens.

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