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Sunday, 27th May, 2018
Last week I had a few days away in Crete. I got involved in a discussion with a former London bus driver who was now retired and living in Norfolk. He seemed to be having a good life but was very angry with the state of Britain. His main concern was over the issue of immigration. He claimed that when he was working he was appalled by the number of immigrants and refugees who enjoyed the benefits of free bus passes. He also blamed the immigrants for the lack of council housing for the young men and women in his bus garage. For some reason, he thought that Jeremy Corbyn was the cause of these problems.
The following day I got into conversation with a young Polish woman who was working as an engineer in Norway. Although she and her husband (he was also a Polish engineer), she was keen to return to Poland as soon as possible because she had elderly parents who needed her support. I asked her what she thought about the recent popularity of far-right groups in Eastern Europe. Much to my surprise, she replied that she fully understood this and she was herself a right-wing nationalist and a supporter of the Law and Justice Party.
The main reason for this was that she was very hostile to foreign immigrants living in her country. These immigrants did not come from the European Union, because the Polish social welfare is so poor that EU citizens have no desire to live in the country. Her concern was about the large number of Ukrainian immigrants living in Poland. According to The Economist, Ukrainians living in Poland "can earn five times more than at home, picking tomatoes, mixing cement or driving for Uber, the ride-hailing firm". The article, entitled, Ukrainian immigrants are powering Poland’s economy, argues: "A tumbling birth rate and the emigration of 2m Poles to other European Union countries has shrunk the labour supply. Unemployment is at its lowest since 1991 and the economy is surging. The Union of Entrepreneurs and Employers (ZPP) says 5m more workers are needed to sustain growth over the next three decades." (1)
In the elections that took place in Hungary in April 2018, the right-wing populist party, the Hungarian Civic Alliance, achieved a two-thirds majority for the second consecutive time. Viktor Orbán, the prime minister since 2010, made immigration the main issue of the election. In reality, the country is suffering from a terrible labour shortage. The EU Commission has lodged a lawsuit against Hungary at the EU’s highest court over laws adopted in 2017 limiting EU migrants and its unwillingness to take asylum seekers. (2)
The Italian General Election took place on 4th March, 2018. However, it took until last week to form a new government. It will be a grand coalition between the right-wing populist Northern League Party and the anti-establishment party, the Five Star Movement. The first policy document published by the new coalition government contained plans to build more detention centres to accelerate the deportation of an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants and to review migrant rescue missions at sea after they arrive on Italy’s shores. The agreement also calls for a renegotiation of the Dublin Refugee Treaty. The document also calls for imams to be registered with the state. Unauthorized mosques will face “immediate” closure while proposals for the construction of new ones and their funding will be scrutinized. (3)
Throughout the world people are becoming obsessed with the subject of immigration. This is also true of the UK and it is believed played a major role in the EU referendum result. Why is this? There have always been episodes of migration to Britain but, these were always small and demographically insignificant. In most cases, we had a problem of too many people leaving the country. For example, between 1880 and 1890, 795,000 (net) people left Britain. People born in Britain between 1876 and 1920 left in large numbers with some two million more leaving England and Wales than arriving. (4)
In the years leading up to the First World War, unemployment hovered between 2% and 4%. This all changed in the 1920s and 1930s and in some years was over 30%. During the Second World War, unemployment fell to as low as 0.6%. Full employment after the war caused the UK tremendous economic problems. In the early months of 1947 there was a serious fuel shortage. The Labour government urged the British people to become more productive. However, the main cause of this was the labour market. By 1948 only 1.8% of the adult population were unemployed. As the historian John Bew pointed out: "It was no use asking people to working harder when there were not enough people to man the vital industries." (5)
The only solution for the government was to encourage foreign workers to come to the country. In 1948 Parliament passed the British Nationality Act that gave citizenship to all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies, and the right of entry and settlement in the UK. The first ship Empire Windrush arrived from Jamaica with a group of 492 migrants on 22nd June, 1948. All those who did not know anybody in the UK, were sent to the underground shelter at Clapham Common, while the authorities tried to organise accommodation and work for them. (6)
Later that day 11 Labour Party MPs wrote to Clement Attlee complaining about these new immigrants. "This country may become an open reception centre for immigrants not selected in respect to health, education, training, character, customs and above all, whether assimilation is possible or not. The British people fortunately enjoy a profound unity without uniformity in their way of life, and are blest by the absence of a colour racial problem. An influx of coloured people domiciled here is likely to impair the harmony, strength and cohesion of our public and social life and to cause discord and unhappiness among all concerned.... We venture to suggest that the British Government should, like foreign countries, the dominions and even some of the colonies, by legislation if necessary, control immigration in the political, social, economic and fiscal interests of our people." (7)
Attlee replied on 5th July, 1948: "It is traditional that British subjects, whether of Dominion or Colonial origin (and of whatever race or colour), should be freely admissible to the United Kingdom. That tradition is not, in my view, to be lightly discarded, particularly at this time when we are importing foreign labour in large numbers. It would be fiercely resented in the Colonies themselves, and it would be a great mistake to take any measure which would tend to weaken the goodwill and loyalty of the Colonies towards Great Britain... It may be of interest to you to know that of the 236 who had nowhere to go and no immediate prospects of employment, and who were therefore temporarily accommodated at Clapham Shelter, 145 had actually been placed in employment by the 30th June and the number still resident in the Shelter at this last week-end was down to 76. It would therefore be a great mistake to regard these people as undesirable or unemployables. The majority of them are honest workers, who can make a genuine contribution to our labour difficulties at the present time." (8)
In June 1950, a Cabinet committee was established with the terms of reference of finding ways which might be adopted to check the immigration into this country of black people from British colonial territories. In February 1951, that committee reported that no restrictions were required. But from the time of Churchill's premiership, new Commonwealth immigration rose from 3,000 in 1953 to 46,800 in 1956 and thence to 136,400 in 1961. This failed to solve our labour shortage as in 1961 only 1.6% of the adult male population were registered as unemployed. (9)
Despite the need for immigration in 1962 the Conservative government led by Harold Macmillan, responded to the campaign by the right-wing press against immigration, passed the Commonwealth Immigrants Act. This tightened the regulations and restricted the rights of immigrants to come to Britain, to those who had government-issued employment vouchers. The leader of the opposition in Parliament at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, called the act "cruel and brutal anti-colour legislation" and accused the government of "yielding to the crudest clamour" of racism and suggested that liberal members of the government should be ashamed of their failure to stop "this miserable, shameful, shabby bill" by threatening to resign. (10)
This was a blatant attempt to win the support of those members of the electorate who held racist views. However, the government faced a severe shortage of labour in certain industries and secretly encouraged large-scale immigration from the Asian subcontinent. This labour shortage was especially a problem in the National Health Service. The Minister of Health, Enoch Powell, made an important decision. Powell’s war experiences in India made it the place he turned to for help. “We know Powell had a high regard for Indian society and that Indian medical schools trained doctors based on the British system, so he knew he could find a relatively good source of well-qualified doctors.” In 1963 Powell invited Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi doctors to the UK. This resulted in 18,000 arriving over the next twelve months. (11)
Powell praised these doctors, who he said, "provide a useful and substantial reinforcement of the staffing of our hospitals and who are an advertisement to the world of British medicine and British hospitals." Many of those recruited had several years of experience in their home countries and arrived to gain further medical experience, training, or qualification. Powell's initiative was a great success and after eight years 31 per cent of all doctors working in the NHS in England were born and had qualified overseas. (12)
In the 1964 General Election the Labour Party obtained a swing of 3% to obtain victory. However, some Conservative Party members played the race-card during the election. This included Peter Griffiths, who was taking on Patrick Gordon Walker, who had been Shadow Foreign Secretary, in Smethwick. The constituency had the highest percentage of recent immigrants to England and during the campaign his supporters used the slogan "If you want a n***** for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour". Walker found it difficult to deal with this issue as the local Labour Club did not allow black people to become members. (13)
Griffiths himself did not coin the phrase or approve its use, but he refused to disown it. "I would not condemn any man who said that, I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling". Griffiths reminded the electorate that Walker had opposed the introduction of the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act. “How easy to support uncontrolled immigration when one lives in a garden suburb,” Griffiths sneered at his Labour rival during the general election campaign. Griffiths won the seat with a 7.2 % swing to the Conservatives and reduced Walker's vote from 20,670 in the previous election to 14,916. (14)
Harold Wilson, the new prime minister, was furious with the defeat of Walker and called on Sir Alec Douglas-Home, the leader of the Conservative Party, to condemn Griffiths racist campaign as he had previously agreed that the political parties would not exploit anti-immigrant feelings during the election. Wilson later wrote: "I asked him, then and there, to get up and say whether he endorsed the successful Conservative candidate, Peter Griffiths, or whether he repudiated the means by which he had entered the House. If the former, I said, then Sir Alec would have fallen a long way from the position he had taken up. If the latter, then the honourable member for Smethwick would, for the life-time of Parliament, be treated as a parliamentary leper. This created an immediate outcry and some Conservatives walked out in protest." (15)
Enoch Powell changed his opinion about immigration after Harold Wilson became prime minister and on 20th April, 1968, made an attack on the Labour government's policy on this issue. "The supreme function of statesmanship is to provide against preventable evils... In 15 or 20 years, on present trends, there will be in this country three and a half million Commonwealth immigrants and their descendants. That is not my figure. That is the official figure given to parliament by the spokesman of the Registrar General's Office. There is no comparable official figure for the year 2000, but it must be in the region of five to seven million, approximately one-tenth of the whole population, and approaching that of Greater London. Of course, it will not be evenly distributed from Margate to Aberystwyth and from Penzance to Aberdeen. Whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population."
He then went on to explain the consequences of such levels of migration. "It almost passes belief that at this moment 20 or 30 additional immigrant children are arriving from overseas in Wolverhampton alone every week - and that means 15 or 20 additional families a decade or two hence. Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. We must be mad, literally mad, as a nation to be permitting the annual inflow of some 50,000 dependants, who are for the most part the material of the future growth of the immigrant-descended population. It is like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre. So insane are we that we actually permit unmarried persons to immigrate for the purpose of founding a family with spouses and fiancés whom they have never seen."
Powell attacked the Labour government's commitment to passing a Race Relations Act that would make it illegal to refuse housing, employment, or public services to a person on the grounds of colour, race, ethnic or national origins. "The discrimination and the deprivation, the sense of alarm and of resentment, lies not with the immigrant population but with those among whom they have come and are still coming.... For these dangerous and divisive elements the legislation proposed in the Race Relations Bill is the very pabulum they need to flourish. Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see 'the River Tiber foaming with much blood.' Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal. (16)
The Times correctly reported that, "This is the first time that a serious British politician has appealed to racial hatred in this direct way in our postwar history." (17) Iain Macleod, Edward Boyle, Quintin Hogg and Robert Carr all threatened to resign from the Shadow Cabinet unless Powell was sacked. Edward Heath agreed and Powell was dismissed and he never held another senior political post. However, a Gallup poll at the end of April showed that 74 per cent of those asked agreed with Enoch Powell's speech and only 15 per cent disagreed, with 11 per cent unsure. Other polls concluded that between 61 and 73 per cent disagreed with Heath sacking Powell. (18)
Duncan Sandys, Gerald Nabarro, Teddy Taylor and other right-wing members of the Conservative Party supported Powell. Heath defended his decision telling Robin Day: "I dismissed Mr Powell because I believed his speech was inflammatory and liable to damage race relations. I am determined to do everything I can to prevent racial problems developing into civil strife... I don't believe the great majority of the British people share Mr Powell's way of putting his views in his speech." (19)
Harold Wilson became concerned about the growth in popularity in the Powell's views and immigration rules were tightened. During the 1970 General Election campaign Labour candidates were urged not to "stir up the Powell issue". Tony Benn disagreed."The flag of racialism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over Dachau and Belsen. If we do not speak up now against the filthy and obscene racialist propaganda ... the forces of hatred will mark up their first success and mobilise their first offensive.... Enoch Powell has emerged as the real leader of the Conservative Party. He is a far stronger character than Mr. Heath. He speaks his mind; Heath does not." (20)
It has been claimed that the popularity of Powell's perspective on immigration played a decisive contributory factor in the Conservatives' surprise victory in the 1970 General Election. One study suggested that Powell might have attracted 2.5 million extra votes. He definitely did very well in his own constituency in Wolverhampton South West. His majority of 26,220 and a 64.3 per cent share of the vote were then the highest of his career. (21)
Net migration is the difference between two flows. It is the number of people entering a place in a particular year, less the number of people entering a place over the course of that year. As Danny Dorling has pointed out: "Immigration rules were tightened in 1968 with the short-term effect that some 104,000 (net) left during the six years of Labour government (1964-70) and despite the mini economic boom. That exodus was reversed at the start of Ted Heath's tenure (in 1971-2), but then it flip-flopped back to a net migration of (-112,000) under Labour from 1973-9, then again at -105,000 (net) in the three Thatcher years of 1980-2 and yet again a figure of -76,000 (net) during John Major's 1990-3 recession. I point all this out in case you thought that usually more people tended to arrive than leave. In most years since 1840 that has not been the case." (22)
Unemployment figures remained low for the next fifteen years. In 1974 unemployment was only 2.6%. In a television interview in January, 1978, Margaret Thatcher, the leader of the opposition, played the race-card when she claimed "Some people have felt swamped by immigrants. They've seen the whole character of their neighbourhoods change." (23) Bernard Levin, who was a supporter of Thatcher, warned that, "If you talk and behave as though black men were some kind of virus that must be kept out of the body politic then it is the shabbiest hypocrisy to preach racial harmony at the same time." (24)
David Olusoga, points out in Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016): "Immigrants accounted for a mere 4 per cent of the British population in 1979. Yet, the word 'swamped' struck home with voters and shocked some commentators. Intentionally or not it was an echo of Enoch Powell's 'Rivers of Blood' speech... Thatcher's words were denounced by black British groups and by her political opponents, and criticised by some of her own party." (25)
Thatcher's comments increased her popularity with the British public and it is believed it was a factor in her victory in the 1979 General Election: "Before her remarks, only 9 per cent of British citizens felt that there were too many immigrants; afterwards 21 per cent admitted they were worried. Thatcher's supporters argued that it was a politician's job to draw the public's attention to uncomfortable truths. Opponents suggested that such rhetoric was self-fulfilling. It was easy to forget that at this time immigrants amounted to 4 per cent of the population. Was it possible for so small a minority to 'swamp' a mighty imperial nation?" (26)
This prepared the way for Thatcher's economic policies neo-liberal economic policies in order to control the power of trade union movement. Unemployment figures rose substantially over the next few years: 1980 (7.4%), 1981 (11.4%) and 1982 (13.0%). With high unemployment and with the encouragement of the politicians who have created the unemployment, people turn their hostility towards the people who are immigrants or who look like immigrants, who believe they have taken their jobs. (27)
In the late 1990s unemployment fell, encouraging an increase in immigration. When the 2001 census results were published the newspapers published scare stories about the UK's growing population. The Observer reported: "The population of the United Kingdom has passed 60 million, fuelled by record immigration and increasing life expectancy. It is growing at the fastest rate since the baby boom of the sixties... Almost all the growth is in the South of England. The number of people living in the North and Scotland is declining." (28)
Unemployment continued to fall and by 2008 it was down to 5%. This made the UK a more attractive place to work and we saw an increasing number of people arriving. During this period, more people entered the country rather than left it. The main reason is that "we have created a lot of jobs in recent years that offer unattractively low pay and that are mostly filled by young people coming in from other countries for whom the experience of Britain is at least interesting at first, and for whom the money, until recently, used to be good, if spent back home." (29)
Conservative Party politicians and the right-wing press continued to argue that the problem is that Britain has too many migrants entering the country. This was often related to the shortage of houses. However, it has been pointed out that this problem is made worse by the large number of people who own more than one house. When the leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, was asked in 2009 how many houses he and his wife owned he said it was probably four but pleaded with the journalist not to "make me sound like a prat for not knowing how many houses I've got." (30)
The Daily Mail played an important role in trying to persuade Cameron to bring an end to immigration. It reported that 70 million is "the number of people who our national statisticians expect will populate the UK by mid-2029". (31) The BBC joined in with these scare stories: "A new survey predicts the UK population will reach 78m by 2051... By 2051 a growing birth rate, coupled with high levels of immigration from Europe, Australasia and the US, as well as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, will take the UK population to 78m... The report predicts ethnic minorities will make up 20% of a 78m population." (32)
It has been argued that these predictions assume that will enjoy rapid economic growth over the next forty years. History tells us that every economic recession results in a decline in population: "Emigration and the consequent slump in fertility that comes with economic distress. Fewer people start families when their jobs are at risk, as so many fear being unable to set up home." During the Great Depression in the 1930s the British did not replace their own numbers through births. Stories were published that the country would be depopulated by the end of the century. (33)
These scare stories worried David Cameron and during the 2010 General Election he promised to bring net migration below 100,000 a year. Of the three main political parties the one that had most strongly opposed immigration, the Conservatives, gained the most seats and formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Just two weeks into power the new government published an official document committing to the introduction of an actual limit on the number of non-EU migrants to be admitted into the UK to live and work. (34)
After his election the right-wing press put David Cameron under pressure to deliver his promise on net migration. This included the The Sun, who reported on 27th August, 2010, that "an extra 196,000 people flooded into Britain last year" and this was a "20 per cent increase on 2008". The article then went on to state that country was dangerously full and that the UK was the second most congested country in the European Union. (35)
The newspaper had got this information from a report published by the anti-immigration pressure group, Migration Watch. It claimed "England has a population density of over 3 times the EU average and second only to the Netherlands and Malta in the 25-nation EU... Congestion is therefore a much more significant factor in the UK than elsewhere and points to a very clear need for the UK to be able to limit immigration by controlling its own borders and having its own immigration policy." (36)
It is the UK that is in the European Union, not England. The UK actually appears in the Migration Watch below the Netherlands, Malta and Belgium. It is not only the Sun journalist who cannot read the chart that appears in the document. The man who wrote the report missed out Belgium. When this was pointed out to Nigel Farage he commented that "Belgium was not a country as far as he was concerned". (37)
Danny Dorling has argued: "Congestion means to be overfilled and overcrowded: jammed, clogged full. The extent to which a group of people might be suffering from congestion depends on their local population densities but also, and more importantly; on how well they have arranged their infrastructure to allow them to move about. It is possible to have a far greater population than can be found in Britain living at far greater local densities and suffering far less congestion. For example, Japan is home to twice the population of the UK, has far less flat land available but it also has a far superior transport system that in turn allows its populace greater ease of movement. Conversely, if you want to see people suffering terrible congestion despite having a huge amount of land then try driving at rush hour in Auckland in New Zealand, where there are only fourteen people per square kilometre, which makes New Zealand some twenty-five times less densely populated than Japan." (38)
The Optimum Population Trust agrees with Migration Watch. One of its patrons, Sir David Attenborough, states on its website: “All our environmental problems become easier to solve with fewer people, and harder - and ultimately impossible - to solve with ever more people.” In a report published in July 2010 it claimed that the United Kingdom was "overpopulated by forty-five million people" and advocated that couples should only have two children, that immigration should never exceed emigration, and that the population should be reduced by at least a quarter of a per cent per year." (39)
In reality, the UK only appears to be overcrowded and congested because of bad decisions made by politicians. For example, they have failed to invest enough in our transport system and have not built enough homes for its people. "The latest report from the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) on home ownership shows the number of young adults with a household after-tax income of between £22,200 and £30,600, owning their own home dropped from 65% in 1995 to 27% in 2016. During the period under study (1995-2016) house prices on average have increased by 152%. Their wages, however, have increased by only 22%, while GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita has increased by 47%.... Currently households are typically spending over 30% of their after-tax income on rents. Even with this expenditure they are likely to be living in overcrowded and smaller places than their parents." (40)
David Cameron went into the 2015 General Election with net migration to the UK three times as high as he promised at the 2010 election. In February, 2015, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) "announced a net flow of 298,000 migrants to the UK in the 12 months to last September – up from 210,000 in the previous year, and equal to the population of a city like Nottingham. The sharp increase was driven by a 'statistically significant' rise in immigrants arriving in the country – up to 624,000 in the year to September from 530,000 in the previous 12 months. Around 327,000 people emigrated in the same period. The final set of such statistics before the May election showed significant increases in migration among both non-EU citizens – up 49,000 to 292,000 – and EU citizens, which rose by 43,000 to 251,000." (41)
When she became prime minister, in July, 2016, Theresa May, stated she was "absolutely committed" to Cameron's target to bring net migration below 100,000 a year. She maintained this position during the 2017 General Election. However, it did not seem to win her many votes as she suffered a net loss of 13 seats with 42.4% of the vote, whilst Labour made a net gain of 30 seats with 40.0% (their highest share of the vote since 2001).
Unemployment has been falling in the UK since the 1990s. There was a slight increase during the banking crisis but in March 2018, figures were released that showed the unemployment rate in the UK stood at a 42-year low of 4.2 percent. (42) The problem today is not unemployment but low wages. This is again blamed on the free movement of labour. Of course, it is partly responsible for the lower wages. (43) That is why employers are always in favour of immigration as it keeps down their labour costs. As Toby Perkins pointed out: "Increasingly, people in poverty are also in work. Under this Government, work alone no longer pays enough to allow people the dignity of being able to feed their family". (44)
The latest research reveals that a record 60% of British people in poverty live in a household where someone is in work, with the risk of falling into financial hardship especially high for families in private rented housing. Although successive governments have maintained that work is the best route out of poverty, the study says the risk of poverty for adults in working families grew by a quarter over the past decade. Rod Hick, a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy at Cardiff University, who led the research team, has insisted: "The rise of in-work poverty should be tackled through three main policies, the report says: greater provision of free and affordable childcare to enable both adults in a household to work; a reversal of cuts to tax credits and universal credit; and action to tackle high rents in the private rented housing sector." (45)
This problem of low pay has not been helped by the proliferation of recruitment agencies that recruit solely from eastern Europe. Faiza Shaheen, the director of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies, carried out research into this issue: "At one agency, a lead recruiter was candid about the way in which the agency focused on recruiting only Polish and eastern European workers. This, she said, was in response to business demands for workers with 'a stronger work ethic'. When pushed further, she admitted that Polish workers were less likely to demand higher wages and to know the rights temporary workers were entitled to. When I spoke to local people, they were all too aware that agencies were not taking them on, and were justifiably angry. At the time I couldn’t foresee how much such outcomes – which are due to lack of employment safeguards, rather than immigration per se – would fuel anti-immigration sentiments in the years to come." (46)
This is not a recent problem. At a conference of the International Workingmen’s Association in Lausanne in July, 1867, Karl Marx argued: "The power of the human individual has disappeared before the power of capital, in the factory the worker is now nothing but a cog in the machine. In order to recover his individuality, the worker has had to unite together with others and create associations to defend his wages and his life. Until today these associations had remained purely local, while the power of capital, thanks to new industrial inventions, is increasing day by day; furthermore in many cases national associations have become powerless: a study of the struggle waged by the English working class reveals that, in order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labour force. Given this state of affairs, if the working class wishes to continue its struggle with some chance of success, the national organisations must become international." (47)
Len McCluskey has pointed out that working-class interpretations of the free movement of labour has had a significant impact on the political consciousness of trade unionists. "I can reveal that as long ago as 2009 Unite private surveys of membership opinion were showing that even then our members were more concerned about immigration than any other political issue." He believes that there "is no doubt that concerns about the impact of the free movement of Labour in Europe played a large part in the referendum result, particularly in working-class communities. And we are also, I would argue, past the point where working people can be convinced that the free movement of labour has worked for them, their families, their industries and their communities."
This has caused real problems for trade union officials: "Anyone who has had to negotiate for workers, in manufacturing in particular, knows the huge difficulties that have been caused by the ability of capital to move production around the world – often to China and the Far East or Eastern Europe – in search of far lower labour costs and higher profits. Likewise, the elite’s use of immigration to this country is not motivated by a love of diversity or a devotion to multiculturalism. It is instead all part of the flexible labour market model, ensuring a plentiful supply of cheap labour here for those jobs that can’t be exported elsewhere."
McCluskey goes on to point out: "Argument that wage rates are not affected does not stand up to scrutiny either. Put simply, if all you have to sell is your capacity to work, then its value is going to be affected by an influx of people willing to work for less money and put up with a lower standard of living because it nevertheless improves their own lives. Supply and demand affects the sale of labour too, pitting worker against worker... And unions here need to unite with trade unions in other countries to end to the playing off of workers in one part of the world against each other, to oppose the power of global capital with the power of a renewed international labour movement. The problem is not cheap labour in Britain – it’s cheap labour anywhere." (48)
Immigration has little impact on the wages of most workers. However, a number of studies have found there is a negative effect of migration on the wages of low-skilled workers - those with whom migrants compete most directly. "Research published last year by Sir Stephen Nickell of the Office for Budget Responsibility suggested there was a small negative effect of migration on the wages of locals in the semi-skilled and unskilled service sector - such as care workers, shop assistants, restaurant and bar workers." (49)
A far more important reason for falling wages is the government's economic policies. The Resolution Foundation carried out a study of Philip Hammond’s 2017 budget and claimed that the measures taken would result in the longest fall in living standards since records began in the 1950s. It also found the poorest third are set for an average loss of £715 a year over the coming five years, while the richest third stand to gain £185 on average. (50)
Aditya Chakrabortty has pointed out it is Conservative Party politicians and their friends in the media industry who have blamed migrants for the misery caused by "the government’s own drastic spending cuts – for a buckling NHS, a cash-starved school system and falling wages". Most migrants that come into the country are young, educated at someone else’s expense and here to work. (51)
Research published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that immigrants are much less likely to be on benefits or in social housing than their UK-born counterparts. "Immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004 and who have at least one year of residence, and are therefore legally eligible to claim benefits, are 59 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits and 57 per cent less likely to live in social housing." (52)
Migrants pay billions more in taxes to Britain than they take out in public spending. Far from squeezing hospitals and schools, they subsidise and even staff them. Without these immigrants the National Health Services. Immigrants and the offspring of immigrants make up a vastly disproportionate share of the staff of the NHS. For example, according to a report from the Runnymede Trust, there are more nurses from Malawi working in Manchester than in all of Malawi. This has had a serious impact on the health of the people in that country. (53)
Malawi's one and only medical school was established in 1991. At first this led to an increase in the numbers of doctors in the country. However, a 2007 study which followed up the college's first 250 graduates found that two-fifths had left the country and there was a "severe shortage of doctors". The World Health Organization estimates there is just one doctor for every 40,000 people in Malawi, and that compares to one per 400 in the UK. This has a predictable effect on Malawian healthcare, where 110 children in every 1,000 born will die before the age of five, compared with six per 1,000 in the UK. In the short-term it is cheaper for the government to bring in doctors and nurses from underdeveloped countries, who have paid for the training. This is not only immoral it will also cause long-term problems for our own economy. (54)
Cameron's government clearly thought that it was a vote winner to appear to be against immigration. In the 2014 Immigration Act, ministers set out to introduce what then home secretary Theresa May described as a “hostile environment” for those in the UK unlawfully. The approach was designed to deny illegal immigrants access to work, accommodation and vital services in anticipation this would encourage individuals to leave the country voluntarily. For example, the act makes provision to prevent private landlords from renting houses to people without legal status, to prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining driving licenses and bank accounts.
When it was debated in the House of Commons, some Labour MPs, warned against some of the dangers of this legislation as it would increase the powers of Immigration Enforcement Officers, who would now have the power to carry out of invasive checks and searches of anyone deemed to be a foreigner. (55) Diane Abbott asked Theresa May whether she had considered "the effect that her measures that are designed to crack down on illegal immigrants could have on people who are British nationals, but appear as if they might be immigrants?" (56)
Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party at the time, believing that the electorate shared the government's hostility to migrants, ordered his MPs to abstain when the vote was taken. Six Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner, David Lammy, Mark Lazarowicz and Fiona Mactaggart, rebelled and voted against the measure. (57)
During the 2016 EU referendum debate immigration became one of the most important issues. The Centre for the Study of Media Communication and Power at King’s College, carried out research into the way the media dealt with this subject. It analysed almost 15,000 articles published online during this period by 20 news outlets, including the BBC and all the national papers. Researchers found immigration to be the most prominent issue in the 10 weeks running up to the vote, leading 99 front pages. Of those, more than three-quarters were from the four most virulently leave newspapers: The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun.
"Coverage of immigration more than tripled over the course of the campaign, rising faster than any other political issue. Immigration was the most prominent referendum issue, based on the number of times it led newspaper print front pages (there were 99 front pages about immigration, 82 about the economy). Coverage of the effects of immigration was overwhelmingly negative. Migrants were blamed for many of Britain’s economic and social problems - most notably for putting unsustainable pressure on public services. Specific nationalities were singled out for particularly negative coverage – especially Turks and Albanians, but also Romanians and Poles. The majority of negative coverage of specific foreign nationals was published by three news sites: the Express, the Daily Mail, and the Sun." (58)
It soon became clear that there were some serious problems with the 2014 Immigration Act. The government had given the contract for removing illegal immigrants to the private company, Capita. The Home Office received repeated warnings that a large number of people who had arrived in the UK as a result of the 1948 British Nationality Act (known as the Windrush Generation) were wrongly being accused of being illegal immigrants by Capita. Some people were sent text messages stating: “Our records show you may not have leave to remain in the UK”. Arten Llazari, the chief executive, of Refugee and Migrant Centre (RMC) said: “The Capita contract effectively outsourced part of the creation of the hostile environment to the private sector. In the process many vulnerable citizens, mostly of Caribbean descent, were harassed and repeatedly threatened with deportation. Charities and concerned MPs have been highlighting what is now known as the Windrush scandal to the Home Office to no avail.” (59)
The BBC reported that Downing Street, the Home Office and the Foreign Office were told about problems faced by the Windrush generation by the Barbados government as early as 2016. It was pointed out that "migrants from Commonwealth Caribbean countries who settled in the UK from the late 1940s to the 1970s had been declared illegal immigrants if they could not provide a range of documentation proving they had lived in the UK continuously. Some have been threatened with deportation, lost their jobs or been refused access to medical treatment." However, the government did nothing about it and when asked in the House of Commons about this problem. (60)
Amelia Gentleman, of the Guardian newspaper, began investigating the issue in October, 2017. She was told by The Migration Observatory that up to 57,000 people were potentially vulnerable because although they arrived from Commonwealth countries before 1971, they had never applied for a British passport or been naturalised. This included 15,000 from Jamaica, 13,000 from India, and the other 29,000 from countries such as Pakistan, Kenya, and South Africa. (61)
Gentleman later recalled: "For a long time it was incredibly frustrating because the Guardian was publishing interviews I’d done with people whose lives had been ruined by this situation and no one in government seemed to care very much. It was only when the Barbados high commissioner revealed that at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting that the story became huge. We put that on the front page, and then reported David Lammy’s outraged letter to the government signed by 140 cross-party MPs, and within 24 hours Amber Rudd (15th April, 2018) was apologising for the 'appalling' behaviour of her own department." (62)
The crises deepened when on 14th May, the new home secretary, Sajid Javid, admitted to the home affairs select committee that the Home Office had identified 63 possible Windrush cases of wrongful removal and warned the number could rise. "Officials identified the cases after trawling through 8,000 removal and deportation records for Caribbean nationals aged 45 or over, who could have benefited from provisions in the 1971 Immigration Act protecting their right to be in the UK." (63)
George Eaton, writing in the New Statesman, has claimed that "the Windrush scandal has achieved the rare feat of uniting the Labour Party and the Daily Mail in outrage. Indeed, regardless of their stance on immigration, seemingly all now agree that the Home Office’s harassment of long-standing residents was shameful." Eaton goes on to argue that "though the public and MPs may favour draconian controls in theory, they often baulk at their practical consequences". (64)
Eton points out that polling has long shown that voters are sceptical of "immigration" as an abstract but are far more sympathetic to migrant groups. For instance, a study by British Future found that the public wanted numbers of the following groups to "increase or stay the same": scientists and researchers (86 per cent), doctors and nurses (85 per cent), engineers (83 per cent), IT specialists (77 per cent), care workers (75 per cent), construction workers (63 per cent), fruit pickers (63 per cent), and waiters and bartenders (52 per cent). In other words, "when immigration is given a human form, support for it increases". (65)
People are clearly less hostile to the idea of immigration when people consider the impact on the individual but does it change their irrational approach to the subject. According to YouGov the Windrush Scandal has had little impact on people's views on immigration: "Overall public opinion towards immigration remains negative: 63% of people think that immigration into Britain in the last ten years has been too high and by 32% to 24% they think it has been mostly bad for the country. While hostility to immigration has softened a little since 2016, the changes are comparatively small - the proportion thinking the number of people coming to the UK s too high is down seven points from 70% to 63%, while the proportion thinking it is bad for Britain has barely changed at all."
Nearly two thirds (64%) of those questioned thought the government have handled the Windrush issue badly. "However, the approach that has led to such problems for the Windrush generation – the policy often described as the 'hostile environment'– still has overwhelming public support. In principle, seven in ten (71%) support a policy of requiring people to show documents proving their right to be in Britain in order to do things such as taking up employment, renting a flat, or opening a bank account." (66)
One of the most disturbing facts of the recent Windrush Scandal is that in the week following it became headline news, Theresa May's poll-ratings went up and the Conservative Party obtained their largest lead since the 2017 General Election. (67) Within days of complaining about the way that the government had treated the Windrush Generation, The Daily Mail was condemning the Labour Party for being soft on illegal immigration. (68)
This was followed by another article which accused the Labour Party "of running up the white flag on immigration". This is because "Diane Abbott said she would close two main detention centres, axe migration targets and force officials to prove suspects were in Britain without permission. The shadow home secretary also vowed to scrap the requirement for bosses and landlords to carry out checks on a worker or tenant’s right to be in the country." The newspaper then attempted to persuade its readers that illegal immigration and immigration are the same thing by quoting the Conservative Party MP, Andrew Bridgen as saying: "Diane Abbott has confirmed what we already know – that Labour will have an open-door policy where anybody who wishes to come to our country can do so." It is going to be very difficult to have a rational immigration policy when you have this kind of reporting on the debate we need to have on this subject. (69)
(1) The Economist (5th August, 2017)
(2) The Financial Times (17th January, 2018)
(3) The Observer (19th May, 2018)
(4) Danny Dorling, So You Think You Know About Britain (2011) pages 94 and 110
(5) John Bew, Citizen Clem (2018) page 452
(6) Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (2013) page 261
(7) Letter sent to Clement Attlee by 11 Labour Party MPs (22nd June, 1948)
(8) Clement Attlee, letter to 11 Labour Party MPs (5th July, 1948)
(9) James Denman and Paul MacDonald, Unemployment Statistics from 1881 to the Present Day, Labour Market Trends (January 1996)
(10) Hugh Gaitskell, speech in the House of Commons (16th November, 1961)
(11) Vicki Power, Daily Telegraph (12th November, 2010)
(12) Stephanie Snow and Emma Coleman-Jones, Immigration and the National Health Service (8th March 2011)
(13) Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain: A New History of the Labour Party (2010) page 332
(14) Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian (15th October, 2014)
(15) Harold Wilson, The Labour Government 1964-1970 (1971) page 55
(16) Enoch Powell, speech in Birmingham (20th April, 1968)
(17) The Times (22nd April, 1968)
(18) Robert Shepherd, Enoch Powell (1998) page 352
(19) Simon Heffer, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell (1999) page 461
(20) David Butler and Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, British General Election of 1970 (1971) pages 159–160
(21) Simon Heffer, Like the Roman: The Life of Enoch Powell (1999) page 468
(22) Danny Dorling, So You Think You Know About Britain (2011) page 94
(23) Margaret Thatcher, television interview (27th January, 1978)
(24) Bernard Levin, The Times (14th February, 1978)
(25) David Olusoga, Black and British: A Forgotten History (2016) page 515
(26) Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain (2013) page 307
(27) James Denman and Paul MacDonald, Unemployment Statistics from 1881 to the Present Day, Labour Market Trends (January 1996)
(28) The Observer (26th August, 2001)
(29) Danny Dorling, So You Think You Know About Britain (2011) page 114
(30) The Times (24th May, 2009)
(31) The Daily Mail (21st April 2010)
(32) BBC News Report (13th July 2010)
(33) Danny Dorling, So You Think You Know About Britain (2011) pages 106-110
(34) David Cameron, Programme of Government (20th May, 2010)
(35) The Sun (27th August, 2010)
(36) Migration Watch, Population Densities of the EU Member States (May, 2010)
(37) BBC News (26th February, 2010)
(38) Danny Dorling, So You Think You Know About Britain (2011) page 74
(39) Optimum Population Trust, news release (8th July, 2010)
(40) The Huffington Post (23rd February, 2018)
(41) Andrew Grice, The Independent (26th February 2015)
(42) Andrew Grice, The Independent (21st June, 2017)
(43) Rajeev Syal, The Guardian (1st January, 2014)
(44) Toby Perkins, speech in the House of Commons (25th June, 2015)
(45) Patrick Butler, The Guardian (22nd May 2017)
(46) Faiza Shaheen, The Guardian (16th November, 2016)
(47) Karl Marx, speech at the International Workingmen’s Association conference in Lausanne (July, 1867)
(48) Len McCluskey, speech (11th October, 2016)
(49) The Financial Times (12th May, 2016)
(50) The Guardian (23rd November, 2017)
(51) Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian (17th May, 2018)
(52) Christian Dustmann, Tommaso Frattini and Caroline Halls, Assessing the Fiscal Costs and Benefits of A8 Migration to the UK (2010)
(53) Danny Dorling, So You Think You Know About Britain (2011) page 116
(54) BBC News (15th January, 2012)
(55) William J Richardson, Evolve Politics (18th April 2018)
(56) Diane Abbott, House of Commons (30th January, 2014)
(57) Florence Snead, Windrush: How Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May and other MPs voted on the Immigration Act 2014 (19th April, 2018)
(58) Martin Moore and Gordon Ramsay, UK media coverage of the 2016 EU Referendum campaign (May 2017) pages 8-9
(59) Arten Llazari, The Guardian (8th May, 2018)
(60) BBC News (25th April, 2018)
(61) BBC News (18th April, 2018)
(62) Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian (20th April, 2018)
(63) The Guardian (14th May, 2018)
(64) George Eaton, The New Statesman (23rd April, 2018)
(65) Sunder Katwada, Jill Rutter and Steve Ballinger, Time to get it right: Finding consensus on Britain’s future immigration policy (September, 2017)
(66) YouGov Report (27th April, 2018)
(67) Opinium Political Polling (May, 2018)
(68) James Tapsfield, The Daily Mail (30th April, 2018)
(69) The Daily Mail (17th May, 2018)
Why the decline in newspaper readership is good for democracy (18th April, 2018)
Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (12th April, 2018)
George Osborne and the British Passport (24th March, 2018)
Boris Johnson and the 1936 Berlin Olympics (22nd March, 2018)
Donald Trump and the History of Tariffs in the United States (12th March, 2018)
Karen Horney: The Founder of Modern Feminism? (1st March, 2018)
The long record of The Daily Mail printing hate stories (19th February, 2018)
John Maynard Keynes, the Daily Mail and the Treaty of Versailles (25th January, 2018)
20 year anniversary of the website (2nd September, 2017)
The Hidden History of Ruskin College (17th August, 2017)
Underground child labour in the coal mining industry did not come to an end in 1842 (2nd August, 2017)
Raymond Asquith, killed in a war declared by his father (28th June, 2017)
History shows since it was established in 1896 the Daily Mail has been wrong about virtually every political issue. (4th June, 2017)
The House of Lords needs to be replaced with a House of the People (7th May, 2017)
100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Caroline Norton (28th March, 2017)
100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Mary Wollstonecraft (20th March, 2017)
100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Anne Knight (23rd February, 2017)
100 Greatest Britons Candidate: Elizabeth Heyrick (12th January, 2017)
100 Greatest Britons: Where are the Women? (28th December, 2016)
The Death of Liberalism: Charles and George Trevelyan (19th December, 2016)
Donald Trump and the Crisis in Capitalism (18th November, 2016)
Victor Grayson and the most surprising by-election result in British history (8th October, 2016)
Left-wing pressure groups in the Labour Party (25th September, 2016)
The Peasant's Revolt and the end of Feudalism (3rd September, 2016)
Leon Trotsky and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party (15th August, 2016)
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of England (7th August, 2016)
The Media and Jeremy Corbyn (25th July, 2016)
Rupert Murdoch appoints a new prime minister (12th July, 2016)
George Orwell would have voted to leave the European Union (22nd June, 2016)
Is the European Union like the Roman Empire? (11th June, 2016)
Is it possible to be an objective history teacher? (18th May, 2016)
Women Levellers: The Campaign for Equality in the 1640s (12th May, 2016)
The Reichstag Fire was not a Nazi Conspiracy: Historians Interpreting the Past (12th April, 2016)
Why did Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst join the Conservative Party? (23rd March, 2016)
Mikhail Koltsov and Boris Efimov - Political Idealism and Survival (3rd March, 2016)
Right-wing infiltration of the BBC (1st February, 2016)
Bert Trautmann, a committed Nazi who became a British hero (13th January, 2016)
Frank Foley, a Christian worth remembering at Christmas (24th December, 2015)
How did governments react to the Jewish Migration Crisis in December, 1938? (17th December, 2015)
Does going to war help the careers of politicians? (2nd December, 2015)
Art and Politics: The Work of John Heartfield (18th November, 2015)
The People we should be remembering on Remembrance Sunday (7th November, 2015)
Why Suffragette is a reactionary movie (21st October, 2015)
Volkswagen and Nazi Germany (1st October, 2015)
David Cameron's Trade Union Act and fascism in Europe (23rd September, 2015)
The problems of appearing in a BBC documentary (17th September, 2015)
Mary Tudor, the first Queen of England (12th September, 2015)
Jeremy Corbyn, the new Harold Wilson? (5th September, 2015)
Anne Boleyn in the history classroom (29th August, 2015)
Why the BBC and the Daily Mail ran a false story on anti-fascist campaigner, Cedric Belfrage (22nd August, 2015)
Women and Politics during the Reign of Henry VIII (14th July, 2015)
The Politics of Austerity (16th June, 2015)
Was Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, murdered? (31st May, 2015)
The long history of the Daily Mail campaigning against the interests of working people (7th May, 2015)
Nigel Farage would have been hung, drawn and quartered if he lived during the reign of Henry VIII (5th May, 2015)
Was social mobility greater under Henry VIII than it is under David Cameron? (29th April, 2015)
Why it is important to study the life and death of Margaret Cheyney in the history classroom (15th April, 2015)
Is Sir Thomas More one of the 10 worst Britons in History? (6th March, 2015)
Was Henry VIII as bad as Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin? (12th February, 2015)
The History of Freedom of Speech (13th January, 2015)
The Christmas Truce Football Game in 1914 (24th December, 2014)
The Anglocentric and Sexist misrepresentation of historical facts in The Imitation Game (2nd December, 2014)
The Secret Files of James Jesus Angleton (12th November, 2014)
Ben Bradlee and the Death of Mary Pinchot Meyer (29th October, 2014)
Yuri Nosenko and the Warren Report (15th October, 2014)
The KGB and Martin Luther King (2nd October, 2014)
The Death of Tomás Harris (24th September, 2014)
Simulations in the Classroom (1st September, 2014)
The KGB and the JFK Assassination (21st August, 2014)
West Ham United and the First World War (4th August, 2014)
The First World War and the War Propaganda Bureau (28th July, 2014)
Interpretations in History (8th July, 2014)
Alger Hiss was not framed by the FBI (17th June, 2014)
Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: Part 2 (14th June, 2014)
Google, Bing and Operation Mockingbird: The CIA and Search-Engine Results (10th June, 2014)
The Student as Teacher (7th June, 2014)
Is Wikipedia under the control of political extremists? (23rd May, 2014)
Why MI5 did not want you to know about Ernest Holloway Oldham (6th May, 2014)
The Strange Death of Lev Sedov (16th April, 2014)
Why we will never discover who killed John F. Kennedy (27th March, 2014)
The KGB planned to groom Michael Straight to become President of the United States (20th March, 2014)
The Allied Plot to Kill Lenin (7th March, 2014)
Was Rasputin murdered by MI6? (24th February 2014)
Winston Churchill and Chemical Weapons (11th February, 2014)
Pete Seeger and the Media (1st February 2014)
Should history teachers use Blackadder in the classroom? (15th January 2014)
Why did the intelligence services murder Dr. Stephen Ward? (8th January 2014)
Solomon Northup and 12 Years a Slave (4th January 2014)
The Angel of Auschwitz (6th December 2013)
The Death of John F. Kennedy (23rd November 2013)
Adolf Hitler and Women (22nd November 2013)
New Evidence in the Geli Raubal Case (10th November 2013)
Murder Cases in the Classroom (6th November 2013)
Major Truman Smith and the Funding of Adolf Hitler (4th November 2013)
Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler (30th October 2013)
Claud Cockburn and his fight against Appeasement (26th October 2013)
The Strange Case of William Wiseman (21st October 2013)
Robert Vansittart's Spy Network (17th October 2013)
British Newspaper Reporting of Appeasement and Nazi Germany (14th October 2013)
Paul Dacre, The Daily Mail and Fascism (12th October 2013)
Wallis Simpson and Nazi Germany (11th October 2013)
The Activities of MI5 (9th October 2013)
The Right Club and the Second World War (6th October 2013)
What did Paul Dacre's father do in the war? (4th October 2013)
Ralph Miliband and Lord Rothermere (2nd October 2013)
How Immigration Became So Controversial
Does the hot-button issue of 2018 really split the country? Or just the Republican Party?
Immigration seems to be the most prominent wedge issue in America. Senate Republicans and Democrats shut down the federal government over the treatment of immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, also known as Dreamers. In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump referred to U.S. immigration law as a “broken” system one party clapped, the other scowled. This polarized reaction reflects a widening divide among voters, as Democrats are now twice as likely as Republicans to say immigrants strengthen the country.
These stories and others might make it seem like most Americans are anxious about the deleterious effects of immigration on America’s economy and culture. But along several dimensions, immigration has never been more popular in the history of public polling:
The share of Americans calling for lower levels of immigration has fallen from a high of 65 percent in the mid-1990s to just 35 percent, near its record low.
A 2017 Gallup poll found that fears that immigrants bring crime, take jobs from native-born families, or damage the budget and overall economy are all at all-time lows.
In the same poll, the percentage of Americans saying immigrants “mostly help” the economy reached its highest point since Gallup began asking the question in 1993.
A Pew Research poll asking if immigrants “strengthen [the] country with their hard work and talents” similarly found affirmative responses at an all-time high.
But immigration is not a monolithic issue there is no one immigration question. There are more like three: How should the United States treat illegal immigrants, especially those brought to the country as children? Should overall immigration levels be reduced, increased, or neither? And how should the U.S. prioritize the various groups—refugees, family members, economic migrants, and skilled workers among them—seeking entry to the country? It’s possible that most voters don’t disentangle the issues this specifically, and don’t think too much about the answers to each question. After all, immigration ranks quite low on Americans’ policy priorities—it’s behind the deficit and tied with the influence of lobbyists—which makes responses shift along with the positions of presidential candidates, political rhetoric, or polling language. (You might, for example, get very different answers to questions emphasizing “law and order” versus the general value of “diversity.”)
On the most important immigration question—the “levels” question—it doesn’t seem quite right to say the issue of immigration divides America. It more clearly divides Republicans—both from the rest of the country, and from one another. Immigration isolates a nativist faction of the right in a country that is, overall, growing more tolerant of diversity. January’s government shutdown is a perfect example. Nearly 90 percent of Americans favor legal protections for Dreamers, but the GOP’s refusal to extend those protections outside of a larger deal led to the shutdown of the federal government, anyway.
What’s more, immigration pits Republicans against Republicans. On one side are the hard-line restrictionists, like White House aide Stephen Miller and—depending on the time and day—Donald Trump. This group favors a wall, rising arrests and deportations for undocumented workers, and a permanent cut in the number of immigrants that can enter the U.S., particularly (if you heed the president’s scatological commentary) from Latino or majority-black countries. Nativism runs deep among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Three-quarters of them say “building the wall” should be the highest priority of his presidency, while a majority of Americans say it shouldn’t be a priority at all.
But there is another side of the party, epitomized by its reliably pro-immigration donor class. In 2016, the Chamber of Commerce, a bastion of Reaganite conservatism, released a report concluding that immigrants “significantly benefit the U.S. economy by creating new jobs and complementing the skills of the U.S. native workforce.” The Koch Brothers and their influential political group Americans For Prosperity loudly decried Trump’s immigration plans back in 2015. It wasn’t so long ago that this wing seemed to be the future of the party. The GOP’s “post-mortem” report on the 2012 election stated plainly, “We must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform,” and the presidential candidates with the most donor support in the 2016 election were Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both of whom have supported high levels of immigration with something like amnesty for undocumented workers.
This tension within the Republican Party could be summarized as “ICE versus Inc.” In early January, federal agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raided nearly 100 7-Eleven stores across the country and made almost two dozen arrests. Along with the wall, these agent arrests, up more than 40 percent under Trump, are the clearest manifestation of the administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. But the Koch brothers, motivated by an interest in expanding the GOP coalition and providing corporations with cheap labor, have funded initiatives to attract Latino votes by helping undocumented workers with tax preparation, driver’s tests, and doctor’s visits. The modern GOP is an awkward political arrangement, in which pro-immigration corporate libertarians are subsidizing a virulent anti-immigrant movement.
The immigration issue was never easy. But it hasn’t always been this confusing.
For much of the 1990s, the two parties were essentially in lockstep on the issue of immigration. In 2005, Democratic and Republican voters were 5 percentage points apart in their favorability toward immigrants, according to Pew Research Center. But in the last 13 years, attitudes toward immigrants have forked dramatically between the two parties. Today, eight in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters say immigrants strengthen the country, twice the share of Republicans.
What happened in the mid-2000s to cleave the bipartisan consensus? In 2006, President George W. Bush pushed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that failed in Congress. While the Senate draft created a path to legalize unauthorized immigrants, the House legislation emphasized border security and punishment for undocumented workers and their employers. The latter bill inspired a round of pro-naturalization protests across the country, which, in turn, caused a backlash among conservative voters. By the end of this maelstrom of bills and backlashes, comprehensive reform had failed and the parties had sharply split on the immigration issue. The latter is evident in the polling, which shows 2006 as the year when Democrats and Republicans split dramatically.
This split intensified under Obama, the 2016 presidential campaign, and Donald Trump’s presidency. After the Great Recession, white men without a college degree sharply soured on America’s future, and in polls conducted by Kellyanne Conway’s firm in 2014, many explicitly blamed illegal immigration for their economic plight, despite uneven evidence. Donald Trump harnessed this resentment of less educated whites from the start, using his first speech as a presidential candidate to accuse illegal immigrants of importing crime, drugs, and sexual assault.
But the above graph shows, it’s also the case that the Democratic Party has become much more accepting of immigrants—some might say even radically accepting, compared with recent history. There are several possible reasons. As the Hispanic population grew in the 2000s, labor unions that once feared the effect of cheap labor on their bargaining power came to see the naturalization of undocumented workers as a necessary step forward for labor relations. Meanwhile, as Hispanics became the fastest-growing ethnicity within the Democratic Party, Hispanic leaders lobbied for more pro-immigrant policies. Finally, as The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart has written, left-leaning tech leaders have pushed for expanding H-1B visas to let more high-skilled immigrants into the economy.
It’s possible that Democratic unity on immigration is just a proxy for unified opposition to Trump and that, in power, the party would face similar internecine fights over how to legislate on immigration. But this would be unfortunate, because the case for high levels of immigration remains quite strong.
The most common economic arguments against immigrants, particularly those that are low-skilled workers, are two-fold. First, there is the concern that new arrivals pull down wages for the low-income Americans with whom they compete. The evidence here is mixed and controversial, but a 2008 meta-analysis of more than 100 papers studying the effect of immigration on native-born wage growth characterized the impact on wages as “very small” and “more than half of the time statistically insignificant.” Second, there is a concern that immigrants are a drain on federal resources. It’s true that the first generation of low-skilled adults can receive more in health care, income support, and retirement benefits than they pay in taxes. But as their children grow up, find jobs, and pay taxes themselves, most immigrant families wind up being net contributors to the government over their decades-long residence in the U.S., according to a 2016 report from the National Academy of Sciences.
Too often lost in this discussion of wage and budget effect is the question of whether a rich country has a moral obligation to help poor families—particularly those in political distress—by admitting them as legal immigrants. The single most unambiguous, most uncontroversial fact about immigration is that it raises the living standards of poorer foreign-born workers. It is, essentially, the world’s most effective foreign-aid program on a per capita basis. But, more than mere charity, high levels of immigration seem to materially benefit the United States. America’s immigrant population is in many ways a model of the future of the country—more entrepreneurial, more likely to move toward opportunity, and all together more dynamic. To regard this community as something the United States should banish from the body politic is to mistake a vital organ for a cancer.
I have written that the current demographic and political makeup of the U.S. electorate (and other countries) makes it vulnerable to a race-baiting populist like Donald Trump, who can marshal the latent tribalism of a fading white majority to harass immigrants. But the United States’ demographic picture is changing quickly. The generation of Americans under 30 are the most diverse cohort in the U.S., the most fervently against the construction of any wall, and the most accepting of immigrants, even those that don’t speak fluent English.
The majority of children born in 2015 were non-white. That means even if the GOP hardliners managed to permanently end immigration this weekend, the United States’ white majority would decline into one of many non-majority pluralities within a few decades, anyway. No matter whether the future of the Republican Party is Stephen Miller or the Koch Brothers, multiracial nationalism is the future of the United States. No other nation is on the way. There is no other future to unite around.
Barbershop: History Of Immigration Politics
NPR's Michel Martin talks with Rutgers University labor professor Janice Fine, the Center for Immigration Studies' Jessica Vaughan and NPR's John Burnett about how U.S. immigration policies have evolved.
There's another big story that dominated the news this week we wanted to revisit. Congress has been unable to come to an immigration deal that would settle the status of the hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. The clock is ticking because President Trump canceled the Obama-era executive order providing temporary legal status for these young people, often called Dreamers. That order expires March 5, after which Dreamers could technically face deportation. The president left it up to Congress to come up with a solution.
We wanted to look a bit more deeply at this, so we're taking it to the Barbershop. That's where we talk to interesting people about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Joining us today are Janice Fine - she is a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University. She writes about the history of the labor movement and its evolving position on immigration. She's at our studios in New York City.
Professor Fine, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
MARTIN: Also with us - Jessica Vaughan. She's director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. That's a group that favors less immigration. She's with us from Massachusetts. Thank you so much for being with us.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: Glad to be with you.
MARTIN: And our very own John Burnett, who covers immigration for NPR. He joins us from Dallas. Hi, John.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.
MARTIN: So one of the things we want to try to understand is that - how each side became so entrenched politically, with Republicans generally lining up in favor of more restrictions on immigration and Democrats generally on the other side. Because it wasn't always this way. I mean, decades ago, Democrats and the labor movement in particular tended to favor restricting immigration.
Like, earlier this week, for example, when we were starting to think about this, I called retired Cornell University professor Vernon Briggs. Now, he's a lifelong Democrat, and he's well known among immigration policy circles as one of the foremost scholars - scholarly voices pushing for tighter immigration restrictions. And he says this is for economic reasons.
VERNON BRIGGS: The time that immigration became regulated in the United States, which was the end of the 19th century, labor movement recognized early on that the mass immigration that the country was experiencing at the time affects the labor market - workers' unemployment rates and wage rates. And so it's - no matter what - how people come in the United States as immigrants, they must work - all of them - or be supported by those that do. There are maybe other reasons for having immigration policy, but fundamentally, it's a labor policy, and that's what should be the grounding of the public policy.
MARTIN: So let me go to you first, Professor Fine. The polls all show - recent polls - that Democrats generally have a much more favorable view of immigration, and the labor movement, at least at the leadership level, does too. Or they're silent about it. What's changed over time?
FINE: Thanks, Michel, for your question. Labor unions have reached the conclusion that immigrant workers get stuck in the worst jobs because they're forced to accept the worst conditions in exchange for an opportunity to work. Over the years, unions have concluded that heightened workplace immigration enforcement just made matters worse by terrifying workers, driving them further underground and making them too afraid to come forward when their wages are stolen and their rights are violated. So labor concluded that the solution was organizing robust labor law enforcement.
From labor's perspective, there's nothing inherent in a job that makes it good or bad. All jobs can be good jobs if the workers who do them have negotiating power, if businesses obey the law and labor laws are enforced. Labor history's full of examples of workers - laborers, garbage collectors, grave diggers, meatpackers, hospital orderlies and janitors, to name but a few - who have elevated their occupations through unionization. So there's nothing inevitable about bad jobs.
FINE: . And there's nothing that says that certain jobs in certain sectors have to be bad jobs. So they've concluded that the solution.
FINE: . Is to organize rather than exclude immigrant workers.
MARTIN: OK. And let's - and Ms. Vaughan, let me ask you about the other side of this. The Chamber of Commerce, which represents big business, then the politically active Koch brothers, for example, through their political group Americans for Prosperity, were criticizing Donald Trump's immigration ideas as far back as 2015. So what happened there? Like, how did the Republican Party become home to so many restrictionists?
VAUGHAN: Well, I think that's partly because they have picked up working-class voters who have been so disappointed by the Democratic Party's embrace of the interests of immigrants, including illegal immigrants, over the interests of American workers. And, you know, I've always found that this is not so much a traditional Democrat-Republican issue or even liberal-conservative, but this is - the schism here really is between elite groups in America and regular Americans.
And that's even true for the labor movement, too, where you find many of the rank-and-file labor union members are not so excited about mass immigration and would like to see it reduced because they see the impact on their profession, on their colleagues and so on - and on their own job opportunities, and especially their wages.
But it's elite groups that are out of touch with regular Americans who tend to favor more immigration, don't think current immigration levels are a problem. And that's because they're among the Americans who benefit the most from high levels of immigration. They're not in job competition with them.
They get certain - they get labor cheaper, but it's also contributing to wage inequality and making them better off at the expense of those Americans who for whatever reason haven't had a lot of education and are - their opportunities are limited, and they're in direct competition with immigrants who are coming into the country who, by and large, don't have a lot of education and are working in those same occupations.
MARTIN: Let me get John Burnett in here. John, I also want to talk about where the politics of this are at the very moment. And I wanted to start about one of the things that Congress has been really discussing this past week, which is family-based immigration, which opponents like President Trump call chain migration. He wants to end it. And, you know, what are the facts here?
BURNETT: Well, chain migration, which is also called family-based immigration, is one of the four pillars of Trump's big immigration overhaul. And it's really one of the bedrock principles of immigrant visas as a way to start a residency and citizenship here in this country. An immigrant who's living legally in the U.S. can sponsor different categories of loved ones overseas to come and join him or her - spouses are one, minor children - those are the ones that actually - in the president's plan, he said he would preserve those, so he wouldn't actually end family-based immigration.
BURNETT: He would restrict it. So the ones that would be cut off and are legal now - categories of parents, siblings, adult children. So let's say you're from Mexico, you want to bring your 20-year-old son here. You petition for them, you file an I-130. And then they have to qualify - they have to have enough - you know, enough money to come here, and, you know, and pass a security check. And so then they would wait in line. And in Mexico, it would take 20 years or longer. Some of these countries that are very - that have a lot of people that want - want them to immigrate here have a long wait. So.
MARTIN: John, can I just jump in really quickly and just ask you, you know, how this debate is playing out. Because there are those who see family migration - chain migration, if you will - as part of the reason that immigrants succeed in the United States - because the family members all help each other. Other people are making - not all of them, but you understand the argument. But other people are making the moral argument that it's just - that if the United States says it's pro-family, that we're not in the business of breaking up families. That - they see it as kind of a humanitarian issue. What are you hearing in the debate?
BURNETT: Well, that - it would really be a fundamental shift from family, who do have family here to help them get established, to more of a skills-based immigration approach, which they say would emulate more the model that Canada and Australia have. And this would be based on an immigrant's education level, their proficiency in English, their professional ability. But we really haven't heard any specifics about this - about, you know, what skills-based immigration would look like. All we're hearing about is they want to cut in half the number of legal immigrants that come. And they would restrict these these categories of these family members that are invited.
MARTIN: And I'm sorry we have so little time to conclude this. I mean, we only have about a minute and a half left. But if I could just have a brief comment from each of you - Jessica, what do you think? I mean, is this primarily a labor market debate at the moment, or is this primarily an issue around morality and values? How do you see it?
VAUGHAN: Well, it is fundamentally a debate about the labor market effects of immigration and what kind of an immigration policy makes sense for the United States of America right now. How are we better served by continuing to have more than half of legal immigration be chain migration, or should we shift to bringing in immigrants who have skills, who are chosen because of their skills and who will help move our economy in a modern direction?
MARTIN: And Janice Fine, can I have just a brief final thought from you? And again, I apologize for the brevity of the time.
FINE: Listen - the anxiety that American workers feel is real. Jobs are paying less and less in real wages. Hours are unreliable. There's little job security, and workplace accidents and unsafe working conditions are far too common, Michel. Older American workers are facing the most hostile labor market in decades. We all see this in our own families and communities, and people who should be respected for their decades of experience are being thrown away. It's shameful.
But unions know that undocumented immigrants are not what ails the U.S. labor market. Undocumented immigrants account for about.
FINE: . 5 percent of the workforce, and the vast majority of studies show they're having very little impact.
FINE: . On the employment prospects or wages of.
MARTIN: We have to leave it there for now. I thank you all so much.
MARTIN: . And we'll have you back and talk more about this.
MARTIN: That was Janice Fine, Jessica Vaughan.
MARTIN: . And NPR's John Burnett, who covers immigration. Thank you all so much.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR&rsquos programming is the audio record.
U.S. Postwar Immigration Policy
Immigration has been an important element of U.S. economic and cultural vitality since the country’s founding. This timeline outlines the evolution of U.S. immigration policy after World War II.
As the Cold War deepens, the U.S. government consolidates its immigration and naturalization laws into one comprehensive federal policy. The McCarran-Walter Act ends policies stemming from the late nineteenth century designed to exclude Asian immigrants. However, the bill upholds the ethnicity-based quota system for new immigrants that favored white Europeans, revising limitations to admit one-sixth of 1 percent of each group already in the United States. President Harry Truman vetoes the bill, citing discrimination against Asian immigrants and decrying the “absurdity, the cruelty of carrying over into this year of 1952 the isolationist limitations of our 1924 law.” Congress overrides him to pass it.
The postwar period causes a swell of illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico, with an estimated three million undocumented Mexicans in the country working mostly in agricultural jobs at significantly lower wages than what American workers receive. Under growing public pressure to act, the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Dwight D. Eisenhower enacts a nationwide sweep of undocumented Mexican immigrants in the southwestern United States. The sweep, officially termed “Operation Wetback,” authorizes 1,075 Border Patrol agents, along with local law enforcement, to target barrios in California, Arizona, and Texas.
Hungary’s failed revolt against Soviet control triggers an outpouring of refugees. The Eisenhower administration uses a provision in the McCarran-Walter immigration act authorizing the admission of aliens on a temporary basis under emergency conditions. Eisenhower employs parole powers—presidential authority to take unilateral action in emergencies—included in the immigration act to admit around thirty thousand Hungarian refugees. By 1960, more than two hundred thousand Hungarian immigrants are accepted into the country, and Eisenhower’s use of parole powers marks a precedent used in later decades to grant tens of thousands of refugees from around the world asylum in the United States.
Fidel Castro and his guerrilla forces overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba in January 1959 and set up a new communist order, resulting in a mass exodus of Cubans to the United States as political refugees. The first wave includes political supporters of Batista, as well as members of Cuba’s elite and middle class, who largely settle in Florida’s Miami-Dade County. The United States eventually enacts the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act to allow permanent resident status to Cuban refugees who arrive after 1959. About one million Cubans emigrate to the United States between 1959 and 1990.
Amid mounting pressure from labor activists and welfare organizations, the U.S. government lets its Mexican guest worker program expire after twenty-two years. The Bracero program, instituted in a bilateral agreement in 1942 amid anticipation of a labor shortage in World War II, gave contracts to Mexican workers to be employed in the U.S. agricultural sector. During its operation, about 4.5 million contracts were signed for workers to come to the United States. Although the program stipulates that braceros are entitled to certain provisions—including equal wages to native workers, free housing, affordable meals, and insurance—these rules are broken by many employers. Many of the farm workers are reported to receive a fraction of the wages of American laborers. Lee G. Williams, the last director of the program under the Department of Labor, refers to the system as “legalized slavery.” The end of the Bracero program results in an acceleration of illegal immigration across the border.
In the midst of the civil rights movement, the government shifts federal immigration legislation away from the quota system and 1920s standards, deemed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as “un-American in the highest sense.” The 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act [PDF] instead sets up a system of preferences, placing an emphasis on family reunification. President Johnson, signing the bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, declares that the legislation “is not a revolutionary bill and does not affect the lives of millions.” However, the bill—through the family preference that allows naturalized U.S. citizens to sponsor relatives to emigrate to the country—sets the course for dramatically altering the demographics of the country.
In response to rising calls to assist Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union, Congress moves to enact a human rights-oriented amendment to the Trade Act of 1974. The Jackson-Vanik amendment requires non-market economies to provide free emigration to trade with the United States under “favored nation” status. The amendment receives strong support in Congress and eventually allows for the emigration of more than five hundred thousand people—many Soviet Jews, Christians, and Catholics—to the United States until its repeal in 2012.
Southeast Asia is racked with turmoil in the 1970s as the Vietnam War winds down, the Khmer Rouge seizes control in Cambodia, and Laos falls under the control of the Pathet Lao. After Saigon is captured by the People’s Army of Vietnam, the Gerald Ford administration enacts the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act [PDF] to help about 130,000 Southeast Asian refugees. The move receives broad support among civil rights advocates, religious groups, and organized labor, and the number of Southeast Asian “boat people” immigrating to the United States swells by the early 1980s. This new influx, largely brought in by executive parole power, prompts the government to consider a broad overhaul of the nation’s refugee admission system.
As Southeast Asian refugee numbers mushroom, Congress crafts a bill to systematize U.S. refugee policy, which has relied on ad hoc use of presidential parole power. President Jimmy Carter signs the Refugee Act of 1980, an amendment to the 1965 immigration act that raises the limit of refugee visas granted from 17,500 to 50,000 per year, exempting these numbers from the overall immigration ceiling, and formally establishes the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Additionally, the law modifies the definition of “refugee” to give it more of a universal scope and make it consistent with the UN Refugee Convention, a move that addresses long-standing criticism of the United States’ preference for admitting refugees from communist countries.
Congress approves the Immigration Reform and Control Act to address the estimated three to five million undocumented immigrants in the country. The policy officially mandates employers to affirm the immigration status of their employees and outlaws the practice of knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants, although the administration’s enforcement of penalties remains lax. Additionally, the law grants legal status for certain seasonal workers and unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the United States before 1982. However, the IRCA’s most significant legacy is its provision to give undocumented immigrants arriving before 1982 the opportunity to apply for permanent residence before May 1988, a measure that eventually grants legal status to 3 million people, of which 2.3 million are Mexicans. Illegal immigration continues to flow after the IRCA’s passage.
Looking to focus on legal immigration pathways, President George H. W. Bush signs the Immigration Act of 1990, which expands the 1965 act to allow for an increase in the overall number of immigrant visas granted. While family reunification-based immigration remains a preferential category, priority is also extended to high-skilled and educated workers. The act creates five categories of employment-based (EB) visas as well as the temporary H1B visa for college-educated foreigners, and sets a cap on the number of unskilled workers emigrating into the country. The law also creates a diversity lottery to distribute visas among those from underrepresented countries. After the legislation is passed, the number of annual immigrant visas granted spikes from five hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand.
Bill Clinton’s administration launches Operation Gatekeeper to stave off illegal immigration across the border between San Diego and Tijuana, known for unauthorized border crossings from Mexico. Clinton doubles the number of Border Patrol agents along the southwestern border and authorizes $50 million* to build a fourteen-mile security fence, shifting unauthorized crossings eastward toward deserts and mountains. Shortly after its launch, the government declares it a success, but critics denounce it as a “militarization” of the border, and human rights groups connect it with the deaths of more than five thousand people who attempt to cross the more treacherous eastern terrain in California and Arizona over the next fifteen years.
*A previous version said Clinton authorized $50 billion for a border fence.
The disintegration of the Soviet Union results in a loss of Soviet economic support to Cuba, resulting in a spike in the number of Cubans fleeing to the United States in the early 1990s. In 1994, Fidel Castro threatens to allow for a mass exodus if Washington does not take action against the illegal boat departures from Cuba. Both countries sign migration accords in 1994 and 1995 stating that the U.S. Coast Guard would no longer allow Cuban migrants intercepted at sea and without credible asylum claims however, those who made it to U.S. soil would usually be allowed a path to citizenship. The policy is highlighted during the 1999 case of five-year-old Elian Gonzalez, found in coastal waters after his mother and ten others die attempting to cross to the United States. Relatives in Miami are denied custody of Gonzalez and he is subsequently returned to his father in Cuba.
To address the issue of the estimated 2.1 million minors who are brought illegally to the United States as children, Congress introduces the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a policy that would carve out a path to citizenship for these young immigrants if they meet certain conditions, including graduating from a U.S. high school or serving two years in the military. The act goes through several revisions and languishes in Congress through the next decade, prompting states to enact their own versions of the DREAM Act to provide in-state tuition for these immigrants. In 2012, President Obama announces a deferred action program that bars this group of immigrants from deportation, and pledges to make the DREAM Act a part of comprehensive immigration reform.
In response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress passes the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which overhauls the organization of the federal government’s immigration functions. The act dissolves the Immigration and Naturalization Service and creates the Department of Homeland Security, which overtakes all immigration matters. DHS splits immigration services to divide enforcement functions—handled by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency—from naturalization and visa functions. The George W. Bush administration makes border security a top priority, strengthening screening and security measures at airports, allowing agents to more easily detain and deport immigrants with suspected ties to terrorism, and instituting more stringent visa application procedures. The government also enacts a program—suspended in 2011—requiring men from predominantly Muslim countries to pre-register and undergo additional screenings while traveling to and from the United States.
At the tail end of George W. Bush’s presidency, the administration pilots a program that targets undocumented criminals by allowing local law enforcement to share data with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The program, Secure Communities, is implemented first in Boston and six counties in North Carolina and Texas, with the intention of expanding nationwide by 2013. After President Barack Obama’s election in November, he expands it, with nearly 1,600 jurisdictions enrolled by late 2011. Secure Communities becomes increasingly controversial as critics accuse it of casting too wide a net in apprehending undocumented criminals—deporting large numbers of low-level offenders and eroding trust in local communities. Tensions between local and federal authorities also abound over what are seen as conflicting messages from the Department of Homeland Security over whether the program is voluntary or mandatory.
Frustrated by a perceived lack of federal action to regulate immigration, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signs SB1070, a restrictive immigration law that makes it illegal to hire, house, or transport undocumented immigrants. It also permits law enforcement to check the immigration status of people during routine stops (known as the “papers, please” measure), prompting fears from civil rights advocates of increased racial profiling. The law is met with nationwide controversy, and at least seven other states attempt to push through their own versions of SB1070. The U.S. federal government files a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, citing federal jurisdiction on immigration matters, and the case is eventually brought before the United States Supreme Court. The court hands down a mixed ruling in 2012, which upholds the controversial “papers, please” provision but strikes down several of the law’s key measures.
Under orders from President Obama, the Department of Homeland Security begins delaying deportation and granting work visas (for two years) to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. More than one million “childhood arrivals” are estimated to be eligible for the so-called deferred action program, often referred to by its acronym DACA. In order to qualify, an individual must have a clean criminal record, lived in the country for at least five years, and be a student, high school graduate, or military veteran. The demographic is similar to that of the DREAM Act. Republican governors and legislators widely criticize the move as an abuse of office intended to curry favor with Hispanic voters.
President Obama’s 2012 presidential reelection, aided by strong support from Hispanic voters, brings with it a renewed willingness in Congress to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. Such efforts had faltered since a 2007 compromise bill by Senators John McCain (R–AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D–MA) failed to secure a vote. In early 2013, a bipartisan group of eight senators releases a framework for legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country, streamline legal immigration, enhance border security, and implement employer enforcement. The sweeping overhaul bill passes the Senate but fails to move forward in the Republican-led House.
More than two dozen states, most led by Republican governors, sue the Obama administration for failing to enforce the nation’s immigration laws after the president announces his intention to expand DACA and create another program, known as DAPA, to provide relief to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The White House says the programs are similar to those of past administrations and are necessary given congressional gridlock on immigration reform. Roughly four million people are estimated to be eligible. In early 2015, a federal judge blocks the programs until the case can work its way through the courts. A Supreme Court decision is expected in the summer of 2016.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announces plans to increase the number of refugees admitted into the country annually from seventy thousand to a hundred thousand by 2017. The move comes amid conflict in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, which has sparked the largest global migration crisis since World War II. The White House pledges that among them would be at least ten thousand Syrians fleeing the four-year civil war, which has displaced more than eleven million people.
A week after entering office, President Donald J. Trump signs an executive order on terrorism prevention that suspends the refugee program for 120 days, bans Syrian refugees indefinitely, and decreases the cap on refugee admissions to fifty thousand. It also bans nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from traveling to the United States for ninety days. Thousands protest the so-called Muslim travel ban in cities, particularly at airports, where dozens of foreigners are detained by immigration officials. In February, a federal judge imposes a nationwide restraining order on the ban. The Trump administration revises the executive order twice, and in June 2017 the Supreme Court allows the third iteration to take partial effect.
The high court votes 5–4 to allow the third version [PDF] of the Trump administration’s travel ban, ruling that it is within the scope of presidential authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act. The majority opinion also says that President Trump’s past incendiary statements about Muslims do not undermine the order, which in its revised form affects travelers from five Muslim-majority countries, as well as those from North Korea and Venezuela. In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes that “a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.”
Hundreds of thousands of people across the country protest a new zero-tolerance policy on illegal border crossings that separates several thousand migrant children, many of whom are asylum seekers from Central America, from their parents or guardians. Under the policy, announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, all undocumented immigrants who enter the United States are arrested and then criminally prosecuted, while minors traveling with them are detained separately. In response to the outcry, President Trump signs an executive order in June to end family separations, though Justice Department officials maintain that the zero-tolerance policy stands and protests against the mistreatment of migrants in detention centers persist.
The number of Central American migrants attempting to reach the United States spikes, with U.S. officials reporting close to six hundred thousand apprehensions at the southwest border in the first half of 2019, roughly the same as in all of 2018. On July 15, the Trump administration issues a rule that bars migrants who travel through third countries from seeking asylum in the United States if they have not already sought asylum in the transit country. It is the latest in a series of moves by the administration aimed at restricting asylum applications, including narrowing the criteria for asylum and requiring that asylum requests be made at designated ports of entry. As with the earlier measures, rights groups say they will challenge the order in court.
On March 13, Trump declares a national emergency over the pandemic of a new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, which reinforces his restrictive immigration approach. All nonessential travel is prohibited and border officials are authorized to immediately expel migrants and asylum seekers, overriding the usual due process. Other measures include halting refugee resettlement, effectively shutting down the asylum system, pausing all immigration court proceedings, and suspending the issuance of many foreign worker visas and green cards. In the months that follow, the administration seeks to cement many of these changes, while the State Department announces it will slash refugee admissions to a maximum of fifteen thousand people, the lowest level in four decades.
World War II and the Cold War: The Geopolitics of Immigration Reforms
How did international conflicts lead the United States to diminish the rights of individuals categorized as “enemy aliens”? How did foreign relations influence the reform of immigration and naturalization laws for groups who had faced near exclusion from the U.S. and had been denied access to citizenship?
- Roger Daniels, Prisoners Without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004)
- Erasmo Gamboa, Bracero Railroaders: The Forgotten World War II Story of Mexican Workers in the U.S. West (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016)
- Maria Cristina Garcia, “Exiles, Not Immigrants,” and “The Mariel Boatlift,” in Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996): 13-82
- Thomas Guglielmo and Cybelle Fox, “Defining America’s Racial Boundaries: Blacks, Mexicans, and European Immigrants, 1890-1945,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 118, No. 2 (September 2012): 327-379
- Madeline Y. Hsu and Ellen D. Wu, “Smoke and Mirrors: Conditional Inclusion, Model Minorities, and the Pre 1965 Dismantling of Asian Exclusion,” Journal of American Ethnic History, Vol. 34, No. 4 (Summer 2015): 43-65
- Madeline Hsu, “The Cold War,” Oxford Handbook of Asian American History edited by David Yoo and Eiichiro Azuma (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016): 171-181
- Erika Lee, “‘Military Necessity’: The Uprooting of Japanese Americans,” “‘Grave Injustices’: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans,” and “Good War/Cold War,” in The Making of Asian America (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015): 211-282
- Kelly Lyle Hernandez, “The Crimes and Consequences of Illegal Immigration: A Cross-Border Examination of Operation Wetback, 1943-1954,” Western Historical Quarterly (Winter 2006): 421-444
- Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, “Yankee, Go Home…and Take Me with You!” in A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York After 1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010): 68-96
- Monique Laney, German Rocketeers in the Heart of Dixie: Making Sense of the Nazi Past during the Civil Rights Era (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015)
- Shelley Lee, “Asian Americans and the Crucible of World War II,” in A New History of Asian America (New York: Routledge, 2013): 207-244
- Laura Madokoro, Elusive Refuge: Chinese Migrants in the Cold War (Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016)
- Alice Yang Murray, “The History of ‘Military Necessity’ and the Justification for Internment,” in the Japanese American Internment: Historical Memories of The Japanese American Internment and the Struggle for Redress (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008): 15-51
- Ellen Schrecker, “Immigration and Internal Security: Political deportations during the McCarthy Era,” Science and Society, 60, no. 4 (1996): 393 – 426 + Register and Read for Free option
- Jordan Stanger-Ross, Staying Italian: Urban Change and Ethnic Life In Postwar Toronto and Philadelphia(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009)
- Jeremy Suri, “Henry Kissinger, the American Dream, and the Jewish Immigrant Experience in the Cold War,” Diplomatic History, 32, no. 5 (2008): 719-747
- Daniel J. Tichenor, “Strangers in Cold War America: The Modern Presidency, Committee Barons, and Postwar Immigration Politics”in Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002): 176-218
- Gilbert Woo, “One Hundred and Seven Chinese” in Judy Yung et al, Chinese American Voices: From the Gold Rush to the Present(Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2006): 221-224
- , U.S. Supreme Court , Cornell University Law Library , Anti-Defamation League Archives , U.S. Supreme Court
- Julie Otsuka, When the Emperor Was Divine (New York: Anchor Books, 2003) , U.S. President’s Commission on Immigration and Naturalization, 1953 , Cornell University Law Library ,” United Nations
- “A Family Gathering” (documentary film)
- “America and the Holocaust: Deceit and Indifference” (documentary film)
- “Carlos Eire: A Cuban-American Searches For Roots” (podcast) : The Japanese Experience during WWII (multimedia website) (digitized book)
- “War and Peace,” Episode 3, The Latino Americans (documentary film)
- “The Legacy of Heart Mountain” (documentary film)
- “The Zoot Suit Riots” (documentary film)
Family, Gender, and Sexuality
How does immigration impact gender and family relations?
How has immigration policy, gender inequality, and discrimination against LGBT immigrants affected the freedom to move and the immigrant experience?
- Leisy Abrego, Sacrificing Families: Navigating Laws, Labor, and Love Across Borders (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2014)
- Julio Capó, “Queering Mariel: Mediating Cold War Foreign Policy and U.S. Citizenship among Cuba’s Homosexual Exile Community, 1978-1994,” Journal Of American Ethnic History, 29, no. 4 (Summer 2010): 78-106
- Hasia R. Diner, Erin’s Daughters In America: Irish Immigrant Women In the Nineteenth Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983)
- Katharine Donato and Donna Gabaccia, Gender and International Migration (New York: Russell Sage, 2015)
- Joanna Dreby, Everyday Illegal: When Policies Undermine Immigrant Families(Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015)
- Donna R. Gabaccia, From the Other Side: Women, Gender, and Immigrant Life in the U.S., 1820-1990 (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994) Women, Gender, and Transnational Lives: Italian Workers of the World (ed. with Franca Iacovetta) (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002)
- Donna R. Gabaccia and Vicki L. Ruiz, “Migrations and Destinations: Reflections on the Histories of U.S. Immigrant Women,” Journal of American Ethnic History 26.1 (2006): 3-19
- Shirley Hune and Gail M. Nomura, eds., Asian/Pacific Islander American Women: A Historical Anthology (New York: New York University Press, 2003)
- Eithne Luibheid, edi., Queer Migration: Sexuality, U.S. Citizenship, and Border Crossings (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005)
- Robert Orsi, The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985)
- Ana Elizabeth Rosas, Abrazando El Espíritu: Bracero Families Confront the Us-Mexico Border (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014) Read Chapter 1
- Vicki L. Ruiz, FromOut of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America 10th anniversary edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)
- Nayan Shah, Stranger Intimacy: Contesting Race, Sexuality, and the Law in the North American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012)
- Judy Yung, Unbound Feet: A Social History of Chinese Women (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995)
- Xiaojian Zhao, Remaking Chinese America: Immigration, Family, and Community (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002)
- , Pew Research Center , Immigration History Research Center Archives (digital stories about transnational families, identity, and second generation experiences) Immigration History Research Center , Johnstown Area Heritage Association , Immigration Equality , Pew Research Center
By Yoichi Okamoto, Public Domain, via WikiMedia Commons
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In 1917, lawmakers enacted legislation that required a literacy test for immigrants over 16 years old to enter the United States and banned those from what was called the Asiatic Barred Zone. That act paved the way for a 1924 immigration law, known as the Johnson-Reed Act, that imposed a quota system based on national origin. “The fundamental principle was the principle of exclusion,” said Alan Kraut, a history professor at American University in Washington, D.C. “And the target of exclusion was intended to be the poor workers who were trying to escape their own society for economic opportunity.” Years later, following calls to reform U.S. immigration policy, a 1965 law ended the quota system, prioritized close relatives of immigrants already in the United States, and ultimately altered the country’s demographic makeup, by further opening it up to immigrants of other nations.
Over the last 100 years, new restrictions on immigration have been sold as beneficial to national security and the U.S. economy. Trump himself has used those arguments in promoting his agenda. So, too, have lawmakers on Capitol Hill who recently introduced legislation to limit legal immigration.
I spoke with Kraut about the evolution of U.S. immigration policy. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Priscilla Alvarez: Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue proposed legislation earlier this month that, among other measures, is designed to decrease the number of legal immigrants allowed in the United States. Is this reminiscent of another time in U.S. history?
Alan Kraut: The United States has always had a kind of love-hate relationship with immigration. In fact, the immigrants of the 19th and early 20th centuries had a saying: “America beckons, but Americans repel.” What they meant by that is that, on the one hand, the United States had tremendous employment opportunities for them, possibilities of education for their children, freedom of religion, political freedoms that they couldn’t enjoy in their home countries. And yet at the same time, the foreign-born represented a threat to some parts of the population.
What they were concerned about in the period before the Civil War, for example, was the fear of Roman Catholics. The Irish and the Germans [who made up a majority of Roman Catholics in the United States] represented that kind of a threat. [Their allegiance to the Pope] was a cultural threat—some even thought a political threat—because they felt it was inconsistent to obey the word of a foreign prince and, at the same time, to obey American law.
The fear of people who somehow pollute American culture—this fear goes back to [Thomas] Jefferson. Jefferson worried that migrants to the United States would not appreciate democratic institutions and we would degenerate into a society that would seek a monarch. This love-hate relationship—or this beckoning and repelling—is a theme that runs as a constant throughout American history.
Alvarez: The underlying argument in Cotton and Perdue’s proposed bill is that immigrants are a hindrance to the economy, though there’s substantial evidence that foreign-born workers boost economic activity. How does this compare with the reasoning behind immigration legislation in the past?
Kraut: If you take a look at the 1924 national-origins quota system that was installed, [under] the Johnson-Reed Act, it was aimed at southern and eastern Europeans, and its main targets were southern Italians and eastern European Jews. Neither group was particularly loved by Americans because of their religious differences. The perceived threat was that they would work for wages below those that American workers could command. So much so that in the debate over that legislation in Congress, you had some strange bedfellows: You had the American Federation of Labor arguing on the same side as the Ku Klux Klan and the Immigration Restriction League, because they were concerned about keeping up the wages of American workers.
There’s always been a concern about what the economic impact will be on Americans of foreign-born labor coming to the United States.
Alvarez: The Immigration Act of 1917 included a provision that banned immigrants from the Asiatic Barred Zone—which included most of Asia—from entering the United States. How restrictive were the policies implemented through this piece of legislation?
Kraut: They were quite restrictive. But that law lasted only from 1917 to 1921 and then they went to the first of several temporary laws that culminated in the 1924 legislation, the Johnson-Reed bill. And that was quite restrictive—it was a dramatic drop in migration from southern and eastern Europe.
It took between 1924 and 1929 to get all the percentages squared away of how many people from each country could come [under the quota system]. What the legislation said was that each country in the world would be allotted a quota of 2 percent of those of their nationality already in the United States according to the 1890 census. And the 1890 census was used because it reflected a time before the mass migration of eastern and southern Europeans to the United States that happened between 1890 and the 1920s.
Alvarez: What happened in the time span between the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 and the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which dropped the quota system?
Kraut: Between 1924 and 1965, a lot happens. [There is] of course World War II, when it’s very difficult for people to move around the globe and migrate. And then in the aftermath of the Second World War, there’s the issue of refugees and displaced persons [as a result of the war and Nazi persecution]. And there are a number of displaced-persons acts and these are very, very ungenerous. The numbers were way lower than needed. Where were they going to go? They were literally people without any place to go, they were displaced persons, and they couldn’t go back. In fact, when President Harry Truman signed one in 1948, he told Congress that he did so with great, great regret because it was so ungenerous.
By the 1950s, migration is also a Cold War issue, and the United States encourages migration but only from those areas of the world where people are escaping Communism. Other than that, we continue to observe the restrictions of the 1920s. There are Cold War exceptions: One is in 1956 because of the Hungarian uprising, then again in 1959 because of Fidel Castro’s ascent in Cuba.
It’s very clear to some policymakers, including John F. Kennedy, who was pushing for reform at the time of his assassination, that the American policies were too restrictive, unjust, and so on. By 1965, Lyndon Johnson, in addition to all the civil-rights acts, pushes through the 1965 law and … we begin to see the configuration of the modern immigration system, as we know it.
Alvarez: Has the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act served as the foundation of immigration policy in the United States over the last 50 years?
Alvarez: Are Trump’s executive orders a significant divergence from the last 50 years?
Kraut: Certainly, the United States has been concerned in the past about migration from some places, including folks who could harm the United States, and certainly, the potentially ungenerous policy toward refugees is a problem.
Alvarez: Do you draw parallels between Trump’s orders and legislation from 100 years ago, for example, the Immigration Act of 1917?
Kraut: The designation of different parts of the world with the intent of excluding certain kinds of people is absolutely a parallel. Trump says he’s not targeting Muslims in the seven-country ban, but then he excludes Christians, so who’s left? Clearly, that’s where he sees the threat coming in. That’s been one of the causes of great protest.
There’s a basic issue here: What kind of future does the United States have with immigration? And the piece … about Tom Cotton’s proposal suggest[s] that there are forces, within the Republican Party primarily, that really want not just to have a moratorium on refugees, not just to have policy that reflects national-security concerns, but a much broader pattern of restrictionism.
What actions has the Trump administration taken?
President Trump has signed several executive orders affecting immigration policy. The first, which focused on border security, instructed federal agencies to construct a physical wall “to obtain complete operational control” of the U.S. border with Mexico. Additionally, it called for an end to what it calls “catch and release” practices, in which certain unauthorized immigrants who were captured at the border would be allowed into the United States while they await court hearings.
The second executive order, which focused on interior enforcement, expanded the categories of unauthorized immigrants prioritized for deportation and ordered increases in enforcement personnel. It also moved to restrict federal funds from so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, which limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials.
The third order, which focused on terrorism prevention, banned nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the United States for at least ninety days blocked nationals from Syria indefinitely and suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days.
These actions, particularly the ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, drew widespread protests and legal challenges from individuals, cities, and states. The Trump administration revised the travel ban twice, and it eventually found its way to the Supreme Court, where justices allowed [PDF] its third iteration to stand. In early 2020, the White House expanded the ban by suspending visa applications from Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, and Nigeria and blocking permanent residency through the diversity lottery for citizens of Sudan and Tanzania. Officials framed the restrictions as national security measures, citing the countries’ failures to meet U.S. standards on information sharing and passport regulations.
Trump has slashed the annual cap of refugees admitted to the United States from 110,000 when he took office to 18,000, and he has sought to make it more difficult for individuals to seek asylum. More than 250,000 applied for asylum in 2017 [PDF]. That year, the Trump administration ended temporary protected status (TPS) for tens of thousands of Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Sudanese who were allowed to remain in the United States after environmental disasters and conflict in their home countries. Beneficiaries of TPS are permitted to live and work in the United States for up to eighteen months, a period that can be extended at the president’s discretion. In 2018, Trump ended the same relief program for hundreds of thousands of Hondurans, Nepalis, and Salvadorans. Beneficiaries of the terminated TPS programs can stay in the country pending litigation.
In 2017, Trump announced plans to phase out DACA, which he called, along with DAPA, “illegal” actions by Obama. In June 2020, the Supreme Court blocked Trump’s plan to terminate DACA, arguing that the administration did not give sufficient reason for doing so. Trump has vowed to redouble efforts to end the program. His administration’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census were also blocked in the courts. Opponents said the move would have led to a significant undercount of immigrants and minorities.
The Trump administration has also ratcheted up previous administrations’ efforts to deter border crossings, including by those seeking asylum. In early 2018, it implemented what it called a zero-tolerance policy, under which authorities arrested and prosecuted everyone caught crossing the southern border without authorization. As parents faced criminal prosecution, they were held apart from their children. Presidents Bush and Obama had likewise faced criticism for widespread detentions.
In July 2019, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) inspector general reported overcrowding and prolonged detentions [PDF] at CBP facilities, and investigators found that detainees, including children, were sometimes held without access to beds, showers, or clean clothes for weeks.
Since 2018, CBP has also implemented “metering,” or accepting a limited number [PDF] of asylum applicants each day and instructing others to remain in Mexico. Opponents charge that denying entry to asylum seekers violates U.S. law [PDF], as well as international standards. The administration expanded these practices in 2019 under its Migrant Protection Protocols, which require asylum seekers to stay in Mexico while their cases are pending. It also threatened to impose tariffs in order to pressure Mexico to beef up its border enforcement.
Trump has also sought to stem the influx of Central American migrants through “safe third country” agreements with El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The deals require asylum seekers transiting through these countries to apply for protection there first, and allow U.S. officials to deport migrants to the Northern Triangle without considering them for asylum. The agreements are facing court challenges.
Separately, Trump has acted to keep out immigrants who would require taxpayer-funded services such as Medicaid and SNAP food benefits. That move also faced court challenges, but in February 2020 the Supreme Court cleared the administration to implement the policy.
The Two Sides of Immigration Policy
We need to legalize the undocumented already here, but open borders will mean lower wages for American workers.
This article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here.
During his campaign, Donald Trump used the issue of illegal immigration as a nativist dog whistle. According to Trump, Mexico was sending criminals over the border. He called for deporting the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Trump's strident appeals definitely contributed to his success in the Republican primaries, and probably were of net benefit to him in the general election, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Iowa.
After the election, Trump accused undocumented immigrants of surreptitiously voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election. He and his attorney general have stepped up deportations, even for traffic offenses. And he has refused to extend the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows the children of undocumented immigrants, who came to the United States through no choice of their own, to avoid deportation. After agreeing to work with Democratic congressional leaders on a bill extending DACA, he reneged by attaching conditions, including funding for a border wall, that he knew Democrats would reject.
In fact, Trump has not come close to deporting the 12 million. According to reports last September, he has deported fewer undocumented immigrants than the Obama administration did in a comparable period. But his rhetoric, and his rejection of DACA, have sown fear among immigrants. A friend reports that in parts of Texas, where there is little public transportation, undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain driver's licenses are trapped in their homes, fearful that if they are apprehended while driving, they will be deported. Trump's policies are cruel and inhumane and they help reinforce the existence of a fearful, docile underclass that can be exploited by political demagogues and avaricious business managers and owners.
Democrats and liberals have rightly rejected Trump's words and deeds. And they have reasserted the need to find an eventual path to citizenship for the 12 million. But in responding to Trump's xenophobia, many have gone to the opposite extreme and denied, in effect, that a problem really exists. They have consistently downplayed or denied that there is any urgent need to stanch the flow of unauthorized immigration. The party's 2016 platform plank on immigration gave short shrift to the problem of illegal immigration, merely calling for law enforcement that is “humane and consistent with our values.”
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They have also denied that the massive influx of unskilled labor over the last five decades has held down wages, increased social costs, or undermined unionization in some sectors, including construction, agriculture, and meatpacking. A major Democratic think tank, the Center for American Progress, put out a position paper asserting that “immigrants complement native-born workers and increase the standard of living for all Americans” (my italics). Democrats and liberals have joined business conservatives in insisting that unskilled immigrants are simply taking jobs that American-born workers won't take, ignoring, for instance, the displacement of African Americans in the hotel industry.
The Democrats' penchant to reject without consideration any stance associated with Trump—even if it merits discussion—is borne out by their reaction to the immigration reform proposal (the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, or RAISE, Act) put forward by Republican Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue. Cotton and Perdue had originally introduced their plan in February to little fanfare, but in August Trump endorsed the plan, making it his own.
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To anyone familiar with the history of immigration debate, Cotton and Perdue's proposals strikingly resembled those put forward in 1997 by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by former Democratic Representative Barbara Jordan, a leading liberal of her day. In line with Jordan's recommendations, Cotton and Perdue propose giving priority to skilled immigrants, narrowing the criteria for family reunification, and reducing the annual number of immigrants.
At the time, Bill Clinton reacted favorably to the Jordan Commission's recommendations, but when Cotton and Perdue made similar recommendations, and when Trump endorsed them, the two leading Democratic senators rejected them out of hand. Illinois's Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip, accused the plan of “gutting legal immigration” and of being “nothing more than a partisan ploy appealing to the racist and xenophobic instincts Trump encouraged during [the] campaign.” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer dismissed it as a “non-starter.” That reflects, of course, the even more polarized politics of the Trump era, but also the Democrats' out-of-hand dismissal of proposals that once seemed sensible.
Democrats believe, of course, that in downplaying illegal immigration and insisting that immigration benefits everyone, they are standing up for their own constituents. They think that working-class Americans who backed Trump on this issue failed to understand their own interests. But Democrats are wrong in this case. While many American businesses and the well-to-do have clearly benefited from the massive influx of unskilled immigrants, many middle- and working-class Americans, including such key Democratic constituents as African Americans, have not.
AMERICA'S CURRENT IMMIGRATION policy dates from 1965, when Congress passed a bill eliminating the quotas on national origin that had been adopted in 1924 to limit immigration from eastern and southern Europe. The 1965 act was adopted on civil rights and humanitarian grounds. It was not expected to increase immigration dramatically. Lyndon Johnson’s Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach told a Senate hearing: “This bill is not designed to increase or accelerate the numbers of newcomers permitted to come to America. Indeed, this measure provides for an increase of only a small fraction in permissible immigration.”
But the bill created a large and growing increase, particularly from Latin America, because of a provision that allowed for family reunification. In 1990, Congress passed another bill—this time enthusiastically backed by business—that increased still further the total quotas on immigrants. The immigrant population exploded. In 1970, the foreign-born accounted for 4.72 percent of the U.S. population by 2014, it was 13.3 percent.
During the same period, illegal immigration across the border also grew, the result in part of the repeal in 1964 of the bracero guest-worker program, but also of a huge increase in Latin American population that was not matched by growing prosperity. (NAFTA played a role by decimating small-scale agriculture in Mexico.) There are now an estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, although some labor economists would put the number higher.
In 1986, Congress and the Reagan administration tried to stem illegal immigration by making it illegal for employers to knowingly hire workers without citizenship papers, but employers did not have to check whether the papers were authentic. Attempts to create a more rigorous computerized system of checking have been resisted by business lobbies. Employer fines were few in the Clinton years—417 in 1999—but virtually ceased under George W. Bush, who levied three fines in 2004. That has put the emphasis on border control, even though half or less of undocumented immigrants actually come across the border. Most just overstay tourist or other visas.
About one-third to one-half of the immigrants coming legally into the United States are unskilled or lower-skilled.
According to a Brookings Institution study, almost one in three don't even have a high school diploma. About half lack proficiency in the English language. Those percentages are considerably higher among undocumented immigrants. About 70 percent lack proficiency in English. As a result, the greatest percentages of immigrants find unskilled work in agriculture, construction, health care (as aides), maids and housekeeping, and food service.
Many of the studies of the effects of immigration are financed by business groups and lobbying organizations that have a stake in the outcome. I put them in the same category as the “studies” of business-financed think tanks that predicted that NAFTA and China's entry into the World Trade Organization would reduce the American trade deficit.
But there are a number of studies that show that while immigration has resulted in a rise in overall wealth, it has been a significant, though not the only, factor in the decline of wages among the low-skilled workers who had to compete with the influx of new immigrants.
In 1997, the same year the Jordan Commission issued its findings, the National Academy of Sciences published a report on immigration. While lauding the overall effects of immigration, the report acknowledged that “almost one-half of the decline in real wages for native-born high school dropouts from 1980 to 1994 could be attributed to the adverse impact of unskilled foreign workers.” Last year, the National Academy of Sciences published a new extensive study of immigration. It found again that “to the extent that negative wage effects are found, prior immigrants—who are often the closest substitutes for new immigrants—are most likely to experience them, followed by native-born high school dropouts, who share job qualifications similar to the large share of low-skilled workers among immigrants to the United States.”
Erik McGregor/Sipa via AP Images
These findings would accord with the simple law of supply and demand. A rapid increase in supply either holds down increases in wages or results in reduced wages. Harvard economist George Borjas, who participated in the NAS study, estimates that within a particular skill group, a 10 percent increase in supply results in at least a 3 percent reduction in wages.
As the NAS study notes, the two groups in the labor force most immediately affected are prior immigrants and high school dropouts. Many of the first-generation immigrants are Hispanic, and many of the high school dropouts, or those with only a high school degree, are African American. And there are studies showing that workers from these two groups have been hit hard by competition from immigrants.
In a 2014 survey, sociologist Stephen Steinberg concluded that legal and illegal immigration had damaged opportunities for African Americans “in construction, light manufacturing, building maintenance, the hotel and leisure industry, the health care industry, and even public-sector jobs where one-third of blacks are employed.”
In 2010, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued a report on “The Impact of Illegal Immigration on the Wages and Employment Opportunities of Black Workers.” It concluded that “illegal immigration to the United States in recent decades has tended to depress both wages and employment rates for low-skilled American citizens, a disproportionate number of whom are black men.” As Steinberg notes, one of the great ironies of our recent history is that immigration policy, which was partly inspired by the civil rights movement, has probably had a negative effect on African Americans at a time when African Americans might have been able to take advantage of the passage of civil rights acts outlawing employment discrimination.
Some pundits and political scientists insist that unskilled immigrants don't take jobs from native-born Americans. On building crews, for instance, immigrants and non-immigrants work side by side most construction laborers are native-born. In other sectors, however, as businesses use legal and illegal immigrant labor to drive out unions and drive down wages and working conditions, native-born workers do begin to shun certain jobs. They become too “dirty” for Americans to take, and are then cited by business lobbies as grounds for increasing the number of unskilled immigrants—including so-called guest and temporary workers.
A good example is the transformation of the meatpacking industry. In 2001, The New York Times described what had happened to the industry over the preceding 20 years:
Until 15 or 20 years ago, meatpacking plants in the United States were staffed by highly paid, unionized employees who earned about $18 an hour
, adjusted for inflation. Today, the processing and packing plants are largely staffed by low-paid non-union workers from places like Mexico and Guatemala. Many of them start at $6 an hour.
This didn't happen because the people who worked in meatpacking plants decided they wanted to become computer programmers. The companies brought in immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, to undermine the unions and depress wages. Something similar has happened in construction and low-skilled services, where documented and undocumented immigrants were brought in to undermine unionization. Some unions, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and UNITE HERE, have succeeded in organizing immigrants in hotels, restaurants, and janitorial services, but they are basically fighting an uphill battle.
The labor movement lobbied for the restrictions on immigration that Congress adopted in 1921 and 1924. The leaders of organized labor believed at the time that the huge inflow of immigrants was making it impossible to organize workers to better their conditions. During the prior decades, employers had used immigrants as strike-breakers. The legislation itself was tainted with nativism and anti-Semitism and contributed to the tragic denial of asylum in the 1930s to Jews fleeing Central Europe, but the restrictions imposed on the numbers of low-skilled immigrants were a factor in union successes from the 1930s through the 1960s and in wage increases during that period.
The temporary cessation of mass immigration also, as Borjas argues in his new book We Wanted Workers, facilitated the assimilation of the millions of immigrants who had entered the United States before 1920. They were able to work their way up through the new industrial economy that employed them and that, thanks to the growth of unionism, paid middle-class wages in the decades following World War II. But many of the low-skilled and unskilled immigrants who have come into the United States since 1965 and are employed in the lower rungs of a service economy may not find it as easy to attain middle-class incomes and living standards.
Well through the 1990s, Democrats and the labor movement worried that this massive immigration was undermining unionization and holding down wages. That was reflected in the findings of the Jordan Commission in 1997 and in union support for the enforcement of the law prohibiting employers from hiring undocumented immigrants. But that understanding has disappeared. In the face of the government's failure to stem illegal immigration, unions had no choice but to attempt to organize immigrants and push for a path to citizenship for them. But for Democrats, uncritical backing for immigration was also the result of a political calculation that may turn out to be wrong.
MANY DEMOCRATIC LEADERS assume that in opposing measures to stem illegal immigration or to change the priorities of our current law, they are winning the support of Hispanic voters. And there is, or has been, some truth in that. When Republicans have accompanied arguments against illegal immigration with naked xenophobic appeals, as California Republicans did in promoting Proposition 187 in 1994, they have alienated Hispanic voters. That dynamic is still with us. In a current Gallup poll, 78 percent of Hispanics oppose or strongly oppose Trump’s plan to deport all illegal immigrants—compared with 62 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Erik McGregor/Sipa via AP Images
But at the same time, pluralities or majorities of Hispanics are leery of illegal immigration, and want it restricted. They look with disfavor on the massive immigration of unskilled workers. In a 2013 Gallup poll, 74 percent of Hispanics favor and only 24 percent oppose “tightening security at U.S. borders,” and 65 percent favor and only 34 percent oppose “requiring business owners to check the immigration status of workers they hire.”
Politico/Morning Consult ran an extensive poll last August to gauge the public's reaction to the Cotton-Perdue bill. The poll found significant support among Hispanics for some of its provisions. For instance, 42 percent of Hispanics thought the United States allowed too many “low-skilled workers” to immigrate, and only 21 percent thought the number was “about right.” Hispanics thought job skills should be a higher priority than family reunification by 49 percent to 33 percent, and by 50 percent to 37 percent thought that English proficiency should be a factor in immigration decisions. In other words, Hispanic voters were favorably inclined toward a proposal that aimed to change the priorities in our immigration policy.
Hispanic preferences were roughly the same as those of all registered voters. One of the few groups in the poll that was evenly divided on whether there are too many or just the right number of low-skilled immigrants were people who make more than $100,000. A plurality of the other income groups thought there are too many low-skilled immigrants coming into the country. In sum, the Democratic stance on these issues is not only unpopular with most voters, but with many Hispanics as well. Except as a response to Trump's xenophobia, the Democrats' response makes no political sense, and is not benefiting their own working-class constituents.
There is one more political dimension to the argument about immigration that is voiced by leading Democrats and Republicans. It is that continuing large-scale immigration of unskilled workers will help the Democrats politically and hurt the Republicans. That calculation lies at the bottom of Democratic hopes and Republican fears of immigration. It encourages Democrats to ignore the downside of mass and illegal immigration and Republicans to seek to cut immigration and to do whatever they can do to discourage immigrants already here from voting.
The parties' complementary calculations may prove correct. Democrats, after all, have historically been the party of immigrants. But I'd contend that on several counts, it could prove short-sighted. If one assumes that Hispanics will, like previous immigration groups, eventually move up the economic ladders and assimilate—becoming “white” in the perverse language of American racial categorization—then Hispanics may not prove to be a dependable Democratic constituency. Outside California, there are indications that may be the case. Republican candidates for governor in Texas and the Senate in North Carolina have almost broken even among Hispanic voters. And Trump, perhaps because he appeared to promise jobs, actually did better with Hispanic voters than 2012 candidate Mitt Romney.
Secondly, the continual surge of low-skilled immigrants into the United States will contribute to an impoverished underclass that holds down wages and creates welfare costs for small towns and states. The existence of that underclass has helped fuel bitter cultural-economic conflicts that have riven America over the last 30 years. It undercuts any promise of an American social democracy or extension of New Deal liberalism, which must be based on a common sense of community. It is already threatening the social solidarity that sustained European social democracy. So in the long run, even if some Democrats benefit at the ballot box, an uncritical stance toward immigration is bad news for the country.
What, then, can the Democratic Party do? On the one hand, it is reasonable to push for a path to citizenship, and especially to prevent the cruel deportation of immigrants who were brought here illegally as children and often literally have no home country to return to. It's also important to defend the labor rights of all residents of the United States, even those without papers, and to resist wholesale raids. But Democrats make both a policy mistake and a political one when they become cheerleaders for illegal immigration and for expanded immigration in general, while denying the plain fact that in many cases immigrants do indeed lower the wages of local workers. Building a wall is bad policy, but so is ignoring the plain realities.
John B. Judis
John B. Judis is an editor at large at Talking Points Memo and the author, most recently, of ‘The Socialist Awakening: What’s Different Now About the Left.’
25f. Irish and German Immigration
In the middle half of the nineteenth century, more than one-half of the population of Ireland emigrated to the United States. So did an equal number of Germans . Most of them came because of civil unrest, severe unemployment or almost inconceivable hardships at home. This wave of immigration affected almost every city and almost every person in America. From 1820 to 1870, over seven and a half million immigrants came to the United States &mdash more than the entire population of the country in 1810. Nearly all of them came from northern and western Europe &mdash about a third from Ireland and almost a third from Germany. Burgeoning companies were able to absorb all that wanted to work. Immigrants built canals and constructed railroads. They became involved in almost every labor-intensive endeavor in the country. Much of the country was built on their backs.
Letter to the London Times from an Irish Immigrant in America, 1850
I am exceedingly well pleased at coming to this land of plenty. On arrival I purchased 120 acres of land at $5 an acre. You must bear in mind that I have purchased the land out, and it is to me and mine an "estate for ever", without a landlord, an agent or tax-gatherer to trouble me. I would advise all my friends to quit Ireland &mdash the country most dear to me as long as they remain in it they will be in bondage and misery.
What you labour for is sweetened by contentment and happiness there is no failure in the potato crop, and you can grow every crop you wish, without manuring the land during life. You need not mind feeding pigs, but let them into the woods and they will feed themselves, until you want to make bacon of them.
I shudder when I think that starvation prevails to such an extent in poor Ireland. After supplying the entire population of America, there would still be as much corn and provisions left us would supply the world, for there is no limit to cultivation or end to land. Here the meanest labourer has beef and mutton, with bread, bacon, tea, coffee, sugar and even pies, the whole year round &mdash every day here is as good as Christmas day in Ireland.
Anti-Irish sentiment permeated the United States during the Industrial Revolution. The prejudice exhibited in advertisements like this one sometimes led to violent outbursts.
In Ireland almost half of the population lived on farms that produced little income. Because of their poverty, most Irish people depended on potatoes for food. When this crop failed three years in succession, it led to a great famine with horrendous consequences. Over 750,000 people starved to death. Over two million Irish eventually moved to the United States seeking relief from their desolated country. Impoverished, the Irish could not buy property. Instead, they congregated in the cities where they landed, almost all in the northeastern United States. Today, Ireland has just half the population it did in the early 1840s. There are now more Irish Americans than there are Irish nationals.
In the decade from 1845 to 1855, more than a million Germans fled to the United States to escape economic hardship. They also sought to escape the political unrest caused by riots, rebellion and eventually a revolution in 1848. The Germans had little choice &mdash few other places besides the United States allowed German immigration. Unlike the Irish, many Germans had enough money to journey to the Midwest in search of farmland and work. The largest settlements of Germans were in New York City, Baltimore, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee.
With the vast numbers of German and Irish coming to America, hostility to them erupted. Part of the reason for the opposition was religious. All of the Irish and many of the Germans were Roman Catholic. Part of the opposition was political. Most immigrants living in cities became Democrats because the party focused on the needs of commoners. Part of the opposition occurred because Americans in low-paying jobs were threatened and sometimes replaced by groups willing to work for almost nothing in order to survive. Signs that read NINA &mdash " No Irish Need Apply " &mdash sprang up throughout the country.
The Know Nothing Party's platform included the repeal of all naturalization laws and a prohibition on immigrants from holding public office.
Ethnic and anti-Catholic rioting occurred in many northern cites, the largest occurring in Philadelphia in 1844 during a period of economic depression. Protestants, Catholics and local militia fought in the streets. 16 were killed, dozens were injured and over 40 buildings were demolished. " Nativist " political parties sprang up almost overnight. The most influential of these parties, the Know Nothings , was anti-Catholic and wanted to extend the amount of time it took immigrants to become citizens and voters. They also wanted to prevent foreign-born people from ever holding public office. Economic recovery after the 1844 depression reduced the number of serious confrontations for a time, as the country seemed to be able to use all the labor it could get.
But Nativism returned in the 1850s with a vengeance. In the 1854 elections, Nativists won control of state governments in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and California. They won elections in Maryland and Kentucky and took 45% of the vote in 5 other states. In 1856, Millard Fillmore was the American Party candidate for President and trumpeted anti-immigrant themes. Nativism caused much splintering in the political landscape, and the Republicans, with no platform or policies about it, benefited and rode to victory in the divisive election of 1860.
How a shifting definition of ‘white’ helped shape U.S. immigration policy
After Israel Bosak’s tailor shop was destroyed in 1906 in an outbreak of violence against Jewish people in Russia, he fled to America with a respectable $65, more money than most immigrants brought at the time. But the U.S. government criticized Bosak for his small physique, claiming he would not be an asset to the workforce, and sent him back.
It was one of many racially-tinged institutional practices that empowered immigration officials to deny people of certain ethnicities or appearances — often people from South and Eastern Europe who were not considered “purely” white — by speculating about their ability to work. People with “poor physiques,” which was often said of Jewish immigrants, were “illy adapted” and would procreate “defectives,” a letter from a commissioner had warned the immigration and labor departments that year.
More than a century later, historians of that era see echoes of those tactics in the administration’s efforts to cut in half the roughly 1 million immigrants who enter the country each year. And while the concept of whiteness has changed since the 18th century, they say that white nationalism has historically been a motivation behind U.S. immigration policy and the country’s social hierarchy.
The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act, introduced in February and upheld by President Donald Trump last month, prioritizes wealthy, highly-educated, English-speaking applicants over those who are trying to reunite with family through what is referred to as chain migration. Republican co-sponsors Sen. David Perdue of Georgia and Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote in a statement that the majority of immigrants are “either low-skilled or unskilled” and “threaten to create a near permanent underclass for whom the American Dream is just out of reach.”
And when Trump threw his weight behind it from the White House last month, he implied new immigrants strain welfare, despite a law that already bars them from collecting it the first five years they are in the country.
“They’re not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare. That doesn’t happen under the RAISE act,” Trump said.
CHAIN MIGRATION cannot be allowed to be part of any legislation on Immigration!
&mdash Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 15, 2017
Douglas Baynton, a professor of American cultural history at the University of Iowa who wrote about Bosak in his book, “Defectives in the Land,” says this emphasis on skills, education and language recycles early efforts to limit immigration based on ethnicity and race.
“Just like in the early 20th century, people make assumptions about your worth, about your ability to contribute and your likelihood of being dependent,” Baynton said.
And a merit-based system like the RAISE Act promotes is what the newest CEO of a white nationalist, “alt-right” organization Identity Evropa said he favors.
“If you are an immigrant and you get a green card and you become a citizen, you can bring your entire extended family,” said Elliott Kline, who goes by Eli Mosley. “Diversity to us just means less white people, means putting diversity ahead of meritocracy.”
Terence Vincent Powderly, Terence Vincent Powderly, U.S. Commander, General Immigration, Chief Division from 1897-1902, poses in this photo from 1915. Photo by Harris & Ewing/Library of Congress
‘Nordic was the purest’
People with political power in the Thirteen Colonies created a hierarchy of “whiteness” before the founding of the United States.
While prejudices against darker skin existed in other regions, José Moya, a Professor of American history at Barnard College, said the concept of “whiteness” and its use in the U.S. likely emerged from Anglo-Saxons in their conquest of the Americas in the 17th and 18th centuries.
A clear divide existed: black people were kidnapped and brought to the Americas as slaves for free white landowners. But Moya said the Anglo-Saxons also openly declared that people who did not look, speak or practice religion like them were inferior in other ways.
He referred to the late 1750s, when Benjamin Franklin, who would later become a founding father and abolitionist, had determined that the tens of thousands of German people in Pennsylvania were “palatine boors.” Franklin said in a letter to his friend, a scientist, that they could “no more adopt our ways than they can adopt our complexion.”
At the time, Franklin was a printer, worried Pennsylvania would become a “colony of aliens.” So he helped in an effort to Anglicize German people, joining as a trustee for schools to teach German children English and religion.
By 1790, a Naturalization Act declared that “all male white inhabitants” would become citizens, a time when the country started enforcing its hierarchy of whiteness.
“Nordic was purest,” Moya said. “Eastern and Southern Europeans were ‘undermining the purity’ of the American stock.”
In 1882, the U.S. passed the Immigration Act, which imposed a 50 cent a head tax for every person who the country deemed “undesirable” and was sent back. That same year, it passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, declaring a moratorium on Chinese labor immigrants.
Public health inspectors would enforce this by making snap judgments at the border, picking out people who they thought looked peculiar, had the capacity for lunacy, criminality, or promiscuity or looked ugly. Italians, Slavs, and Jewish and Irish people were eyeballed for their ability to bolster the economy and either sent back or stigmatized.
While Baynton said these judgements were not always inherently racist — immigrants also couldn’t be blind or deaf, for example — they often reinforced preexisting popular stereotypes.
Those stereotypes said Italians were prone to violence because of their ties to mafias. They couldn’t control their tempers and were associated with feeblemindedness, like Slavs. Jewish people, like Bosak, had poor physiques and were greedy. Irish were characterized as alcoholics who were vulnerable to insanity, he said.
“A lot of it really was just stereotypes that were just reproduced in flawed studies,” he said. “They would look at the first generation of people in institutions for mentally ill and find a lot of Irish or Jewish immigrants there, but it was because they just arrived and were poor … they used this as evidence.”
These types of now-defunct, scientific studies supported the contagion of the eugenics movement, an era when it was a common to believe that social problems, intellect, morality, disability, beauty and even laziness were hereditary.
Congress, worried about the efficiency of the inspection system, used the ideals behind eugenics to pass the 1924 Immigration Act, now seen as one of the most racist in American history. It only allowed for a two percent increase of any ethnic group entry based on census data from 1890. Meanwhile, the Ku Klux Klan, which was exclusively Protestant, was experiencing a revival of political power.
“So then the English would have huge quotas that they couldn’t fulfill, then Italians, Jews and Russians had tiny quotas,” Moya said.
Eugenics and the new immigration law were praised by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also recalled it in a 2015 radio interview with Breitbart, an interview highlighted by the Atlantic.
“In seven years we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans, non-native born, since the founding of the Republic,” he said. “When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the president and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly.”
The quotas were finally erased in 1965 amid the civil rights movement, after people took to the streets and staged sit-ins, enduring beatings and showed they were willing to die just for equal rights. It was the same decade that the KKK reemerged again, with bombings at black schools and churches among other violence.
White nationalists carry torches on the grounds of the University of Virginia, on the eve of a planned Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 11, 2017. Picture taken August 11, 2017. Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/News2Share via Reuters
White nationalists are ‘trying to create something new’
Kline helped organize the hundreds of men who rattled the country as they marched through the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, wearing polo shirts and khaki pants and carrying tiki torches on the night of Friday, August 11.
It was a preamble to a “Unite the Right” rally, an effort to protest the removal of a statue of a Confederate general from a local park, that left a woman and two police officers dead.
But he says history about the ranks of white people, and the exclusivity of the KKK, do not match with the ideals of his white nationalist movement.
“I don’t know a single person who believes in a hierarchy among whites,” Kline said. “We don’t need to go backwards or look backwards. We’re trying to create something new … We haven’t said, ‘Screw our forefathers,’ but we are admitting that they ultimately failed.”
His group includes German people and Irish people as well as atheists, Pagans, Catholics and people from other religions. But there are some similarities: It does not include Jewish people or biracial people and, “It’s not like an exact science. I do take it on a case-by-case basis and I don’t think it’s something we need to decide today.”
“My opinion of what white is today, is people who are historically European racially and who share the same kind of story … oppression, in reality,” he said.
Kline said his father has British, Catholic and an Irish Protestant heritage with ethnic Saxon from the Transylvania Mountains in what is now Romania on his mom’s side.
He said his great, great grandfather returned to oppression in the Transylvania Mountains after fighting Russians in Siberia during World War I.
“They were told they weren’t allowed to speak Saxon in public, then it started turning violent,” he said. “So my family gathered their things and came to America.”
Left: Members of the U.S. Congress Joint Immigration Commission, which existed from 1907 to 1911 and studied the effects of immigration in the U.S., pose for this undated photo. Photo by Bain News Service/Library of Congress