|| Immigrant bashing long a part of U.S.
By LESLIE WIRPSA
Despite the image of the United States as a "melting pot," U.S.
society has historically "welcomed immigrants in periods of expansion and
optimism and reviled them in periods of stagnation and cynicism," wrote James
Crawford in an issue brief distributed by the Washington-based National
In a several periods in American history, prejudices have produced
powerful, nativist, anti-immigrant movements. "Typically, these periods feature
a political or economic crisis, combined with a loss of faith in American
institutions and a sense that the national community is gravely fractured.
Hence a yearning [develops] for social homogeneity that needs an internal enemy
to sustain itself: the 'alien,' " he wrote.
The following is a summary of Crawford's description of these
- During the administration of John Adams, the arrival of a small
group of European radicals prompted fears among members of the Federalist
Party. These politically active immigrants were pegged as subversives, and
fears that they represented a threat to "property and stability" prompted the
1798 passage by Congress of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which gave the
president power to deport foreigners deemed dangerous and to prosecute anyone
who criticized the government.
- A rise of Roman Catholic immigration (waves of Irish and
Germans) in the 1830s and '40s coincided with a period of economic change and
insecurity. Amid a Protestant revival, newly arrived Catholics were called
"papists" and were said to follow authoritarian leaders, bring crime and
disease into the country and live morally depraved lives. In 1844, these
tensions led to the burning by Protestants of the Ursuline Convent near Boston
and to riots in several cities.
- The growth of the American Party (know as the Know-Nothing
Party) in the mid-1850s led to the enactment of laws to harass and penalize
immigrants as well as Mexicans living in newly annexed lands in the
- Chinese immigrants were targeted for violence and legalized
discrimination in the late 1800s. Chinese were banned from employment by
corporations or state governments and segregated into Chinatowns. A delegate
from California to the constitutional convention declared at the time: "This
state should be a state for white men. We want no other race here." Pressure
from Western politicians led to the restrictive Chinese Exclusion Act of
- Anti-Catholicism returned during the Civil War era, a time when
the gap between rich and poor exacerbated conflicts between unregulated
capitalists and a largely immigrant, militant labor movement. Strikes in the
1870s and '80s led to violence. The American Protective Association formed as a
secret society that aimed to eradicate "foreign despots" -- especially
Catholics -- that were equated with European Socialists who sought to ruin
American democracy. Attempts were made to adopt measures like the banning of
German language instruction as a way to harass parochial schools.
- A government-led "Americanization" campaign sought to change
the cultural traits, civic values and language of Southern and Eastern European
immigrants who replaced waves of Irish, English and Germans at the turn of the
century. A U.S. government study from 1911 claimed these "new immigrants" were
not as skilled, educated or capable of learning English as the "old
immigrants." Many states prohibited the study of foreign languages in schools.
- In 1921 and '24, Congress established restrictive national
origins quota systems. These laws resulted from a backlash against immigrants
following a wave of labor protests in which foreign-born activists played key
roles. During the 1921 Palmer Raids, the FBI deported "alien subversives"
without trial. Arguments circulated that Eastern and Southern Europeans were
genetically inferior to Anglo-Saxons.
- The present anti-immigrant backlash includes harsh measures
like California's Proposition 187 (which would exclude undocumented persons
from public social services and publicly funded health care and undocumented
children from public elementary and high schools), disproportionate cuts aimed
at immigrants in welfare reform laws, augmenting of border policing and
penalties, more legal room for government workers to report allegedly
undocumented persons based on "suspicion," and the adoption of antiterrorist
legislation measures that allow for expedient deportations.
National Catholic Reporter, November 1,