The current fight over immigration needs an explanation that is easy to follow. The current administration, Congress and the media muddy the waters and make it all difficult to understand. They do this because they want to weave their own tale of how this all came about rather than explain in simple layman terms what is going on with immigration.
The first thing Americans should understand is that the issue of immigration is not new to American history. In March 1790, Congress passed the Naturalization Act. This was the first law passed by Congress dealing with immigration. It says in part, “any free white person of good character” who has been living in the United States for two years or longer can apply for citizenship. This meant that nonwhite residents would be denied basic constitutional protections, including the right to vote, own property or testify in court.
The real issue of immigration has not changed to this day. The underlying message is that “white Americans are the only real Americans.” We see it when Americans are described by politicians and the media (as) African-American, Mexican-American, Latino-American, Chinese-American, Arab-American, Japanese-American; Who did I leave out? oh, yes, Euro-American. Never is the term Euro-American used by politicians or the media. Why? It’s the subtle way that politicians, the media and even the white community let it be known to all other Americans that they are not as American as white Americans.
All the way through to the present day this trend has continued — the Know Nothing Party opposed Irish and German immigration in the 1850s (too Catholic); the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 barred Chinese immigration after many immigrants from that country labored to build the western railroads; the Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan in 1907 limited Japanese immigration; and on the eve of America’s entry into World War I, the Immigration Act of 1917 required a literacy test for immigration and banned immigrants from most Asian countries. And in the 1940s, the U.S. government placed many U.S. citizens of Japanese descent into concentration camps.
The fear Americans responded to in the 1850s, 1880s and the early-1900s regarding immigration did not come about without the help of the press, the political parties and the oligarchs. The reasons they were using and spreading this fear of immigrants is the same as today: to gain political advantage, to be able to control the masses and to sell newspapers or, in the modern era, television ratings. The only thing that has changed is the amount and distribution of profits hanging in the balance.
Immigration would again become a problem in the 1980s after an influx of immigrants from Asia, mainly from Vietnam and Cambodia, quadrupled. This, of course, was the result of America’s ill-conceived conflict in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Under Bill Clinton, immigration became a non-issue as Americans felt their economic positions were improving and as a result, worries and fears of immigrants taking their jobs vanished.
This all changed again after Sept. 11, 2001, and continues to this day. Donald Trump’s election came about because of the United States’ disastrous and prolonged military interventions overseas, as well as by the social inequality and concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the corporate elites. He promised change, but instead has used the same fears and propaganda as his predecessors, and once again Americans have an irrational fear of immigrants.
The Trump administration is using this propaganda to prop up the fear of immigrants and immigration. Trump himself tweeted on Oct. 22, 2018, “Sadly, it looks like Mexico’s Police and Military are unable to stop the Caravan heading to the Southern Border of the United States. Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in. I have alerted Border Patrol and Military that this is a National Emergy (sic). Must change laws!”
Trump is currently saying he will shut the border down. He states, “We are full, we have no more room in this sector, area, sorry, don’t come.” Immigration is not the problem, nor has it ever been the real problem when the topic has arisen throughout America’s history; instead, it has (been), and continues to be, used as propaganda, as a tool to control the masses.
It is up to us, the masses, to tell the national security elites and the corporate elites that we will no longer accept a foreign policy that promises endless war and economic destitution; we will no longer accept the economic inequality under the guise of capitalism and the free market. It’s time to reform America’s foreign policy and our capitalist system, as well, so that the wars end and the average American once again has a chance of upward mobility and a shot at the American Dream.
Chuck Laramie lives in Fair Haven.