Coming From the Wrong Place: America’s Historic Fear of Immigration

This week, President Trump signed executive orders that restricted immigration for the next 90 days from seven countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. This executive order, the “Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” is most likely the first step of stricter immigration laws to come.

However, this is not the first time that U.S. legislation has approved selective immigration laws. One of the first acts to selectively restrict immigration was The Immigration Act of 1924. The act encouraged west-European immigration, restricted east-European immigration, and banned Asian immigration.

Why these groups? It was almost exclusively due to the rising west-European supremacy in the early 1900s.

This west-European supremacy had been dominating for a while; however, it spiked after the publication of a book entitled, The Passing of the Great Race. Though never a best-seller, this book written by would-be anthropologist Madison Grant stirred the rising west-European supremacy at the time. It proposed that eastern Europeans were inferior to western Europeans. Drawing upon Darwinian philosophies of race and origin, Grant advocated perfecting the “Aryo-Nordic” race through selective breeding, aided by his proposed eugenics program.

Years later, Adolf Hitler would refer to Grant’s book as his bible. While most readers didn’t maintain the same reverence to the book as Hitler did, the book did plant racism and extreme nationalism within the minds of many. These ideas sprouted into laws: specifically, immigration laws.

In the 1930s, the restriction of eastern European immigration was a detriment to two groups: the Polish and Jewish Europeans. At the onset of WWII, hundreds of thousands of Poles and Jews applied for visas but were rejected. While they were being rejected, the act encouraged German immigration. More Germans than Jews were granted American visas before WWII.

The presidents during WWII recognized the problem with the immigration laws. President Roosevelt worked outside the immigration policy by creating the War Refugee Board in 1944 which allowed tens of thousands of refugees U.S. entry as “Displaced Persons.” President Truman issued the Truman Directive, which granted visas to “DPs” within the immigration quotas. However, only a maximum of a couple hundred thousand Jews were admitted entry to the U.S. around the time of the war, while an estimated six-million were killed in the holocaust.

This history is important because we are repeating it so soon after the events.

During WWII, Roosevelt and Truman were making executive orders against racially selective immigration laws, but in 2017, Trump is doing the opposite.

The executive orders that Trump signed were signed on January 27th—International Holocaust Memorial Day. Many lives could have been saved during the holocaust had the U.S. not allowed amoral ideologies to influence lawmaking.

“We are allowing fear to cloud our judgment.”
Because many Americans put an emphasis on attaining superiority, fear took precedence to morality. And just like then, we are allowing fear to cloud our judgment. The reservations Americans have today about immigration stem from the same origin of fear; however, now Americans fear that immigrants bring crime and terrorism.

Does immigration bring crime and terrorism?

It’s an important question. Despite media portrayal of immigration and terrorism, statistics show that immigrants are less likely to commit a crime than native-born citizens.

In a study on the relation of crime and immigration, research gathered from the American Community Survey (ACS) shows that only “roughly 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.” The study goes on to show that this trend has been consistent over the last four decades since the statistics have been gathered.

In regards to terrorism, legal immigration is not a major contributor. Janice L. Kephart, a border and ID security expert, studied the trends of terrorist activity in America to find a common factor. She found that of the 94 terrorists she studied, two-thirds had committed immigration fraud. Once in the U.S., some became naturalized citizens, typically through sham marriages. Yet, legal immigration was not a major contributor. Terrorists are less likely to legally obtain permanent immigration status or become naturalized citizens through legal processes.

We have no reason to fear immigration; but we have reason to fear. The real problem is the weak immigration system.

There hundreds of ways to live in America under the current system, from green cards to tourist visas. Many of these visas are similar in nature to make provisions for every scenario. The system is complex, and its complexity creates loopholes. The more loopholes, the more immigration fraud. As it stands, the system is allowing immigration fraud at extraordinary rates.

Illegal immigration is a result of a faulty system. Hundreds of thousands of people are fraudulently entering the country by manipulating the frail system while many hard-working, skilled foreigners are being rejected permanent visas.

Part of the answer will be taking a look at our current immigration system, finding its faults, and fixing them internally. Instead of banning “problem” countries, we need to stop immigration fraud. Seal the loopholes, not the borders.

There is no easy fix, but the answer is not to restrict immigration based on religion, race, or nationality. The answer to the immigration problem is not discrimination. Discrimination is always a result of fear, and fear cannot run a country. While we cannot predict the future, we can examine the past and learn from our mistakes. In our country’s history, we have never benefited from fear or discrimination.

About Olivia Thiessen

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Olivia Thiessen grew up in several towns across Canada but now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia. She can be found in corners of coffee shops and bookstores studying for literature classes. She is currently completing an English degree at Pensacola Christian College in Florida.