America has never truly loved immigrants; truth be told, most “Americans” have despised immigrants from the earliest days of the Republic.
You see, there is a vile sophistry that many of us were taught as children about America being a “melting pot,” a nation whose de facto motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” translated as “From many, one,” always sounded amazing in theory–even if wholly untrue in application.
Indeed, one of the interesting historical paradoxes about this nation is that for it to have been designed by the descendants of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) “immigrants” who allegedly fled religious oppression in Europe (only to oppress Native Americans and enslave blacks in America), that those WASP immigrants–and their descendants–have consistently been hostile towards non-WASP Europeans, Asians, Africans, and those hailing from the Caribbean and both Central and South America.
For example, by the mid-1800s, the potato famine in Ireland led to countless deaths, deaths that invoked a pernicious un-Christ-like indifference among political leaders in Great Britain. In a London News article in 1849, Charles Trevelyan, a British politico tasked with implementing the hunger relief effort in Ireland, wrote: “Great Britain cannot continue to throw her hard-won millions into the bottomless pit of Celtic (Irish) pauperism…The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated.”
(Anti-Irish cartoon by the great Thomas Nast, the same cartoonist who later would create the Republican Elephamt and Democratic Donkey symbols)
In time, millions of Irish immigrants fled to America to find food–and work. Upon arrival in Boston, New York City and other parts of the northeast, the Irish drew the enmity of many WASPs who despised them for their fealty to Roman Catholicism regardless of the fact that many took on comparatively menial jobs as laborers, cooks, ditch diggers and road builders.
Later in the 1800s, Chinese immigrants–crucial in the development of railroads and other industries–were subjected to abject racism by whites that soon morphed into formal political policy. President Chester A. Arthur signed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and with it, he ushered in a new era in American public policy and jurisprudence–that of “immigration control.”
(Chinese immigrants were despised along the West Coast in the 19th Century)
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Geary Act of 1892 crippled the number of Chinese allowed to immigrate while compelling natural-born Americans of Chinese descent “to register, be photographed or face deportation.” Individuals arrested under this Act were detained in cages absent procedural due process rights like bail. (Sound familiar?)
So strong was the disgust for the Chinese that even in United States Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan’s famous dissent in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the same one in which he argued that the Constitution was “color-blind,” Harlan showed his color consciousness by opining: “There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race [cannot].”
By 1924, the Eugenics movement became all the rage among many whites in America and Europe. Eugenics held that whites were genetically, intellectually, and physically superior to all other races, and its theory was touted by a range of famous people including President Calvin Coolidge, Henry Ford of Ford Motors, aviator Charles Lindbergh, Great Britain’s then Prince (and soon to be King) Edward VIII, and future German Dictator Adolf Hitler. Congress, that year, passed an Immigration Act that President Coolidge signed that allowed immigration from Northern Europe, limited immigration from Southern Europe, including Italy, Greece and Balkan states like Serbia and Armenia, and in sub-Saharan Africa (read black folks). This Act would remain law well into the 1960s.
(President Calvin Coolidge singing the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924)
What makes the facts in the preceding paragraphs even worse is that as many non-WASP immigrants became second and third generation Americans who were tolerated by WASPs–even if not accepted–many of these descendants, be they German, Italian, Asian and even Afro-Caribbean, have taken on the same anti-immigration biases.
Thus the conundrum; over the past 50 years, American immigration policy has remained tinged with racist biases and xenophobic fears stoked by politicians in both parties and their constituents. American presidents during this time and Congresses that have flipped from Democratic to Republican majorities have been responsible for policies such as those that have allowed white Cubans greater access under the guise of fleeing political oppression from the Castro regime, all the while locking up and deporting Black Haitian refugees fleeing persecution under the Duvalier regime. Indeed, as shown below, Haitian men, women and children often were locked behind fences or in tent city cage conditions on Naval Base Guantanamo.
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have overseen massive roundups and deportations of illegal immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. Former President George W. Bush enacted a “zero tolerance” policy back when Donald Trump was still palling around with Democrats. Former President Barack Obama set new highs for deportations during his administration; nearly 73,000 illegal immigrants deported in 2012-13 had children born in the United States meaning, you guessed it, deported parents were forced to leave their American children behind even under Brother Obama.
Understanding this history, it is clear that Trump, a man who seemingly wants to undo the political legacy of his predecessor Obama–if not “one-up” him–swung for the fences by authorizing the policy this year that intentionally separated parents from children in hopes of “deterring” other illegals from crossing the border. Trump likely did not expect the harsh blowback from Americans across the political divide, as well as from European allies and Pope Francis.
But even when finally capitulating yesterday, a capitulation that has drawn the ire of Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing political pundits who believe that Trump sold out, the truth is that Trump’s Executive Order does not guarantee that those 2,000 plus children will be reunited with their parents.
Further, Trump’s nascent Executive Order also sets up another huge and potentially far more cruel result in that those families, once reunited, or future families will either be released within 20 days per existing law, or be detained indefinitely contrary to the law. In a manner of speaking, we’ve been there before, too, back in the 1940s under Democratic icon Franklin Roosevelt’s administration when Japanese Americans and immigrants were detained indefinitely during World War II.
Such goes to show that in America, the more things change, the more they stay the same–unless and until people of good conscience speak out!