Donald Trump is getting more subtle in his racism. He said this recently:
We’ve admitted 59 million immigrants to the United States between 1965 and 2015. Many of these arrivals have greatly enriched our country. So true. But we now have an obligation to them and to their children to control future immigration as we are following, if you think, previous immigration waves…
To keep immigration levels measured by population share within historical norms. To select immigrants based on their likelihood of success in U.S. society and their ability to be financially self-sufficient.
As Eric Schmeltzer points out, “1965” is a dogwhistle to the racists. That’s the year, to their horror, that a law established during the height of the eugenics fervor, prior to WWII, was gutted by congress.
In 1965, we passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. That law essentially repealed the crux of a 1920s law called the Emergency Quota Act.
The Emergency Quota Act (and a 1924 bill that slightly amended it) set quotas on immigration that were based on the number of people of a nationality currently in a country. The effect and intent of the law was abundantly clear. America was mostly white and European, and the law was going to keep it that way, by putting low and hard caps on “others,” while opening the doors to more white Europeans.
I cannot emphasize enough how vile the 1924 act was — it was patently, unashamedly, blatantly racist. Rather than admitting new immigrants on the basis of need or ability, it made the primary criterion for limiting immigration the color of their skin and ethnicity of origin. It enshrined the bigotry of a small group of influential, educated white men, in particular a few Harvard-educated Anglo-Saxon elites, into the law of the land. As Gould summarized it in The Mismeasure of Man:
Congressional debates leading to passage of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 frequently invoked the army data [misleading data from IQ tests]. Eugenicists lobbied not only for limits to immigration, but for changing its character by imposing harsh quotas against nations of inferior stock—a feature of the 1924 act that might never have been implemented, or even considered, without the army data and eugenicist propaganda. In short, southern and eastern Europeans, the Alpine and Mediterranean nations with minimal scores on the army tests, should be kept out. The eugenicists battled and won one of the greatest victories of scientific racism in American history. The first restriction act of 1921 had set yearly quotas at 3 percent of immigrants from any nation then resident in America. The 1924 act, following a barrage of eugenicist propaganda, reset the quotas at 2 percent of people from each nation recorded in the 1890 census. The 1890 figures were used until 1930. Why 1890 and not 1920 since the act was passed in 1924? 1890 marked a watershed in the history of immigration. Southern and eastern Europeans arrived in relatively small numbers before then, but began to predominate thereafter. Cynical, but effective. “America must be kept American,” proclaimed Calvin Coolidge as he signed the bill.
They were cunning. Rather than openly and explicitly shutting down the immigration of swarthy Italians and Greeks and Lebanese, or worst of all, the dusky inhabitants of the Dark Continent by name, which would have been a little too on-the-nose, they used a call to “historical norms” and declared the noble cause of American purity, which everyone knew meant keeping America white. Those brown people, obviously, are not truly American.
That’s what Donald Trump is signing on to now. He is tapping directly into nativist bigotry in a way that’s not obvious to people outside racist circles. These ideas have consequences — dreadful, fatal, corrupting consequences — and we’ve got a media that’s oblivious to what is going on, and a significant sub-population that does understand what he’s saying, and is cheering it on. Take it away again, Steve Gould:
The quotas stood, and slowed immigration from southern and eastern Europe to a trickle. Throughout the 1930s, Jewish refugees, anticipating the holocaust, sought to emigrate, but were not admitted. The legal quotas, and continuing eugenical propaganda, barred them even in years when inflated quotas for western and northern European nations were not filled. Chase (1977) has estimated that the quotas barred up to 6 million southern, central, and eastern Europeans between 1924 and the outbreak of World War II (assuming that immigration had continued at its pre-1924 rate). We know what happened to many who wished to leave but had nowhere to go. The paths to destruction are often indirect, but ideas can be agents as sure as guns and bombs.
The Golden Door is being slammed shut, and the lamp is going dark.