Thursday, October 15, 2020
Guest blogger: Chauncey McNeill, law student, University of San Francisco
Much of American history has centered around newcomers to what we now call the United States of America. From the nascent stages of the country, most Americans saw immigrates as invaders. This is where fearmongering in American immigration policy began. Benjamin Franklin feared allowing German immigrants into America would turn Pennsylvania into a German colony. He said, “those who come hither are generally the most stupid of their own nation… [we] cannot address them either from the press or pulpit.” Franklin feared Germans could not assimilate into American society. This is much of the rhetoric we hear today around immigration. Some people fear Spanish will become our de facto national language the way Franklin feared German would become our de facto language. Our current immigration language is a product of xenophobia and racism. Fear around immigration as revolves around the perpetrator fearing they will receive the same treatment they gave out. Being a minority in America is dangerous for a person’s health.
Immigration started in America when Native Americans first came into contact with Europeans. These first interactions must have been extraordinary for Native Americans. The Europeans brought many tools for extracting wealth from the land but not cultivating food. This is evidenced by “The Starving Time” at Jamestown and Plymouth. As the Native Americans helped the ill-prepared Europeans, they were not aware they were planting the seeds of their own destruction. Europeans brought disease and genocide to the Native American population. European immigration to America ended with a maimed and beaten Native population.
For much of early American history most of the colonist were British subjects. These people and their ancestors would later be called White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). Nobody was truly American in the modern sense until the American Revolution. Almost immediately after the American Revolution there were efforts to stop non-western European immigration.
The fear of being replaced was on the mind of many lawmakers. Immigration was almost exclusively European, with a large percent of that being British or French. African and Asian immigration was nonexistence. Asian immigration did not substantially increase until gold was discovered in California. This was followed by the Chinese Exclusion Act. This blatantly racist policy resulted in Chinese immigration going to almost zero until it was repealed. Even today China along with Mexico, India and the Philippines face major visa backlogs. This is the modern-day version of race based immigration policies. These policies on their face are not racist but the effects are.
Just as attempts to slow, if not stop non-western European immigration failed, the attempts to slow Latinx and Black immigration will fail. Many WASPs saw JFK being elected President as the end of their era. Many contemporary people may have looked at President Obama’s election as the end of an era. President Obama is the child of an African visa student, a person our immigration system is/was trying to keep out. For some, President Obama is their fear come true--he represents Pennsylvania becoming a German colony. For others, President Obama represents hope and the perseverance of human nature.
The ultimate shock to the discriminatory conscience of immigration would be a Latinx President. Since the westward expansion of America, the country has been interacting with Mexico. Much of the interaction between our country and Mexicans comes in the form of labor. Latinx labor is the backbone of the American economy. Many people cross the border looking for work and a home. Many have been met with xenophobic sentiment coupled with eugenic practices in detention centers. This horrible treatment is a strategy to discourage Latinx immigration. This is treatment nobody should receive. Lawmakers and DHS official recognize this but dare not change it. They understood people are rightly upset and that there is a price to pay for transgressions. There is a real fear that the current majority will become the minority some day. The majority has wielded its power in some very discriminatory ways. For some people, they have become accustomed to wielding power of oppression. They worry that if others take over, they will use that power to oppress the prior majority.