Everything Old is New Again

The Immigrant (Wikimedia)

Everything Old is New Again is a classic ’70s song made famous in the Bob Fosse movie All That Jazz. It also happens to describe what’s going on in the United States with Immigration right now. Because almost everything you’re reading in the papers these days happened about 100 years ago, crescendoed in 1924, then faded away to about as normal an immigration process this country has ever had.

We think it’s important to remember that, both as an object lesson and to remind ourselves – ourselves being everyone involved working with immigrants of all stripes – that things do change for the better. It’s just a matter of weathering the storm.

Sure, we’re in a storm right now, just a casual scroll through any news feed reveals a dozen or more serious immigration issues, all at once, each almost obscuring the other in severity and outraged commentary.

And, Trump just nominated a ‘hardliner'(i.e., someone who completely agrees with his views) as head of ICE. So for at least the next eighteen months or so not much is going to change on the immigration front.

It has, however, been this bad – from an immigrant’s viewpoint – before.  Much worse, in fact. As a terrific article in the New York Times (America Once Built Another Kind of Wall) over the weekend pointed out, a hundred years ago the virulent opposition to all immigration not out of Scandinavia was mainstream, backed by pseudo-science,was  anti-Semitic, and outright racist, and geared to ‘preserve national progress.’

There wasn’t a lot of push back to the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that emerged during World War I and really took off after the Armistice in November 1918. Certainly very little main stream opposition. Indeed, institutions such as The New York Times, the Supreme Court, The Washington Post, the ACLU, MIT, the American Museum of Natural History, and so many more published or provided ‘scientific proof’ that immigrants were intellectually inferior to ‘regular white people.”

Who would dare argue when there was science backing banning immigration?

By 1920 the question became, “Can we build a wall high enough to keep out the unwanted?”

The increasingly strident anti-immigration rhetoric finally resulted in the 1924 Immigration Act. When it was debated in the House, there was no questions about its intent: “the fundamental reason for immigration restriction was biological.” The law passed the House with a 322-77 vote. There were only six dissenting votes in the Senate.

The 1924 Act set quotas that severely impacted immigration from Japan, China, Greece, Italy,and a host of eastern and southern European nations. Immigration was mostly restricted to Great Britain, and ‘Nordic’ nations. It’s important to remember that at that time in history every country in Africa was a colony of a European country, but not Germany or the Baltic nations. That calculation was certainly a factor in which European countries were impacted the most.

Here’s the thing about 1924 and how it differs from today – although it may look disturbingly similar: today, there are checks and balances in play that were not there in 1919. The state and federal courts, the House of Representatives, many state governments, enormous sections of the media, and an informed population have reined in the baser actions of the current administration. They have all acted as the restraint and checks and balances the Constitution established back when most of the people who made up the fledgling United States were immigrants.

It’s not as dire as it was in 1919 and a big reason why is because of the children of the immigrants of the ’50s. ’60s’, and on are now making policy.

Our point today, the current craziness over immigration will pass. Take care of yourself and see to it that that if you have any business before an immigration court you are fully prepared. That way you get to stay here and watch things change for the better.