U.S. has long anti-immigrant history

By Matthew Thomson - Staff Reporter

The Obama Administration did nothing in regard to immigration, and the Trump Administration seeks to profit from it, a Highline professor told last week's History Seminar.

No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, immigration is a topic that produces great deal of sentiment and often rhetoric. From the demonization of the Irish in the 1800s to the misrepresentation of Latinos in 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants have been regularly vilified.

American anti-immigrant sentiment only erupts when the United States is in crisis, i.e. war or recession, said professor Ben Gonzalez. But whenever the United States has a labor shortage, immigrants are welcome.

A big issue these days are so-called Sanctuary Cities, municipalities that do not work with federal agencies to deport undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary Cities also do not require their police departments to check immigration status during the arrest process. President Trump has linked the issue of Sanctuary Cities directly to issues involving immigration along the southern border.

Despite Trump Administration statements that nearly all Latinos are criminals, the reality is that Sanctuary Cities have similar crime rates to non-Sanctuary Cities of comparable population, Gonzalez said.

Two government actions that show the bipolar mindset between the American economy and immigration are the Magnuson Act and "Operation Wetback."

On the one hand, the Magnuson Act was a 1944 law which repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act that allowed much-needed Chinese laborers into the country for the war effort.

On the other hand, once the labor shortage declined, the Bracero guest worker program led to "Operation Wetback." It was a 1954 Joint American/Mexican operation to deport an estimated 125,000 people back to Mexico. "Operation Wetback" was fueled by McCarthy era fears of Soviet invasion, Gonzalez said.

The United States' demonization of immigrants began at a societal level with the 1911 Joint House/Senate commission called the Dillingham Commission. This commission determined some immigrant groups had higher rates of criminality, however the commission has been criticized for methodological irregularities such as using an older, biased census, Gonzalez said.

"Recent data shows either no correlation or a negative correlation between immigrants and criminality," Gonzalez said.

The 1924 Johnson-Reed Act marked a reorientation of American bias from European immigrants toward those coming from Mexico. The act placed quotas on specific nationalities. Mexico's inclusion was debated but not included into the text of the bill.

Later, Senate Bill 5094 in 1929 made undocumented immigration into the United States a crime. It was also based on belief of the racial superiority of Caucasians over Mexicans.

"Senate Bill 5094 was exacerbated by the Black Friday stock market crash," Gonzalez said.

He said there is also a correlation between conservatism and news/media consumption and opposition to immigration.

A 2011 study found that there was a strong corollary between the amount of news a person watched and how strong an anti-immigrant stance they held, he said.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act was passed in 1986 and for the first time had great potential to change rhetoric around immigration. The act granted amnesty to a substantial number of immigrants who entered the country prior to 1982.

The IRCA also included employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers while focusing less on the criminal side of immigration. It offered tax breaks to employers who hired legal immigrants and sanctioned employers who hired undocumented immigrants.

The IRCA also allowed visa workers or guest workers due to the 80s being a time of stagflation [stagnant economy and inflating cash]. Guest worker programs was a way to address it.

The IRCA ultimately failed mostly because it tried to address too many issues, Gonzalez said. The IRCA was too big not to fail. It failed because there were to many loopholes for employers to escape sanctions, and because it tried to address too much in a single bill.

Since then, the focus returned to immigration as a crime control issue, Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has written a book titled Handcuffs in Chain-link Criminalizing the Undocumented in America, which will be released in July.

Next week's History Seminar will be "World Cruisers of Seattle, 1924" presented by Jules James.

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