How We Got Our Immigration Policies: What Now

Introduction

The sonnet at the base of the Statue of Liberty was written by Emma Lazarus at the urging of her friends for an auction to raise money to build a pedestal to put the statue on in 1883. It was engraved on a bronze plaque which was added to the base of the statue in 1903. But apparently America was already sort of in the “fake news” business, since we have not exactly had a love affair with the various immigrant waves that have arrived on our shores, or our desert roads. Since I kept being wrong about what things we have done to immigrants before now, I decided to do some research.

The very first article I found was extremely helpful offering a timeline of immigration events, laws, actions, and even a few statistics. There is also an infographic (not included here). Although I would like to blame all the times America got exercised about immigrants who did not enter America legally (and a few times when we even got hot under the collar about legal immigrants) on the Republicans it is not possible. For one thing during the Civil War the Democrats were the Republicans, sort of, so things get murky.

Clearly we did not get where we are in 2018 in one giant step. In many administrations Presidents and Congresses have dealt with trying to solve the problems of people who immigrated to America without going through proper channels. And the more complicated the rules have become the more people seem to try to go around them.

Sometimes there may have been popular pressure on the government as people felt overrun by waves of one immigrant group or another and the fact of all these new folks settling in seemed to threaten current demographics, or change a favored neighborhood beyond recognition. Other times immigration crack-downs seemed to have been related to historical events such as the Great Depression which made it difficult to take care of even the citizens who had been here for decades and the Second World War which made many Americans paranoid about people from Japan. There was possibly also an element of revenge after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Finding all the reasons for immigration freak-outs would require more research and still might not offer a complete picture. Perhaps you had to be there in those moments.

Late 1800’s to early 1900’s

The timeline I found says that the first dedicated immigration detention facility in the world appeared in America in 1892. People had to stay somewhere between apprehension and deportation. The first guards appeared on the US-Mexico border in 1904.

Calvin Coolidge (Rep)

 “1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act (also known as the National Origins Act and Asian Exclusion Act) – Restricted immigration further to the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 2 percent of the number who were already living in the United States before the 1890 census. Intended to “preserve American homogeneity,” the Johnson-Reed Act provided a pathway to citizenship for European immigrants while restricting Asians, Arabs, and most Africans completely.”

Herbert Hoover (Dem) and Franklin D Roosevelt (Dem)-The Great Depression into WWII

Entering illegally or overstaying a visa became a misdemeanor in 1929 (just before the Great Depression). During the Great Depression Herbert Hoover (Rep) and later FDR (Dem) “rounded up and deported 500,000 Mexicans and Filipinos, even though 60% of them were US-born citizens. 1942 was the beginning of the Japanese internment under FDR (Dem) (World War II). But FDR also began the Bracero Program which issued temporary visas to Mexicans to work in agriculture. This program ended in 1964.

Harry S. Truman (Dem)

In 1946 the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) began training Latin America soldiers and leaders in Georgia. It eventually earned the reputation of being a school for despots and is often considered to be responsible for the destabilization we still see in South America today.  In 1952 an immigrant’s criminal record or radical political views could be grounds for deportation/detention. It also became possible to grant noncitizens release from detention on bond based on community ties.

Eisenhower (Rep) and Jimmy Carter (Dem)

Eisenhower (Rep)(1954-56) targeted 1 million Mexicans for deportation in the charmingly named Operation Wetback (sarcasm). Under Jimmy Carter (Dem) (1980-81) a new round of mass detentions took place, this time Cubans, Haitians, and Central Americans.

Ronald Reagan (Rep)

Ronald Reagan (Rep) took office in 1981. Reagan wanted to deter Latin American immigration so he began the detention of asylum seekers. A renewed War on Drugs brought militarization to the border. Reagan set up the McAllen Detention Center in Puerto Rico to hold Haitians in 1981. In 1983 he signed the Mass Immigration Emergency Plan which required that there always be 10,000 beds ready to use for immigrant detention. And in 1983 the first private prison company (CCA) Correction Corporation of America (which became CoreCivic in 2016 was allowed to house detained immigrants. GEO Group formed to set up more private detention prisons. In 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed and granted blanket amnesty for undocumented immigrants. It also sanctioned employers who hired them. In 1987 GEO won the first government contract which gave GEO taxpayer money to detain immigrants. Busy times.

Bill Clinton (Dem)

Bill Clinton (Dem) in 1994 doubled the Border Patrol and constructed five miles of border wall in the wake of which data showed an increasing number of deaths in the border lands.

“Together known as “The 1996 Laws,” this set of laws has had the greatest impact on expanding the U.S. immigration detention system by expanding the list of “crimes of moral turpitude,” including non-violent drug and other charges, for which both legal immigrants and undocumented non-citizens can be subjected to mandatory detention and deportation. These laws can be applied retroactively, and also impose 3-year, 10-year, and lifetime bars on returning to the U.S. after deportation.”

George W. Bush (Rep) Post 9/11 attacks on World Trade Center

Under George W. Bush (Rep) in 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the right to detain immigrants during deportation proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2003 also. Under G.W. private prisons began to be administered by the Bureau of Prisons.

Barrack Obama (Dem)

Under Obama (Dem), 2009 the quota for emergency beds that must be maintained at all times went to 34,000. Obama temporarily ended family detention, but the detention centers remained open. He established DACA in 2012. In 2014 he resumed family detention because of increases in unaccompanied minors, women and children. When the US Justice Department and DHS tried to phase out use of private prisons in 2016, their stocks plummeted. Obama detentions were over 40,000/day  and he had deported over 3 million people, more than all other Presidents added together up to that date.

Donald J. Trump (Rep)

When Trump was elected in 2016 prison stocks rose again. [However by January, 2017, under Trump detentions are over now 44-45,000/day according to The Daily Beast. Family separation is new, although supposedly suspended for now, and it appears that Trump would like to end all immigration through our southern border. He wants a “wall” along the whole southern border.]

Here’s the irony, in Oct. 2017 California, home of the first private prison for immigrants passed the Dignity, not Detention Act. We can see that as American population grew immigration law became steadily more intense until we arrived at where we are now. Countable.com asked me today what I would do with children and unaccompanied minors if they were not detained. I liked when we found families to take them in but this doesn’t even make the list as an official policy and how do you find the number of homes we need.

All of this timeline information, except where noted, was mined from the following article:

https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/detention-timeline/

Not the Whole Story if Trying to Place Blame

Presidents don’t always write laws or enact laws. A President may initiate a law or rule or act but this is more likely to begin in Congress and then end up on the President’s desk for a signature. This was an excellent article for setting up a timeline and I have tried to condense the contents for you. But what is missing are the political forces that led government representatives to write these bills and put them forward for a vote. Who favored the policy and who did not. We can find all of that, there is a Congressional Record and there are history books but it would require some major digging and will have to be put off for another time, another article. Once again I will repeat that sometimes you had to be there.

Private Prisons (The Daily Beast article)

What sent me on this journey through history was an article in The Daily Beast  12/27/2018 which delineated the role of private prison corporations in the detention of immigrants, a phenomenon that has exploded. What it also makes clear is that these for-profit (on the stock market) private prison corporations are paid through government contracts, in other words, taxpayer dollars. We are basically unable to process the numbers of asylum seekers, visa overstayers, immigrants arriving without going through channels, and so they have become prisoners. They are apparently not required to work but life is so boring that many opt to work. They are paid $1/day, or if they work in the kitchen, $3/day. Much of the data about payments is kept away from the public but from what Spencer Ackerman and Adam Rawnsley were able to uncover we have spent 807 million for private contracts to 19 different facilities where immigrants are detained. The Daily Beast article also contains an informative infographic by Sarah Rogers.

Conclusions

Obviously Trump did not create current immigration policies and although he has escalated them he is not alone in this. That has been the trend for the last 150 years. But Donald Trump is fear mongering by exaggerating the dangers of immigration at our southern border. He would, seemingly, like to end all immigration through the southern border for the time being. Americans don’t see how it is possible to keep increasing detention facilities and detention time frames. We are unhappy with the imprisonment of asylum seekers. We are unhappy that they have to stay in detention too long because there is not adequate staffing on the judicial side to adjudicate asylums or deportations. Separating mothers and fathers from their young children is really very upsetting to most Americans. It does not sit well with our sense of justice to see a two year old in a court that will decide his/her fate without legal representation or anyone who speaks Spanish. Our system is not working. Imprisonment is obviously not the answer. In fact our whole set of laws to foil undocumented immigrants is a soul-sucking mess. Once again the law-and- order people have had their say and their message is always the same, “lock ‘em up”. We can do better, but first we have to stop doing this.

Photo Credits: From Google Image Searches – thedailybeast.com -CoreCivic-Cleveland.com

Addendum- Kennedy-Johnson Presidencies – 1965

 

I left out a number of rules, laws, and firsts from my quick reference immigration list but a colleague pointed out one very important act that I neglected to mention. This is the Hart-Celler act of 1965, initiated in the Kennedy administration and passed after Kennedy’s death by the Lyndon Johnson administration. The Immigration and Naturalization Act abolished earlier quota systems based on national origin and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting families and attracting skilled labor to the US. “In removing racist national barriers the Act would significantly alter the demographic mix in the US,” according to Wikipedia. This act was widely supported in Congress. 74% of Democrats said yes and 85% of Republicans voted yes. But the policies passed in this act are at the heart of our current immigration controversies. Many Americas are unhappy that white folks will soon be the minority in America (although no one minority group will represent the majority) so they want drastic changes in quotas. President Trump would like to go back to quotas that give Western Europeans the advantage in immigration, and many Republicans back this approach. This bill also focused on the policy that Trump has called “chain migration” because it gives an advantage to family members of immigrants already in America. Trump and most Republicans would like to end the practice of “chain migration,” ostensibly because it aids terrorists, but also because they want to change the complexion of America in order to bring back the ‘whiteness’ factor that, to some, represents the true face of America.

 

 

History Stutters

The Berlin Wall big Stuff YOu should know

Post World War II

Europe has been dominated by the post-World War II division of the spoils of war for the past 70 years. Nations in Eastern Europe disappeared behind “The Iron Curtain” and the Berlin Wall. Nations that were not controlled by Communism and the USSR, and which were not firmly organized as Democracies, were wooed, rather persistently by the US and the NATO allies to resist Communism (the dark side) and turn to the (light), Democracy and Capitalism. (With Communism you got two for the price of one; government and business were different aspects of the same entity.)

America put Air Force and Army bases all over Europe, but especially in countries that seemed to teeter between the two ideologies. Nations, in the great project to rebuild Europe, got gifts of technology, private enterprise, and even new leaders that they did not always even want. The stories that came from behind the Iron Curtain, of purges, and Five-Year Plans, and hunger, and gulags where dissidents were gagged, should have been quite enough to discourage the spread of Communism, but the idealistic expression of that ideology still had popular appeal in a number of nations, and the unsubtle interventions of America were not always helpful in advancing Democracy.

Europe maintained this basic postwar pattern even with the dissolution of the USSR and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But almost as soon as Capitalism seemed to gain a foothold in Russia and the nations newly released from Russian hegemony, forces were at work to try to put the USSR together again. This movement which we see now in the actions of Putin seems akin to the national pride movements that brought Hitler to power in Germany. This appeal to national pride perhaps helps keep a rather frightening Putin in power in Russia. History stutters. The Cold War is slowly creeping back. Authoritarian rule is apparently all the fashion.

Post 9/11

Of course, what happened in Eastern Europe has not stayed in Eastern Europe. For a while Democracy and Communism continued to perform the old political push-pull. Western Europe became the European Union for economic solidarity and strength. America became the dramatic focus of a show of awful force by a new player – radical terrorism modeled on Islam. The twin symbols of Capitalism were toppled on 9/11. America reeled. Wars of retribution did not put an end to the influx of frightened Muslims into a basically Judeo-Christian Europe. As religion got added to the mix of the already contested spheres of government, economics, and race, history is stuttering again.

Europe and America, in the midst of an economic downturn fueled by the rise of Asian economies, was now being flooded by people from antique states along the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean  and in Northern Africa who were relieved of, or escaping from, authoritarian leaders. Conflagrations in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Syria seemed to catch the entire area on fire. Europe and America became targets of anger as old established “regimes” fell and people, caught-up in chaos and fear, attacked nations that seemed to them to have been driven to depravity by money and power. However guilty the “West” feels about having abused its power, sitting still for bombs in public places, mass shootings and death by modes of transportation (turning our own technology against us) is not something people want to do.

Before World War II we find a propensity towards “strong men”. We find it, not in whole nations to begin with, but as a minority groundswell. Even in nations like England and America there were those who perked up at the call to “nationalism” – to national pride and strength. There were those who grew suspicious of “the other”, who spoke a different language, or against Jewish people who seem inordinately good at conducting business and making money. Charles Lindbergh was quite famous for this in his day and he was a popular guy.

Hitler was, arguably, the worst strong man ever, a twisted madman who would perform any scientific atrocity to create his “master race” and rid the world of people he hated (Jews, gypsies). Mussolini, the Italian Fascist, may have looked like a pale copy, but he did quite enough damage; damage that lingers in Italy to this day. We (Americans and our allies) swore that we would never let a Hitler happen to the world again. We swore that we would never allow a government that exercised control over its people through fear and media mind control, like Soviet Union, to operate in the “free West”.

Well history does stutter and here we are again with strong men peppered around the world. (Turkey, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, China, North Korea, Honduras, Iraq, various thugs in African nations, and more). Here we are, where thuggery and jack bootery are making authoritarianism, even in smaller nations, as in South America and Africa, a constant horror to honest citizens. Here we have heartless, vicious men who send their own people, or their own neighbors scattering away from them, to what the refugees hope will be a new safe space in more stable and humanitarian nations, only to be turned back as the Jewish people were, or isolated by those who feel their nation is being taken over by these “others”. Here we have men so “strong”, so selfish, so greedy that they will rule over an empty nation in order to get their way. (Bashir Assad, drug cartels)

Migrant_Caravan_22997 big The Sacremento Bee.jpg

America, 2018

Here we have, once, again fear of the other, attempts to use threats and media mind control to consolidate the power of an authoritarian personality. This time one of these “strong” men is here, in the heart of America, trampling all over our traditions and unwritten rules. Here we have a man, in full knowledge of what happened the last time someone built a wall to keep nations separate, insisting that what America needs is a wall to keep out our neighbors. He perhaps does not remember, or never knew, what Russia had to do to keep West and East Berlin apart even with a wall. There is something about a wall that makes people determined to get over it or around it. There had to be legal papers, and intelligence officers, snarling dogs, and checkpoints and guards willing to shoot those desperate enough to try to get to the other side. Already we are using the threat of separating parents from their children, of putting their children in foster care, or in “shelters”, to deter people from trying to cross a wall that does not yet even exist in some places. This threat does not seem to discourage all who want refugee status. Will we have to allow the guards at the checkpoints to shoot to kill? Will we place the heads of those who are killed on pikes and display them along the wall? How far will we let our “strong” man go to keep people out of America?

And once again, as before, there are people who are attracted to the idea of the “strong” man, and who do not seem to mind that he will destroy what he seems to be defending – that strong man means authoritarian rule by a dictator. It is not just semantics. History stutters. Are we doomed to repeat this pattern again and again?