Race and Immigration

Race and Immigration by Ben Echevarria, Executive Director, The Welcome Project
[Originally distributed in Community Health Network Area's January, 2017 Spotlight]

“[T]here is a lot of talk about the Act being discriminatory. I do not know what is discriminatory about it…and I do not know what is wrong being discriminatory…The proposed changes…will discriminate against gangsters, idiots, prostitutes, and some other undesirables.” -Sam Baccala, Americanism Chairman of the Baltimore District American 1965 during testimony to the Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration. (Gabriel J. Chin, 2015)
Although the quote was made over 52 years ago many of the sentiments made continue to be stated currently about immigrants; simply exchange Gangsters, prostitutes, and idiots for murders, drug dealers, and rapist. Immigration today is no better than it was throughout our history. Immigration laws have been used to remove or restrict various races, nationalities, and ethnicities throughout our history.
The first immigration act was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The act placed a 10-year moratorium on Chinese immigration and banned naturalization for Chinese people. This act was formed after blaming the Chinese, who comprised .002% of the American population, for declining wages and economic ills. In 1902, this act was passed but made the ban permanent. Today we blame Mexicans instead of the Chinese for our economic ills.
In 1921, the Emergency Quota’s Act came into existence creating a quota system which was supposed to strike the correct racial balance of America. This system heavily favored Western European immigrants while restraining immigration form places perceived to be undesirable, namely Southern and Eastern Europe, while ignoring many other races entirely. The early 60’s there was a push to change quota system to encourage more diversity within our nation. In order to create a new quota system, the system must be applied to all nations. This meant the abolishment of the uncapped immigration most western hemisphere citizens received.
Today we continue to see the struggles on immigration specifically around race. Senator Lindsey Graham states “There will always be people [who have] different reasons for opposing the change. We have a history in this country of demagoguery when it comes [to immigration]. You know, ‘Irish Need Not Apply.’ There’s nothing new going on today that’s gone on before. This isn’t the first time that there’s been some ugliness around the issue of immigration,” Graham said. (Stanton, 2014)
Race and ethnicity continue to play a factor within our nation and our politics. Although many refuse to discuss race, facts show race matters. If we focus on improving immigration for Latino’s, Syrian Refugees, Muslims, and other disenfranchised groups, we will improve immigration for all groups. A comprehensive immigration plan includes not separating families, but developing a pathway to citizenship, and a better policy on refugees.