Despite the outcry over President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, banning travel from seven Muslim majority countries, the United States has a rich history of discrimination against specific countries and ethnicity. Originally, as per the First US Congress in 1790, only free white persons of good moral character would be allowed as citizens of the United States. But this wasn’t an explicit ban on immigrants.
That would come later, in 1882, after thousands emigrated from China to US, largely as workers. This mass migration sparked a wave of xenophobia across the country, with fears that American jobs were being taken from Americans.
The Chinese Exclusion Act placed a ban on people who were ethnically Chinese, halting nearly all immigration from China for decades. But while this was the first such law, a broader and more restrictive law was the Immigration Act of 1924, which was passed to lower existing quotas for immigrants from certain countries and specifically out right banned Asian ethnicities from immigration.
In Japan this was met with a National Humiliation Day in protest to the unjust law. After this law stopped Asian immigration, the United States attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, drawing the US into World War Two.
Ironically, a U.S. Presidential Commission later found that Japanese militarism and anti-Americanism grew dramatically after the ban. One Japanese military commander even reportedly stated that the attack was retribution for the behavior of the United States, and in part, the restrictions on immigration. Following Pearl Harbor, the US government imprisoned more than 100,000 people of Japanese ethnicity, done via Executive Order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Many families were torn apart, businesses failed, some people even died during the roughly four-year-long internment and more than half of those interned were American citizens.
In 1965 the U.S. tried to right the wrongs of its past with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The law, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, states “No person shall receive any preference or priority or be discriminated against in the issuance of an immigrant visa because of his race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence”.
The legality of President Trump’s immigration ban is questioned under the 1965 law because it singles out the Muslim majority countries of Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Libya for 90 days. In a statement following his executive order, Trump said, “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe”.
But between 1975 and 2015, none of these countries have produced citizens which have killed Americans in terror attacks on U.S. soil. Trump, is defending the ban under an immigration law passed in 1952, which gives the president the authority to ban “any class of aliens”.
But the 1965 law is actually an update of the 1952 law, thereby superseding it, and casting doubt on the legality of Trump’s actions. President Trump has stated that his immigration restrictions are no different than limitations put in place by former President Barack Obama.
In 2011 Iraqi nationals in the US on visa programs were placed under greater scrutiny after an Iraqi terror cell was discovered in the U.S. However, unlike Trump’s ban, those with valid visas, green cards, and dual citizenship were able to come and go as they had previously. Additionally, while Obama’s restrictions were a response to an active threat, Trump’s ban is based on his campaign promises.
The history of immigration bans in the United States shows that they are short-sighted and potentially dangerous. Politicians such as Senator John McCain have said that the ban may serve to fuel ISIS propaganda, and even some social media posts by alleged members of ISIS have celebrated the ban.
According to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Trump’s plan is “a great gift to extremists”, as it serves to divide the US and the Muslim world. Critics of Trump’s plan to ban immigration from seven Muslim majority countries have expressed fear about potential repercussions.
If U.S. history is any indication, the fallout could be devastating to the progress of the country. Within the U.S., President Trump is threatening to cut off federal funding to some of the country’s largest cities as long as they continue to resist immigration enforcement.