From Irish to Muslims: the History of U.S. Policies Against Poor Immigrants
Many of us are scared about Donald Trump's position against refugees and illegal immigrants. But the United States has a long history of denying public support to immigrants that escaped from poverty, reports The Atlantic.
The magazine interviewed this week City College NY historian Hidetaka Hirota, author of Expelling the Poor , about the way poverty has shaped government policies on immigration.
According to Hirota, immigration restriction in the United States was rooted in poverty. The British colonists introduced a law which regulated the movement of the poor, including the expulsion of poor people from their territory. That model developed into passenger laws for prohibiting the landing of poor people. The critical turning point came in the 1840s and ’50s, when a large number of impoverished Irish immigrants arrived in the United States. New York and Massachusetts were two major receiving states. They responded by enhancing and strengthening their laws to more effectively restrict the immigration of poor Irish people.
These laws were targeted against poor immigrants, rather than against all Irish immigrants. In that sense, the poverty of immigrants was at the core of state-level immigration policy.
But at the same time, such policy would not have developed if there was no strong cultural and religious prejudice, especially against Irish Catholics.
The people “threatening” the United States have changed. Earlier, it was the Irish, and then later, it was the Chinese and Asians. Now it’s Muslims and undocumented immigrants from Latin America. But I think the fundamental language—such as “national security” and “national peace”—remain the same. Immigration control is always justified as a matter of the community’s right to protect its citizens from external threats.
Read the full interview in The Atlantic