Yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gave a press conference in which he spoke out against Trump’s executive order blocking the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries. With tears in his eyes, he said, “This executive order was mean-spirited and un-American.” Of course, Schumer did not mention that the list of countries was first created by a bipartisan visa restriction program, the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act. This act was passed in a bipartisan manner in Congress and approved by Obama in 2015. Schumer also neglected to mention that these are the countries that the Obama administration attacked at a rate of three bombs per hour in 2016
In his public statement, Schumer suggested that a bipartisan group of legislators should formulate an immigration plan to counter Trump’s reactionary order. He went on, “Tears are running down the cheeks of the Statue of Liberty tonight as a grand tradition of America, welcoming immigrants, that has existed since America was founded, has been stomped upon.”
While he argues that Trump’s actions are counter to US traditions, this is completely untrue; the US government has always had anti-immigrant elements and policies. The following four examples illustrate this characteristic:
The Alien and Sedition Act
The Alien and Sedition Act was signed into law by John Adams, the second president of the United States, in 1798. The law increased residency requirements for citizenship from five to fourteen years. It also made it impossible for people from “enemy nations” to ever become US citizens. Immigrants were subject to deportation if they were considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.”
The fact that the second president of the United States signed an anti-immigrant policy into law reveals the length of the historical precedent being followed.
The Chinese Exclusion Act
The Chinese Exclusion Act was passed in 1882 and kept on the books in various forms for over 100 years. The act barred Chinese laborers from entering the US and denied citizenship for any Chinese residents already living in the country. In 1943, Chinese people were given the right to naturalization and some Chinese were allowed to immigrate — though this number was capped at 105 per year. In 1968, these limits became more lax with an annual maximum of 20,000 people being able to enter from any single country outside the Western Hemisphere.
The explicitly racist Chinese Exclusion Act is a clear example of the way that xenophobia and geopolitics have shaped US policy.
Japanese Internment Camps
Japanese internment camps also demonstrate the racism and xenophobia pervasive throughout US history. During World War II, from 110,000 to 120,000 people of Japanese descent were rounded up and forced into internment camps simply for their ancestry and regardless of their citizenship. The racist notion that Japanese people were national enemies and potential terroristsis echoed today in the chauvinistic, anti-Muslim policies and discourse of the Trump Administration.
The Patriot Act
The Patriot Act of 2001, signed by George W. Bush, and its renewal, signed by Barack Obama, laid the groundwork for Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants. After the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act was passed, expanding the government’s power to search and investigate people and businesses without a warrant. It also made way for the long-term detention of immigrants suspected of “terrorism,” resulting in the nationwide targeting and surveillance of Muslims by the US government.
Xenophobic Policies are Deeply American
This lie that anti-immigration policy is somehow a new introduction to American tradition is perpetuated by the Democratic party in a way that is entirely functional to their message: to demonize the Republican Party and arguing that only the Democrats can maintain America’s “greatness.” This is designed to discourage the public from questioning the racist and xenophobic core of American history, placing the blame entirely on Republicans for this xenophobic and racist “moment.” This falsification masks the Democrats’ role in the formation of a reactionary history.
The idea of the US as a nation open to all immigrants is a false one, contradicted by the history of the nation. The Statue of Liberty is inscribed with words that have been discarded by history. Schumer’s words drip with the hypocrisy of someone whose party approved of the continuous bombing of the region that contains the seven countries whose citizens are currently banned from entering the United States, deported more immigrants than any other, and opened the door for the attacks by the Trump administration.