A Long Look At Immigration
Pandemic Diary Entry #82
March 29, 2021
I wrote a travel blog before COVID, I look forward to writing about adventures again.
The point is…I travel. What travel teaches you is that we are all alike. We may look different, we may speak different languages, but the over-riding themes of humanity are the same. We all have families, we all need food, water, and a roof over our heads. While we may need them, we don’t always have them, that sad fact is universal too.
What travel also teaches you is that the population of a country is rarely representative of its government. Citizens do not drop bombs, governments do. Governments do not bury the bodies or place flowers on the graves of those that washed up on the shore, citizens do. Absorbing all of this over the years has made me wonder why in the world we even have passports. Why do we vilify those that cross borders without proper papers? This is not a missive on open borders, that ship has sailed, I just want to look at why we have such an open-arms policy to some and slam the door in the face of others.
Passports are a relatively new concept. Passports originated in Europe, but in 1780 the US needed a more formal way to send former Continental Congressman Francis Dana from France to Holland, Benjamin Franklin used his printing press to create a new document. The one-page letter, written in French, politely requested that Dana and his servant be allowed to pass freely. Franklin signed and sealed the letter himself creating one of the first known U.S. “passe-ports.”
Early in our history Americans were not thrilled to form any sort of national identification system, and we had no problem with immigration, the immigrants helped fill labor shortages and our sparsely populated frontier.
Then we began to attempt to exclude whole swaths of immigrants. First was the prohibition of prostitutes and convicts, then in 1882, we began a sinophobic era meant to exclude the Chinese. After WWI the government became worried about spies, “radicals” and “Communists”. By the 1920s the Immigration Act established hard nationality-based quotas. The more xenophobic America became the more interest there was in separating traveling citizens from unwanted aliens.
The booklet of today was first issued in 1926. These new forms of identity were not very welcome, newspapers ran articles about the “passport nuisance” a word used to cover the perceived absurdity that the government would force people of the “better” class to be documented like common criminals. When Woodrow Wilson required a passport it was front-page news.
Passports began to be required to leave the United States with the outbreak of WWII in 1941. The requirement to have them to re-enter the United States was made into law in 1978. So, as you can see, while passports have been around for quite a while in the US, it is only recently that their use became law.
So what happened?
When did we become so mad at those who live south of our border to develop the cruel and arcane laws we have today?
The border patrol was established in 1924. At the time its main mission was to control alcohol and guns coming across the border during Prohibition. The Patrol was also there to keep out Asian immigrants who might attempt to come through Mexico.
Immigration from Mexico to America increased after the postwar period, with an estimated 3 million undocumented Mexicans in our country. Like today they worked mostly in agricultural jobs at significantly lower wages than an American.
In 1929 Senator Coleman Livingston Blease, a white supremacist, was against Mexicans coming into the US, but it was hard to argue with the farmers that needed them. The compromise was Blease’s Section 1325 addition to Title 8 of the US Code. This law said that anyone entering the US that did not cross the border through one of the only 3 official entry points, was committing a federal misdemeanor, the second offense was a felony.
These three points were situated far from each other on our 2000 mile border with Mexico. This forced many Mexican citizens to continue to cross in unsanctioned areas, as they had for years. Even the legal crossings were not pleasant. The US subjected Mexican immigrants to kerosene baths and delousing because they believed Mexican immigrants carried diseases.
In the first 10 years of Section 1325 the US prosecuted approximately 44,000 immigrants. However, this was nothing when compared to the repatriation drives. During the depression, up to 1.8 million people of Mexican descent were rounded up in informal raids and deported in an effort to reserve jobs for white people. Sixty percent of these were American citizens, turning this into a mass exile rather than actual repatriation. This whole process was done outside of American law and under a fancy title that helped to gloss over the overtly racist program by calling it “American jobs for real Americans”.
It didn’t protect jobs. According to a 2017 academic paper by the bipartisan National Bureau of Economic Research: “the repatriation of Mexicans, who were mostly laborers and farm workers, reduced demand for other jobs mainly held by natives, such as skilled craftsman and managerial, administrative and sales jobs,” “In fact, our estimates suggest that it may have further increased their levels of unemployment and depressed their wages.”
Hoover, who instigated the program, lost the election, and while Franklin Delano Roosevelt, didn’t officially sanction the drives, he did not stop them either. The performance of these raids died out during World War II and the advent of the Bracero program.
In 1953 President Eisenhower enacted a nationwide sweep of Mexican immigrants in the southwest officially named “Operation Wetback” which authorized an additional 1075 Border Patrol agents to target immigrants in California, Arizona, and Texas.
Showing how America prefers immigrants from primarily white European countries Eisenhower had no problem allowing in around thirty thousand Hungarian refugees after Hungary’s failed revolution against the Soviet Union. Eisenhower used a provision within the McCarran-Walter Immigration act to authorize the admission of these immigrants. The Act has been used since then to grant tens of thousands of refugees from all around the world, entry into the US.
The McCarran-Walter Act was intended to end the anti-Asian policy, however, it upheld the ethnic-based quota system favoring Europeans. President Harry Truman vetoed the bill, citing discrimination against Asian immigrants and decrying the “absurdity, the cruelty of carrying over into this year of 1952 the isolationist limitations of our 1924 law.” Congress overrode his veto to pass the bill.
We lashed out at the Mexicans once again in 1964, with the ending of the Bracero Program. The Bracero program was instituted in 1942 to help with a labor shortage during WWII. This gave actual contracts to Mexican workers for employment in the US agricultural fields. During this time 4.5 million contracts were issued and although it stipulated wage protections along with free housing, affordable meals and insurance, those were very rarely abided by. Conditions became so bad that the last director of the program under the Department of Labor, Lee G Williams, called the system “legalized slavery”. The end of this program accelerated illegal immigration into the US.
As the Viet Nam war was winding down, Southeast Asia was in turmoil. President Johnson signed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Program that helped around 130,000 refugees from the area to immigrate to the US.
In 1980 President Carter signs the Refugee Act of 1980 raising the limit of refugee visas from 17,500 to 50,000 per year.
President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. This required employers to check the immigration status of their employees and face fines if they knowingly hired undocumented workers, but the enforcement of this section of the bill was extremely lax. The law also granted legal status for certain seasonal workers and unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the US before 1982. This last measure eventually granted legal status to 3 million people 2.3 million of which were Mexican.
In 1994 Fidel Castro threatened Washington D.C. by saying he would allow a mass exodus of Cubans if the US didn’t stop illegal boat departures from Cuba. This led to an accord stating that the Coast Guard would no longer allow migrants intercepted at sea to come to the US. However if a Cuban did make it to US soil they would be allowed a path to citizenship through the Wet Foot / Dry Foot Policy, a program ended by Obama. Cubans are now treated like any other immigrant and at this time they are amongst the thousands at the border who have worked their way up through South and Central America, to reach Mexico.
President Bush passed the Homeland Security Act of 2002 after 9/11. The law made it easier to detain and deport immigrants, it also required men from Muslim countries to pre-register and go through extra screening if traveling to or from the US.
At the end of Bush’s presidency, he administered a Secure Communities Program, to apprehend undocumented criminals. The program was expanded under Obama. Secure Communities is extremely controversial as many say it is casting far too wide a net in apprehending undocumented criminals. The program tends to catch the low lying fruit, by deporting large numbers of low-level offenders, setting up the distrust that undocumented workers hold today against government officials
DACA was created by Obama. The creation of DACA was in response to the Dreamers Act that languished in Congress for a decade with no results. The program was set up to delay deportation and grant two-year work visas to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children. More than one million “childhood arrivals” are estimated to be eligible. To qualify a person must have a clean criminal record, lived in the country for at least five years, and be a student, high school graduate, or military veteran.
In 2015 John Kerry announced plans to increase the numbers of refugees admitted into the country from seventy thousand to one hundred thousand by 2017. This came during conflicts that were raging in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia, sparking the largest global migration since WWII. The White House pledged that among these would be at least ten thousand Syrians from a civil war that had displaced more than 11 million people.
In 2017, just two weeks into office, Trump signed an executive order that suspended the refugee program for 120 days, banned Syrians indefinitely, and decreased the cap on refugee admissions to fifty thousand. It also banned nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from traveling to the US for 90 days. In February of that year a federal judge imposed a restraining order on the ban. Trump revised his executive order twice and in June of 2017 it wound up in front of the Supreme Court. The Court allowed the ban that now also included people from North Korea and Venezuela.
In the summer of 2018 protests began across the country against a new zero-tolerance policy on the Mexican border that was separating thousands of migrant children from their parents, many of who were asylum seekers. Under the policy, minors were detained separately from their parents. The outrage by citizens across the country forced trump to end the family separation policy, but many maintained that the zero-tolerance policy continued until the end of his term.
The cruelty continued to grow. During the first half of 2019 close to six hundred thousand people were apprehended on the Mexican border. On July 15th Trump issued a rule barring migrants who traveled through a third country to seek asylum.
So where are we in 2021? According to the Immigration Policy Tracking Project, the Trump administration made more than 1,000 policy changes to the immigration system. Biden has issued a few executive orders but they only address the tip of the iceberg.
The southern border remains effectively sealed off to asylum seekers under a Trump public health order issued pursuant to Title 42 of the Health Services Act. The Trump administration used Title 42 to override immigration laws and justify expelling asylum seekers. The Biden administration is currently implementing the same policy during COVID.
On day one of the Biden administration, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would no longer place asylum seekers in the punitive program that Trump had created via the Migrant Protections Protocols (MPP) also called Remain in Mexico, that created the squalid open-air refugee camps in Matamoros, Mexico.
Phase 1 of the Biden program began on February 19th with a group of 25 asylum seekers entering the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California. On February 25th, the government began processing asylum seekers out of Matamoros, after nearly two years surviving in the encampment there. The Biden administration order has stopped construction on the environmentally destructive Border Wall but has not directed its removal. There are still a lot of unanswered questions regarding Biden’s immigration plans.
Immigration will not stop because America makes laws. The crowding in Matamoros is a fine example of that. Global warming is creating mass migration that will only grow larger. Many of these immigrants come from poor countries and have few resources. The whole world needs to create more humane programs to deal with a growing issue. We need to open our hearts, our minds, and our countries to fellow citizens. It will not be an easy task.
To understand how we got here I felt it required knowing some history. Next week I will dive a little deeper into the subject. What is the difference between an immigrant and a refugee? How do we view the difference between wanting to come to the US for a better life, and coming to the US because you are fleeing violence, rape, indoctrination into drug cartels, and other horrible crimes against humanity?
It is a complicated subject with philippic arguments all around.
San Francisco weather: 61 degrees and sunny
NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +11,409
COVID cases in the US: 30,968,005
Deaths from COVID in the US: 562,560
Vaccines administered in the US: 143,462,691
OED word of the day: foofy — Elaborate or intricate (esp. excessively so); fussily decorative
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 385
Reading: Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something Silly From the Internet: