Most Immigrants Who Arrived In America Didn't 'Get In Line,' Or Follow The Law

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 01, 2014 2:15 PM
Most Immigrants Who Arrived In America Didn't 'Get In Line,' Or Follow The Law

Usually, Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday for liberals to troll with endless tweets and social media posts about genocide, the unlawful taking of land from Native Americans, and other tangents of progressive insanity. It usually falls on deaf ears because people want to stuff themselves with turkey, be thankful for what they have in their lives, open a beer, and watch football–and they’re right for doing that.

Yet, one New Republic piece on immigration is worth a read, even though 99 percent of you will probably disagree with it. Julia Ioffe penned a thorough piece on the history of American immigration law, which turns out to be porous, arbitrary, and totally cuts into the narrative that many immigrants got in line and waited their turn to become citizens:

Our immigration law has never been a constant. For the first century of the United States’ existence, immigration was totally unregulated. The only thing that was regulated was naturalization. According to the American Naturalization Act of 1790, only free white men could become American citizens. Otherwise, it was pretty much a free for all—unless you were Chinese. Chinese were totally barred from immigrating to the U.S. under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

The Chinese Exclusion Act, by the way, didn’t stop Chinese migration to the U.S. Tens of thousands of Chinese came into the country illegally, through San Francisco, by claiming to be the foreign-born children of American-born Chinese and were therefore themselves American citizens. Immigration officials could do nothing to disprove them—all the records had burned up in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Thirty thousand of these so-called “paper sons” and their descendants were finally legalized by the executive action of Republican Dwight Eisenhower.

Eisenhower was also responsible for using his presidential powers to wave in 50,000 Hungarian refugees after the revolution in Budapest in 1956. This was more than ten times the quota for Hungary at the time. The national origins quota system was not eliminated until 1965, and Eisenhower was also responsible for taking executive action to let in a surge of Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. This was also outside the immigration law, and presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson continued using executive action to let in more and more Cubans. Congress didn’t pass a law to deal with the Cubans until 1966.

Cold War geopolitics also fuelled migration from U.S. allies like South Korea and from places where American (and Soviet) shenanigans created the kind of turmoil that makes people pick up and move. The numbers that came out of these Cold War migrations are far bigger than the 170,000 immigration visas envisioned in the 1965 Immigration Act that got rid of the restrictive quota system. There are now 1.7 million people of Korean descent in the United States, and it’s not because of astronomical reproductive rates. There were two waves of Vietnamese immigration after the end of the Vietnam War—first, the South Vietnamese who now cluster in southern California (and in the Republican Party), followed by the larger wave of boat people. According to the 2010 census, over 1.5 million people in the United States claim Vietnamese origin. After the fall of the Shah, Iranians fled to the U.S. because that was where they had connections: Washington’s extensive military cooperation with the Shah spurred industries and friendships on both sides. Now, there are up to two million people of Iranian origin living in the U.S.

This year, as Thanksgiving bleeds into the rest of the winter holiday season, as Republicans sharpen their knives for the fight with Obama over his executive action—or “executive amnesty,” whatever you choose to call it—keep this in mind: American immigration law is perhaps one of the most mercurial sets of laws we have. It is not set in stone, nor has it ever been. Historically, it has depended on racism, trade priorities, and geopolitical considerations, just as it does today.

Ioffe’s family were refugees; part of the persecuted Jewish minority in the Soviet Union. They all came to this country legally, but not, as Ioffe wrote, in the typical “get-in-line” way many on the right espouse; a presidential order let them in.

In my situation, I was adopted at four months, I was put through the naturalization process, and after two to three years became a U.S. Citizen; my parents wanted to get this part over with after hearing about South Korea’s mandatory male conscription law, which meant I would have had to go back at age 18 for military service if I didn’t renounce my Korean citizenship. 

So, I became a U.S. citizen through the channels that conservatives want to be made more explicit in U.S. immigration law.

At the same time, after the Korean War, wherein South Korea’s economy was burned to ash (it’s now one of the largest economies in the world), Ioffe noted that scores of Korean and Vietnamese refugees came to America in the aftermath of their respective–and destructive–wars.

I see Ioffe’s point: what Obama is doing is not really all that different from past presidents, but is keeping porous, arbitrary immigration laws in place, or doing what we’ve always done smart policy? It’s partially why our immigration system is so dysfunctional today.

Moreover, given that the illegal aliens being protected by Obama's executive order will be eligible for Social Security, Medicare, and welfare state benefits, the discussion to codify a more explicit immigration law becomes more urgent.

With the president's abysmal approval rating in handling this issue–and approval for illegal immigrants staying with a pathway to citizenship down nine points from a year ago–Republicans could seize the moment, show leadership on this issue, and prove that they can govern. But difficult decisions will have to be made.

I'll leave you with this to ponder concerning the White House's motives in this fight.  

Again, Ioffe's piece is just something to ponder, but Connwill have the gritty details on inevitable immigration battle in the coming months.

When discussing this piece in the office, Conn aptly noted that while Ioffe gave numerous instances where foreign policy was used as a catalyst for executive action on immigration, Obama does not have such an angle here. One could posit that this makes his executive action on this issue even more unprecedented.