Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Illiberal Tradition: Anti-Immigrant Racism Then and Now

Liberals especially, their tumescent sensibilities offended, bridle at the suggestion that there could be anything racist about opposing amnesty and requiring illegals to get in line like everyone else. But of course it’s racist. The attitude hides behind what, instinctively, rings of truth: laws must be respected. You can’t just have open borders. The future must be safeguarded. Citizenship is not an entitlement. But every one of these claims is pile of chaff fit for straw men by the horde, though every claim has a long and ignoble tradition in America’s immigration debates, which are — the proudly American dependence on amnesia notwithstanding — as old as the colonies. Even Roger Williams, the Puritan pastor who had the good sense to be exiled from Plymouth in 1635, and who subsequently founded the city of Providence with the sort of tolerant open arms that liberals today euphemize as “diversity,” had his issues with the very Jews he accepted into Providence, but didn’t quite welcome. The emphases are his: “I am not without thoughts of many Objections, and cannot without horror think of the Jews killing of the Lord Jesus, of their cursing themselves and their posterity; of the wrath of God upon them,” and so on. But that’s looking back too far.

Here’s Calvin Coolidge, 30th president, writing about the necessary limits on immigration: “There are racial considerations too grave to be brushed aside for any sentimental reasons. Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.” And if the present day wasn’t so dire, as 1921 wasn’t, immigration-wise, there was always the children: “We must remember that we have not only the present but the future to safeguard; our obligations extend even to generations yet unborn.” Aren’t we hearing the very same words these days? The title of Coolidge’s piece, incidentally, was a question mark in the shape of its own blinkered answer: “Whose Country Is This?” The piece was published, of all places, in Good Housekeeping, and it was still on the newsstands when Coolidge took his oath of office as Harding’s vice president. Read the rest...