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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

The Uncomfortable Truth About America’s Immigration Laws

By Donald V. Watkins ©Copyrighted and Published on April 15, 2019

Many people are offended by the notion that President Donald J. Trump's hardline approach to America's “immigration problem” has racial underpinnings. To them, Trump is offering real and forceful solutions to a growing problem – the “Browning of America.”

Trump is cracking down on the flow of undocumented migrants from Central and South American countries and African nations using any and all means necessary, whether legal or illegal. This crackdown is in full swing.

A look back through history is useful in understanding the surge of support Trump enjoys for his immigration and naturalization policies that favor openly white immigrants from European countries while punishing migrants of color from other nations.

As expected, Trump’s immigration and naturalization policies are extremely popular with his political base. This is particularly true with respect to his diehard supporters in the Deep South states that formed the old Confederacy during America’s Civil War.

The Birth of White Entitlement in America

The history of America has been riddled with schemes that sounded noble and virtuous, at least on the surface. At the end of the day, their only intended purpose was to award an avalanche of benefits to white European immigrants and their progeny. 

Thus, at the same time this country’s “founders” were espousing noble principles, they were aggressively grabbing land and valuables while exterminating Native Americans and enslaving people of color who were brought here from Africa. Even cherished patriots like Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. In short, America’s early settlers and colonists denied and seized the rights, property and lives of millions of human beings. 

During the pinnacle of the patriarchy in the United States, which was supported by both the church and the legal system, half of the population – women – was denied the privileges and powers afforded to white males. Before 1865, a mere 154 years ago, ninety percent of blacks in America were slaves who were denied every freedom historically enjoyed by white males.

The Native American population, roughly estimated to be 60 million people in the 1500s, was reduced to less than 306,000 by 1880. Because federal policy never officially mandated the “physical annihilation of the Native populations on racial grounds or characteristics,” the slaughter and starvation deaths of millions of Native-Americans during this period was not considered to be “genocide.”

Embedded Racism in America’s Early Immigration and Naturalization Laws

The adoption and implementation of racist immigration and naturalization policies in the United States did not start with President Trump. It started with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited citizenship in America to white persons.

The Naturalization Act of 1870, which was enacted by Congress during the Post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, extended the naturalization process to "aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent." Other non-whites, including Native Americans, remained excluded from naturalization, as mandated in the Naturalization Act of 1790.

The Page Act of 1875 was the first federal law that prohibited the entry of immigrants who were deemed to be “undesirable.” These “undesirables” included migrants or contract workers from Asia (i.e., China, Japan, and any oriental country).

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 restricted immigration of Chinese laborers for 10 years, prohibited Chinese naturalization, and provided deportation procedures for illegal Chinese. This law was race-based on its face. The Geary Act of 1892 extended and strengthened the Chinese Exclusion Act.

The Immigration Act of 1917 further restricted immigration from countries in the Asia-Pacific Zone (i.e., the "Asiatic Barred Zone") and introduced a reading test for all immigrants over sixteen years of age, with certain exceptions for children, wives, and elderly family members.

The Emergency Quota Act of 1921 limited the number of immigrants a year from any country to 3% of those already in the United States from that country, as measured by the 1910 census. Many white Europeans were able to fleece this system by simply migrating to Canada or Mexico and subsequently slipping into the United States illegally from these bordering countries.

The Immigration Act of 1924 established permanent numerical limits on immigration and began a national-original quota system. Immigrants from non-quota nations, notably those contiguous to the United States, only had to prove their residence in that country of origin for at least two years prior to emigration to the United States. Migrants from Asian nations were still excluded but exceptions existed for professionals, clergy, and students to obtain visas.

In the 1930s, federal immigration officials reportedly rounded up and deported more than 400,000 native born Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, many of whom were children and U.S. citizens.

The Chinese Exclusion Repeal Act of 1943 repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and permitted Chinese nationals already in the country to become naturalized citizens. However, only 105 new Chinese immigrants were allowed into America each year.

In 1954, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service implemented “Operation Wetback” to roundup and deport undocumented immigrants in selected areas of California, Arizona, and Texas along the border. The U.S. Border Patrol later reported that more than 1.3 million people were deported or had left the United States voluntarily under the threat of deportation in 1954. Of course, “Wetback” is a racially derogatory term for a person of Hispanic descent. Undocumented white Europeans who entered the United States from Mexico were not targeted for roundup and deportation in “Operation Wetback.”

The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 repealed the national-origin quotas. The Act also (a) initiated a visa system for family reunification and skills, (b) set a quota for Western Hemisphere immigration, and (c) set a 20,000-immigrant country limit for Eastern Hemisphere migrants.

In the 1990s, an estimated 5.8 million illegal immigrants entered the United States. Mexico rose to the head of the list of sending countries, followed by the Philippines, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, and China. After the September 11, 2001 attacks upon the United States, an estimated 3.1 million immigrants entered the United States illegally between 2000 and 2005.

From 1998 to 2001, Mexicans accounted for 68% of immigrants who entered the United States illegally. This percentage increased to 78% for the years between 2001 and 2005, mostly due to stricter security measures following the 9-11 attacks (which more efficiently prevented illegal entry from nations that did not share a land or maritime boundary with the United States).

Interestingly, since 1990, rich people from around the world have been able to buy their way into America through the EB-5 Investor Visa Program. The program was the brainchild of the George H. W. Bush administration. It provided a legal way to help the President’s wealthy friends in foreign countries bypass long visa lines and gain permanent entry into the United States. The EB-5 program, which was created by the Immigration Act of 1990, allows eligible immigrant investors to become lawful permanent residents -- informally known as "green card" holders -- by investing at least $1,000,000 to finance a business in the United States that will employ at least 10 American workers.

About 80% of EB-5 investors come from China, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom. Others have come from Canada, India, Mexico, Iran, and Japan. 

President Trump has backed extensions of the EB-5 program on several occasions. Media reports in 2017 suggest that the program was a major source of funding for the Kushner Companies. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior policy advisor, played a pivotal role in (a) extending the EB-5 program and (b) securing EB-5 investments for the Kushman Companies. In marketing materials used by the Kushner Companies, Chinese investors were shown a photo of Donald Trump to suggest the ease of getting a green card.

The American Model Shaped Nazi-Era Immigration Laws

America’s immigration laws and policies from the 1700s to the early 1900s shaped Nazi-era laws on who could and could not be a German citizen during the rise of the Third Reich. In Hitler’s American Model, noted historian and legal scholar James Q. Whitman traced the evolution of Nazi-era immigration policies and practices to those implemented by the United States.

According to Whitman, “What all this research unmistakably reveals is that the Nazis [found] precedents and parallels and inspirations in the United States.” The most radical Nazis were often the most enthused about American legal precedents. More moderate, less anti-Semitic members of the Nazi Party tended to be more skeptical of American approaches. For some Nazis, “American race law looked too racist.” America “was the leading racist jurisdiction” in the 1930s.

Whitman’s book investigates institutional discrimination against Jews in 1930s Germany and against people of color throughout U.S. history. In the 1930s, both the United States and Nazi Germany assaulted their own citizens. As Whitman explains, “Jews of Germany were hounded, beaten, and sometimes murdered, by mobs and by the state alike. In the same years the blacks of the American South were hounded, beaten, and sometimes murdered as well.”

Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf  praised America as the only nation that had “made progress toward the creation of a healthy racist order of the kind the Nuremberg Laws were intended to establish.” Hitler, himself, viewed America as the “global leader in racist immigration law.”

The Nazis also applied an American model of disenfranchising groups of its own citizens. For example, American racists intimidated African American voters to prevent them from influencing government policy. The Nazis similarly cited Jewish “influence” as their reason for disenfranchising Jews in the 1930s.


From the Naturalization Act of 1790 to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 to the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, U.S. immigration laws and policies from the Eighteenth through the Twenty-First Centuries have formed the basis for deciding who is and who is not supposed to reside in the country and/or become an American citizen.

America is open to white European immigrants but is mostly closed to migrants of color. Trump has painted migrants of color -- men, women and children -- as “thugs," “drug-dealers," and “gang members.” He has labeled their places of national origin as “shithole countries.”

Trump’s perpetual demonization of migrants of color have made them “undesirables” to his political base in the same way the Page Act of 1875 made migrants from Asia “undesirables.”

Every immigration “solution” implemented by Trump since he assumed the Presidency is rooted in a race-based immigration system that has historically favored white immigrants from European countries. This is one area where government-sponsored affirmative action for whites goes unchecked and unchallenged.

Finally, the EB-5 Investor Visa Program shows that a wealthy immigrant, regardless of color or nationality, can buy permanent residency in the United States, even if he/she comes from a country that sponsors terrorism. Enshrined in our immigration laws is the fundamental principle that America has a special pathway to citizenship for the wealthy while millions of others wait in line for an coveted opportunity to join our ranks as citizens.

This is the uncomfortable truth about America's immigration laws.

PHOTOS: In 1954, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service implemented “Operation Wetback” to roundup and deport undocumented immigrants in selected areas of California, Arizona, and Texas along the border. The U.S. Border Patrol later reported that more than 1.3 million people were deported or had left the United States voluntarily under the threat of deportation in 1954. Of course, “Wetback” is a racially derogatory term for a person of Hispanic descent. Undocumented white Europeans who entered the United States from Mexico were not targeted for roundup and deportation in “Operation Wetback.”

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Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Apr 15, 2019

I would like for someone who supports President Trump's hardline immigration policies to explain (in a calm and thoughtful manner and with factual support) how they differ from the documented history of racism that is described in this article. How can an American President who disrespects and dehumanizes nearly every person of color on the planet lead a race-neutral immigration reform effort?


Donald V. Watkins
Donald V. Watkins
Apr 15, 2019

“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” -- Edmund Burke. "Those who deny documented history live in a perpetual state of suspended reality." -- Donald Watkins, April 15, 2019.

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