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A Nostalgia for Racism

Will those conservatives who support a return to restrictive 1920s-era immigration laws acknowledge the racist and eugenicist origins of those laws?

By Terry Krepel
Posted 7/31/2007

The ConWeb has, for the most part, been heavily anti-illegal immigrant -- from promoting discredited statistics about diseases caused by immigrants to using immigrants as a dubious scapegoat for the firing of federal attorneys.

But some ConWeb writers -- particularly during the heat of congressional debates over immigration policy earlier this year -- have gone beyond your basic bashing of illegals to attacking immigrants in general and, specifically, expressing a desire, implicitly or otherwise, to return to the immigration policy the U.S. had in the 1920s.

Slantie winner Jon Dougherty expressed such a desire in a June 7 WorldNetDaily column:

The 1965 Immigration Reform Act, the creation of radical, far-left "Down With The Establishment" ideologues hellbent on reversing what had been an effective and manageable system of legalized immigration into the United States since 1924, were steering the civil rights juggernaut smack dab into the heart of traditional America. In its wake, the ideologues, partnered with like-minded members of Congress, destroyed a rational quota system that, according to's Ben Johnson, "had regulated the ethnic composition of immigration in fair proportion to each group's existing presence in the population," and was serving the nation well.

Barry Farber implied the same in a July 15 NewsMax column:

What makes me pitchfolk-toting and musket-loading mad is the accusation that those of us who most bitterly oppose this legislation are somehow bigoted, nativist, or otherwise not quite there as Americans. Up to the 1960s, immigration worked.


When I say "It worked," I mean we had a sense that there was a legal way to immigrate to America and obviously not everybody who wanted to come could be allowed but abuse and inundation were not an issue. Every January every alien had to go to a U.S. post office and register. Every single alien, legal; mind you, had to have a sponsor; someone with finances sufficient to guarantee the alien would never be a burden to American taxpayers.

Then we bigoted, mean-minded haters noticed something. Our immigration quotas favored white European Christians. Most Americans at that time were white Christians of European origin and seeking to maintain your nation's demographic make-up isn't exactly a war crime. Nonetheless we didn't want to be oerceived as a country that favored white Christian Europeans. So we junked those quotas and made new ones favoring those who'd previously been slighted.

Then the dam broke and the riptide of illegal immigration surged. Too much is enough!

William J. Federer similarly claimed in a June 16 WorldNetDaily column:

An interesting observation is that prior to LBJ's 1965 immigration policy, most immigrants to the United States were from Europe, with 70 percent coming from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany.

European immigrants assimilated, as they were culturally and economically similar to America's population. Immigrants were educated and, interestingly, many tended to become Republicans.

After the implementation of LBJ's policy, immigrants came from poorer countries, were less educated, more dependent on government, and, interestingly, tended to become Democrats.

So, what was the supposedly idyllic 1924 immigration law to which these writers would like the country to return?

Actually, there are three notable laws involved:

  • The Immigration Act of 1917, which introduced an English literacy test to immigration qualifications.
  • The Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which restricted immigration by nationality to 3 percent of their population in the U.S. based on the 1910 census.
  • The Immigration Act of 1924, which lowered that percentage of immigration by nationality to 2 percent of their population in the U.S. based on the 1890 census. which lowered the total amount of new immigrants permitted each year to approximately 150,000 and introduced new restrictions on the immigration of certain nationalities, severely curtailing immigration from southern and eastern Europe and essentially banning immigration from Asia entirely, as well as making those of Asian descent already in the United States ineligible for naturalization.

Such laws were based in no small part on racism and eugenics. Paul Lombardo of the University of Virginia writes that eugenicists such as Madison Grant and Harry Laughlin had great impact on the immigration restriction debate.

Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University, told NPR about pre-1965 immigration policy: "The law was just unbelievable in its clarity of racism. ... It declared that Northern Europeans are a superior subspecies of the white race. The Nordics were superior to the Alpines, who in turn were superior to the Mediterraneans, and all of them were superior to the Jews and the Asians." Author Eric Rauchway points out that the 1924 law was based "on the presumption that some nations were incapable of producing good Americans" and that President Calvin Coolidge, who signed the bill into law, thought that "biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend."

In speaking in support of the 1924 law, Sen. Ellison Smith of South Carolina said:

I would like for the Members of the Senate to read that book just recently published by Madison Grant, The Passing of a Great Race. Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock; certainly the greatest of any nation in the Nordic breed. It is for the preservation of that splendid stock that has characterized us that I would make this not an asylum for the oppressed of all countries, but a country to assimilate and perfect that splendid type of manhood that has made America the foremost Nation in her progress and in her power, and yet the youngest of all the nations. I myself believe that the preservation of her institutions depends upon us now taking counsel with our condition and our experience during the last World War.

This history goes unmentioned by Dougherty, Farber and Federer. (The 2002 FrontPageMag article Ben Johnson that Dougherty approvingly cites also fails to mention the racist and eugenicist aspects of the 1924 law.)

It's not as if the ConWeb is unaware of this; WND, for one, has acknowledged those aspects of the 1924 immigration law when that suited its purposes. From an April 5 WND column by Logan Paul Gage of the anti-Darwin, anti-evolution Discovery Institute:

In the run-up to the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, Congress relied on eugenics arguments and even heard testimony from an "expert eugenics agent." The intent was to restrict the access of Italians, Jews and other "defectives" to American shores. In the Executive Branch, Secretary of Agriculture James Wilson promoted eugenics through the American Breeders Association.

The purpose of Gage's column was not to criticize immigration law but to tie eugenics to Darwinism -- a different WND pet cause -- insisting that "eugenics clearly drew inspiration from Darwin's theory."

Meanwhile, the usual right-wing suspects are trying to spin this legacy away. A June 2004 article at the "white supremacist" website by Kevin MacDonald asserted that the 1924 law wasn't racist but, rather, a result of people acting in "ethnic self-interest" (which is, of course, its own sort of racism) and tried to disprove the Nordic superiority angle because some reportedly claimed that northern Europeans were inferior to Asians and Jews.

For one columnist, though, a call for a return to 1920s-era immigration law is apparently springing from full-fledged xenophobia.

E. Ralph Hostetter -- vice chairman of the Free Congress Foundation Board of Directors -- used a June 7 column, reprinted at NewsMax, to urge for the U.S. to "repeal the infamous 1965 Immigration Act with its provisions that favor Asian immigrants five to one over Anglo-Europeans."

Hostetter has expressed anti-Asian xenophobia in the past, as ConWebWatch has documented. A June 2006 column blamed Asian immigrants for "threatening America's cultural and ethnic future" because the 1965 immigration law "gave 60 percent of the newly established quota -- 170,000 new openings -- to Asians, who bring a different culture to America."

Oddly enough, Hostetter has sort of acknowledged this. In a May 23 column (also reprinted at NewsMax) in which he asserted that "America's greatness and its continuing power were derived from the Anglo-European heritage and genius of the Founding Fathers," he stated, "I have already been labeled a xenophobe," calling the name part of "the evil fashion house of political correctness." But he doesn't deny that the term applies to him.

Hostetter, Dougherty, Farber and Federer need to come clean on exactly where they stand on their support for old-fashioned immigration laws: Do they acknowledge and support the racist and eugenicist intent of those laws, or do they not?

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