Immigration: "America Stands Unique in the World"
The following is the text of a speech given before a December 9, 1996 meeting of the American Immigration Lawyers Association at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California by Carl Shusterman. Portions of the speech were excerpted by the “Wall Street Journal”.
The most virulent anti-immigration legislation of this century was just passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by a Democratic President. In 1997, the other shoe may drop as both Republicans like Congressman Lamar Smith and Democrats like Senator Ted Kennedy have pledged to further scale back immigration. Couple this with the rights that immigrants already have lost: Suspension of deportation, most waivers of inadmissibility, the right to apply for asylum after one year in the U.S., and most judicial review. We now have to contend with summary exclusion, mandatory detention, and restrictions on the rights of immigrants and their legal representatives.
Indeed, little will stand between immigrants and disaster should Congress fail to extend Section 245(i) of the immigration law past September 30, 1997.
Such a failure would effectively remove most of the 3.7 million potential legal immigrants with approved immigration petitions the majority of them close family members of U.S. citizens and residents from the waiting lists.
And yet, naive as it may sound, I feel confident that the current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment has crested and will soon subside. A review of America’s unique immigration odyssey shows why.
Americans have traditionally been hostile to new waves of immigrants, yet immigration has been vital to the development of our national character. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s, to the anti-immigrant “Know Nothing” Party of the 1840s, to the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 1880s, to the National Origin Quotas of the 1920s, to our failure to accept refugees from Nazi Germany, to our imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, to Operation Wetback in the 1950s, to Proposition 187 today, our record has been consistent. Bring in immigrants when we need cheap labor or when we are threatened militarily. Scapegoat and deport them in times of economic uncertainty.
Now the anti-immigrant argument runs that we have reached our “carrying capacity,” that immigrants represent a “silent invasion,” that we need a breathing space, a “temporary” moratorium on immigration to allow those immigrants already here to assimilate.
A few generations ago, immigration restrictionists were not so coy about revealing their true motivations.
In 1923, the Supreme Court ruled that Asian Indians were ineligible for naturalization and therefore unable to immigrate to the U.S. Although the Court conceded that Indians were Caucasian, they were not white, and the intention of the Founding Fathers was to “confer the privilege of citizenship upon that class of persons that they knew as `white’.” While “it may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity,” the Court wrote, “the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today.”
Again, in 1934, the Supreme Court interpreted the Naturalization Law of 1790 to define “white peoples within the meaning of the statute (as) members of the Caucasian race as defined in the understanding of the mass of men. The term excludes the Chinese, the Japanese, the Hindus, the American Indians, and the Filipinos.”
Yet, less than a decade later, Americans suddenly discovered their brotherhood with persons of different races. The 60-year-old Chinese Exclusion Laws were repealed. Immigration quotas were established for Indians, Filipinos and other long-excluded nationalities.
The event that triggered this instant Enlightenment was World War II. When a bill was introduced in Congress just before the war to grant citizenship to Asian-Indian immigrants who had resided in the U.S. for over 15 years, the American Federation of Labor representative opposed it bitterly. “First,” he remarked, “it will be the people who are here in our country now…Then they will find some other means of breaking some other hole in the immigration law here and there…”
As the war proceeded, however, policymakers saw the inconsistency of asking Filipinos, Indians, Koreans, Chinese and others to fight Nazi and Imperial Japanese racism while practicing racial discrimination at home.
A change in attitude did not come quickly, however. Two weeks after Pearl Harbor, Time Magazine published the following article:
HOW TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS FROM THE JAPS:
Virtually all Japanese are short. Japanese are likely to be stockier and broader-hipped than short Chinese. Japanese are seldom fat; they often dry up and grow lean as they age. Although both have the typical epicanthic fold of the upper eyelid, Japanese eyes are usually set closer together. The Chinese expression is likely to be more placid, kindly, open; the Japanese more positive, dogmatic, arrogant. Japanese are hesitant, nervous in conversation, laugh loudly at the wrong time. Japanese walk stiffly erect, hard heeled. Chinese, more relaxed, have an easy gait, sometimes shuffle.
As an extension of World War II, the Cold War saw the U.S. engaged in political and military conflicts throughout the non-white world, as well as in civil rights struggles at home.
In the midst of these conflicts, Senator Edward Kennedy sponsored, and President Johnson signed, a new law which treated immigrants from all countries the same. All racial impediments to immigration and citizenship were abolished.
The system worked well enough that the law was liberalized several times between 1976 and 1990. Even as the U.S. suffered through oil crises, a hostage crisis and severe economic recessions, no movement to restrict immigration emerged.
In fact, many Americans saw immigration as an economic benefit, even as a necessity for a country engaged in a Cold War with a Communist superpower.
In California, in particular, the economy flourished as immigrants — legal or otherwise — worked the fields of the world’s largest agricultural economy. Wealthy immigrants sent their children to U.S. universities where they stayed to help give America a technological edge over the Russians. U S. scientists, both American and foreign-born, worked side-by-side developing transistors, microchips, genetically- engineered pharmaceuticals and ever more powerful computers. Immigrants were prominent in each new cutting-edge industry. Its large immigrant population established Los Angeles as the Capital of the Pacific Rim.
The rest is the subject of today’s headlines. The Cold War ended, causing massive layoffs and downsizing, particularly in Southern California. A significant part of the electorate chose to make immigrants the scapegoats for these problems. The result is new and pending immigration legislation which threatens one of the great wellsprings of our energy, vitality and growth.
So where is there room for optimism?
Start with the 1996 elections. The anti-immigrant message spewed by Governor Wilson helped to defeat the Republicans in the State Assembly. It is no coincidence that, for the first time, a Latino is Speaker of the Assembly in California. Rabid anti-immigrant legislators like Andrea Seastrand in Santa Barbara and Robert Dornan in once arch-conservative Orange County were rejected by voters. The victor over Dornan was a little-known Latina named Loretta Sanchez.
Dornan charged voter fraud, but he cannot or will not see the big picture. Thirty years of immigration to California have radically changed the demographics of the state. The anti-immigrant tide has energized Asian, Latino and other immigrant voters. Any political party that endorses an anti-immigrant platform in California is risking political suicide. The new emerging majority in California, the most populous state in the union, can stop the anti-immigrant movement dead in its tracks. With 54 electoral votes, no Presidential candidate will take the chance of offending California voters.
As important as voter demographics are the economic, cultural, and communications changes that rapidly are bringing down longstanding barriers between nations.
Globalism, with its free movement of ideas and peoples, is as inevitable in the 21st Century as industrialization was in the 1800s. Those who oppose it are modern Luddites, vainly lashing out at immigrants as a symbol of larger forces beyond their control.
Let AILA join with other pro-immigrant organizations in a coalition to preserve a free, dynamic, growing, meritocracy — the type of society the Founding Fathers truly envisioned.
A country where the population density is one of the lowest in the world, where legal immigrants include the world’s best and brightest talent, and where present quotas allow for only a fraction of one percent of the population to immigrate annually, has not reached “carrying capacity.”
In 1945, General Stillwell flew to California to award the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously to a young Nisei solder, Sergeant Kazuo Masuda, who had single-handedly fired a mortar on Nazi positions and had been killed in Cassino, Italy. The General pinned the medal on Masuda’s sister Mary, who had recently been released from a U.S. internment camp. A young actor who participated in the ceremony, and who later became the Governor of California and President of the United States, paid tribute to the fallen soldier in words that express our organization’s philosophy toward the kind of society that we wish to nurture:
Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all of one color. America stands unique in the world, the only country not founded on race, but on a way -- an ideal. Not in spite of, but because of our polyglot background, we have had all the strength in the world. This is the American way.