American politics has reached critical mass in terms of extreme polarization. If you asked D.C. politicians how to spell CAT, you’d probably get two different spellings, an argument cats don’t exist and a Russian conspiracy theory. That being said, it’s no surprise President Trump’s travel ban 1.0 and 2.0 have been met with such resistance. But the odd thing about the political mudslinging are the arguments that bans are unconstitutional. Contrary to the left’s popular belief, the United States has a long, infamous history of limiting and banning immigrants.
Naturalization Act of 1798
After winning independence from England only 15 years earlier, the Colonies found themselves faced with a potential war with France. Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts limiting free speech and deemed collaboration with foreign persons as disloyalty. It was the 18th Century version of today’s Russia-phobia. The Naturalization Act allowed the president to deport anyone he suspected was “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” Basically, anyone who was French or spoke out against the government could be deported. The Act also placed onerous restrictions on becoming a U.S. citizen. Ironically, the Federalist party tried to use this power to suppress the GOP.
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
During the California Gold Rush and subsequent building of the Transcontinental Railroad, a large population of Chinese people immigrated to America. But following the Civil War, gold became less plentiful and unemployment rose. The State of California made it illegal for those of Chinese or Mongolian descent to enter in 1858, and Congress followed suit with the first national prohibition of an ethnic group. In conjunction, the broader Immigration Act of 1882 also banned the mentally handicapped. The Chinese Exclusion Act gave rise to the first wave of organized human trafficking, much like we see at the Mexican border today.
Immigration Act Of 1917
Perhaps the widest sweeping and most popular ban, Congress garnered enough votes to override President Woodrow Wilson’s veto. The Act included an “Asiatic Barred Zone,” but excluded immigration from Japan and the Philippines among others. Its primary focus wasn’t necessarily place of origin, but moral character and burden to society. It included a laundry list of supposed deviants and heretics including:
- And, “Persons with constitutional psychopathic inferiority” (homosexuals)
Jews Not Welcome
During the rise of Nazi Germany, many Americans blamed Jews for the Great Depression. The backlash was to not meet or raise immigration quotas for Jewish refugees fleeing certain extermination from the Concentration Camps. However, President Roosevelt was eventually shamed into creating the War Refugee Board that built camps in Italy, North Africa and the U.S.
Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
In another bipartisan effort, Congress overrode the veto of President Harry Truman, who viewed the legislation as unamerican. While it extended citizenship to people born in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam after Dec. 24, 1952, it also placed regional quotas on immigration and established preferred ethnicities. More strategically, it banned Communists and sympathizers during the “Red Scare” McCarthy era.
Small Groups Targeted
In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was attacked and 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year. During the crisis, President Jimmy Carter banned all Iranians from entering the country. He also banned American athletes from competing in the Olympics.
Fearing the “gay plague,” President Ronald Reagan banned anyone infected with HIV from entering the country.
In 1991, hundreds of Haitians fled the Caribbean island in make-shift boats after a government coup. President George H.W. Bush suspended entry and ordered them intercepted and returned.
During the 1990s, President Bill Clinton targeted people involved in conflicts in Yugoslavia and war-torn Liberia.
President George W. Bush placed restrictions on foreign government officials who did not adequately deter human trafficking, obstructionists to Zimbabwe’s democracy, as well as Syrian and Lebanese officials attempting to undermine Lebanon’s sovereignty.
President Obama banned people who did business with North Korea, perpetrators of cyberattacks on Libya, Burundi, Central African Republic and the Ukraine. He also broadly banned people involved in humanitarian abuses and specifically targeted Iran and Syria. Most notably, Obama deported numerous Russian ambassadors after the 2016 elections.
Given the long history of immigration bans, President Donald Trump’s policies may be more political fodder than anything else. The United States, like most countries, has altered its policy toward various groups and will continue to do so depending on the political headwinds of the times.