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Anti-immigrant Sentiment

Anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States has a long history dating back to the founding fathers. In Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882, historian Roger Daniels cites a tract written by Benjamin Franklin in 1751 entitled Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind which articulated attitudes still in existence today about his perception of immigrants in America. According to Franklin, immigrants behave poorly, tend to remain in isolated communities, make little to no effort to learn the native language, have odd or unusual religious practices, and immigrant populations grow too rapidly and are thus seen as a threat to established culture and customs[1]. These general beliefs or sound bites are the same biases that continue to be used about immigrants today, and which negate and ignore the many positive contributions that immigrants have made. Greater historical knowledge of these positive contributions would enlighten the conversations about immigration on the national stage when our leaders are talking about immigrants, whether they be Syrian refugees, Mexican farm laborers or Indian tech workers.

One example of a positive contribution related by Daniels took place following the passage of the Geary Act in 1892 which extended the exclusion of Chinese immigrants by another ten years. The Geary Act required all Chinese already in the United States to register with the government for the purpose of acquiring a certificate of residence or they would face deportation. Following the passage of this Act, Chinese American organizations mobilized, resulting in a powerful act of resistance evidenced when just slightly over ten percent of the Chinese population registered[2]. This act of collective protest laid the groundwork for a legal challenge which went all the way to the Supreme Court, and although that immediate battle was lost, the war was later won when the Court extended the same legal protections to Chinese immigrants enjoyed by American citizens.

The eventual success of that legal battle was a result of the solidarity of purpose experienced within the Chinese American community. Benjamin Franklin’s negative stereotype articulated in his tract referenced above, which criticized immigrants for “banding together” served the Chinese community well as a collective passive protest against unjust and discriminatory legal requirements[3]. If people in our modern society could learn from this principal of banding together for a common purpose, the rights of individuals might be violated less frequently and civil rights could truly be achieved for all, immigrants included.

[1] Roger Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (New York: Hill and Wang, 2004), 8.

[2] Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door, 21.

[3] Daniels, Guarding the Golden Door, 8.

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