Trump’s misguided drive to ‘make America white again’

Riad Tabbarah/ The Daily Star

The hegemony of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (the WASPs), later the “non-Hispanic whites,” on the social, economic and political life of the United States lasted some 350 years, beginning with the establishment of the first British colony on the American continent in the early 17th century. The “self-evident [truth] that all men are created equal,” found in the Declaration of Independence of 1776, did not include blacks and Indians, or indentured white workers. Practically all the founding fathers owned slaves and fought the Indians to near oblivion.Throughout this period, Americans fought to keep America white. The Naturalization Act of 1790, passed by Congress only three years after the adoption of the Constitution, restricted citizenship to “free white persons” of “good moral character,” who have resided in the United States for two years (it was revised in 1795 and 1798 mainly to increase the residency requirement, eventually to 14 years).

The gold rush of 1848 in California, followed by the railroad boom beginning in 1862, resulted in a massive migration to the west of the United States, which included Chinese laborers. So in 1892, as a result of the popular perception of a “Yellow Peril,” Congress passed the “Chinese Exclusion Act” of 1882 which banned the immigration of ethnic Chinese to the United States.

For the Japanese, a “gentleman’s agreement” was informally agreed between the U.S. president and the Japanese government in 1907, which annulled a previous treaty between the two countries that assured the free migration of Japanese to the United States. According to the new agreement, the Japanese government would not issue passports to its citizens who intended to migrate to the United States.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was the first to limit the overall number of migrants coming into the United States. It traced the countries of national origins of the existing population as per the 1890 Census and assigned quotas of 2 percent to each country. This made the overwhelming majority of those eligible for immigration British and Western European. But just to make sure, it effectively banned the immigration of people of Asian lineage.

This Act remained in effect until 1965. Thus, from 1790 until 1965, the main purpose of immigration policy after independence was to ensure that the population of the United States remained overwhelmingly white, that is, of Western European stock. This policy was quite successful.

The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 helped change all this. It gave up the quota system and replaced it with one that favored the reunification of families and attracting skilled workers needed by the United States. The reunification, referred to sometimes as “chain migration,” favored the non-Europeans and was cumulative.

Thus, a relative who was brought in under the new rule could, after receiving the citizenship papers, bring in members of his or her family and so on. Add to this the fact that the differential natural increase also favored non-Europeans, as was the naturalization of most of the illegal migrants, the percent of the white population fell sharply after 1965.

While until the 1950s, the proportion of “non-Hispanic White” population never went much below 90 percent of total U.S. population, it has fallen to 60 percent at present.

Trump’s immigration policy has its roots, therefore, in American history. It is in essence a continuation of policies since independence interrupted by the immigration law of 1965 and related events. Trump has promised to deport all undocumented Latinos, including the children under the DACA program, and to build a wall and additional security at the southern border to make sure they won’t come back.

He signed several Exclusion Act type executive orders banning persons from some Muslim majority countries from coming to the United States that were thrown out in Federal Courts, but one has now reached the U.S. Supreme Court for decision. He has strongly favored the abolition of “chain migration” and any other type of migration that favors poor non-European countries (such as the diversity visa lottery). The recent statement he made at a migration meeting with Senators demeaning migrants from Haiti and El Salvador and from “s ?hole” African countries, while advocating migration from Norway, summarizes his desire to go back to pre-1965.

But times have changed and here lies the difference. While the Exclusion Act was passed to keep the status quo of an overwhelmingly white America, the proposed new measures are aimed at reversing the trend in an America that has already become largely multiethnic. In other words, while the Exclusion Act of 1882 was enacted to “keep America white,” the new measures are designed to “make America white again.”

But can America be made white again? Extremely unlikely. The reason is that, aside from immigration, the natural increase of the white population is negative while that of all other groups is positive, generally above 1 percent. Ethnic projections of the U.S. population by the Pew Research Center indicate that, even if immigration of all other than non-Hispanic whites was cut in half today, the date at which the white population will fall below 50 percent will be postponed by one or two decades at most. The U.S. Bureau of the Census predicts that the percentage of the “non-Hispanic white” population will continue to decline, falling below 50 percent in about 25 years.

This is indeed the rational underpinning of the heated debate on immigration going on in the U.S. Congress, which lead to the recent government shutdown, a contentious debate which is likely to continue for some time. It is the struggle between nativism and globalism; between a desperate resistance to cultural change and the irreversible march of multiculturalism, which has divided Americans and is destabilizing the American political system.

اقرأ أيضاً بقلم Riad Tabbarah/ The Daily Star

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