Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The fool's gold of the Depression

Beck calls "the 40 years before 1965" the "golden age" of immigration

A friend of mine with Korean ancestry asked me about a speech by immigration restrictionist Roy Beck of NumbersUSA. In it, Beck promotes the seemingly objective proposition that there are too many immigrants being allowed into the U.S. My friend asked me what the response is to Beck.

I watched a video of Beck delivering his short presentation (gumballs have earned it a sticky notoriety), and one specific comment Beck makes before the 1-minute mark stood out: he calls "the 40 years before 1965" the "golden age" of immigration. When I heard that, the graphic above immediately came to mind.

By "golden age," does Beck mean that the four decades of 1925-1965 had the right numbers of immigrants, or does he mean that those decades saw "normal" levels? The answer for Beck is, both. Even though many other decades of American immigration history saw much greater numbers than were seen from 1925-1965, Beck nonetheless describes the number of immigrants during that period as a "traditional level." You can judge for yourself which decades of American immigration have been more or less typical; I doubt you will choose 1925-1965.

Even more sobering is the moral baseline Beck establishes by framing that period of time of our immigration history as "golden."

This so-called "golden age" not only coincides with the Great Depression and its aftermath, but it begins immediately after the passage of the 1924 Asian Exclusion Act, which ushered in race-based immigration quotas and (as the name suggests) largely excluded Asians - necessarily meaning that most Asians who immigrated during that time period were illegal immigrants. The timeframe of this "golden age" concludes upon the passage of the civil rights-inspired Immigration Act of 1965, the purpose of which was to dismantle race-based immigration quotas.

A response to Beck?

His own words should suffice.

"You have to have some kind of benchmark."
-Roy Beck

Edited January 8, 2009 to add this comment from Memphis attorney Greg Siskind:

There has only been one period of a closed door in this country and 1925 to 1965. That is hardly typical.

It was that restrictive policy that was behind the US turning away hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants in the Holocaust. Is there any more shameful period in American immigration history than the 1939 pictures of the SS St. Louis off the coast of Miami filled with 900 Jewish passengers? They were ultimately denied entry and the ship sailed back to Belgium. Most of the passengers died in concentration camps. My good friend Chuck Blatteis here in Memphis is the son of one of the few survivors of the St. Louis. I remember meeting Nashvillian Rosemary May a few years back. She was Dutch and ended up in a concentration camp after their US visa was ultimately delayed so long (quite deliberately, of course) that they were stuck in Amsterdam when the Nazis took over and rounded everyone up.

Definitely a “golden age” in US immigration.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...