1952 Immigration and Nationality Act – The Big Red Flush


June 27, 1952 United States immigration policies changed, and not for the better. Commonly called the McCarran-Walter Act, the bill sought to exclude immigrants that were criminals, immoral,diseased, or political radicals, particularly communists. Anyone who had any association with communism could just forget about entry. The ban on all Asians was lifted, except for the Japanese.  Because of World War II, the Japanese were “out”, and the Chinese, the “good Asians”, were “in”. This was their reward for being such great allies in the war with Japan. Quotas would still exist, rigidly controlling entry according to ethnicity by nation of origin. However, if you were a good candidate for assimilation into the nation’s economy, society and political system, and, more importantly, white, odds were you’d get in. This was all done in the name of national security.

Because of the Soviet Union’s success at spreading the practice of Communism throughout China and Korea during the war, Senator Pat McCarran of Nevada, co-author of the bill, and his congressional cronies considered communism to be the biggest threat to post-war America. Now, instead of being discriminated against because of race, a new form of discrimination based on ideology emerged. Anti-communism was the underlying tone throughout the legislation.

Prior to this bill, McCarran had been the driving force behind the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950. This law required persons who were members of the American Communist Party to register with the Attorney General. The gringa is pretty certain this was not so they could be on the Attorney General’s Christmas card list. No, Big Brother was watching. Eventually, many of these folks would be rounded up as subversives and incarcerated under the authorization of Title II of that bill and its “loyalty clearance programs.” Under the umbrella of this bill’s authority, McCarran investigated Roosevelt and Truman’s administrations in efforts to flush out any communist infiltrators. The gringa thinks it’s safe to say that McCarren was most likely a passionate, commie hater.

It would also seem that McCarran did not harbor many warm sentiments toward Asians either. Journalist Phil Tajitsu Nash would look back at this legislation and conclude that it was “explicit racial discrimination against Asian immigration…” I mean, after all, annually it only allowed into the country 2,000 Asians indigenous to the area known as the “Asia-Pacific Triangle”. Countries within the “triangle” were allowed only 100 immigrants toward the quota. Also, even if a Chinese person was born in Europe, that person still counted toward the Asian quota.

Some immigrants enjoyed privileges where entry into the nation was concerned. If an immigrant already had a family member in the country, that person experienced preferential treatment in gaining entry to the nation. Such immigrants also did not count toward that ethnicity’s quota. And, if someone was from the Western Hemisphere it was practically guaranteed that person could enter the United States.

McCarran was not ashamed at all about his racist ideology. He introduced a quota system that practiced flagrant, open, ethnic bias. If you were British, Irish, or German, in other words, white, you got the preferred slot in the 70% of the immigrant quota set aside for these races. Now, if you were a skilled laborer, no matter what color your skin was, you had a pretty good chance of getting into the country. McCarran still liked the idea of importing labor that could be oppressed with no political representation as a non-citizen.

McCarran also seemed to have a great appreciation for the term “subversive”. That was a very present theme throughout the 1952 bill he co-authored. The immigration law of the land now could incarcerate a person, bar them from entry or deport them solely on ideological grounds. A person didn’t even have to do anything. They simply had to think about it or talk about it or write about. That means a person could be considered a criminal even if they were exercising their First Amendment right and talking in glowing terms about communism. Hell, the gringa would probably be considered a “subversive” and thrown in the slammer for writing something like this. My Caveman thinks it could still happen and tells me not to expect him on visiting day for getting myself in trouble with my big mouth.

The first time around, President Truman stamped the bill with a big fat veto. Remember, he viewed immigration policy from a more humanitarian point of view. He did not feel threatened by ethnic diversity. He recognized the discriminatory nature of the bill. At the time of Truman’s veto, he said, “The basic error of this bill is that it moves in the direction of suppressing opinion and belief… that would make a mockery of the Bill of Rights and of our claims to stand for freedom in the world.”

Truman rejected the bill on the grounds that it created a second-class status among citizens based on whether an American was born here or was naturalized.  Truman was so dissatisfied with the spirit of the legislation, he commissioned an investigation of the political implications of these immigration policy changes. The Presidential Commission on Immigration and Naturalization (PCIN) advised relaxing the policies of the Act. McCarran reacted to this by accusing the commission members of, wait for it, wait for it…. Yes, he accused them of being Communist sympathizers. Mmm Hmmm. Anger somebody and get an accusing finger pointed your way, labeling you a “subversive” or a “communist”. Your enemies would get their revenge by accusing you of being a Red. McCarran’s paranoia about Communism is reflected in his statement that if immigration controls were relaxed “in the course of a generation or so, [it would] tend to change the ethnic and cultural composition of this nation.” In other words, he was afraid the nation would become less white.

Despite Truman’s strong objections and veto, Congress had enough votes to support it anyway and it became the new immigration law of the land. Thus the era was ushered in of Communist hysteria which will always be remembered by rejection of immigrant hopefuls such as Colombian novelist and Nobel laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Other Nobel laureates that were barred were British author Doris Lessing and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. They were considered “undesirable aliens” because their ideology was unacceptable. In other words, they didn’t think they way Congress wanted them to think.

This Communist hysteria would culminate in the infamous trials and 1953 executions of the Rosenbergs. So, in 1952, not only was racism alive and well in the United States, but open, state-sanctioned intolerance of a specific ideology becomes the new social trend.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1952_immigration_and_nationality_act.html

http://icirr.org/sites/default/files/IPC%20McCarran-Walter.pdf

http://immigrationinamerica.org/593-immigration-and-nationality-act-of-1952.html

Photo credit: www.foundsf.org

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gringaofthebarrio

A barrio gringa with a dream of cosmic proportions: writing to satiate my insatiable curiosity, worldwide literacy beginning with our youth, and to be the first barrio gringa to explore outer space!

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