Immigration and Welfare: What’s a Civilized Nation To Do?


The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act

August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law a welfare reform plan that not only changed things for the nation’s citizens, but also for the nation’s immigrants. Title IV of the bill contained the details on the provisions that affected “aliens”.

Title IV opens with the explanation that the basic principle of United States immigration law is self-sufficiency. With that in mind, it declares that aliens living in the U.S are to depend on their own capabilities, sponsors and private organizations to provide the resources for the needs of their families rather than depend on public resources. Despite these premises, the Act acknowledges the fact that aliens have been receiving public benefits at increasing rates. The legislation explains that this is due to inadequate eligibility standards that do not prevent aliens from enrollment in the public benefits system. One of the purposes of this legislation was to reform eligibility rules so that aliens comply with national immigration policy.

For their first five years in America “aliens” are prohibited from receiving any federal benefit. Exceptions to this are immigrants who: need emergency medical care; need short-term disaster relief; qualify for school lunch programs; qualify for Head Start programs; who need immunizations or treatment of a communicable disease; are granted asylum and refugee status; are permanent residents who have worked 40 qualifying quarters contributing to Social Security; are military veterans discharged honorably or are active duty military. Aliens who were receiving federal housing assistance up to the date the new law was enacted are exempt and can maintain their housing benefit.

So, what about immigrants who were currently receiving benefits and now were in a “disqualified” class? Is the government going to suddenly turn off the spigot and immigrant families scramble to adjust their lifestyle to accommodate a sudden loss of income support? Legislators laid out a plan for a transition period for these people. They would have a year to determine what benefit denial they qualified for and prepare for what this would mean for their home budget. Many of these programs required recipients to reapply for benefits on a yearly basis. At such time, disqualified “aliens” would simply be denied their benefit based on the parameters of this welfare reform bill.

Just what were the primary welfare programs this bill was concerned with? They were food stamps, Medicaid, and Social Security temporary assistance for the needy (SSI). The exempt programs, such as school lunch programs, were considered benefits that were “means” based. In order to qualify, not only was the immigrant’s income to be considered, but also the income of the immigrant’s sponsor. This was also required for an immigrant who attempted to qualify for State funded, rather than federally funded, benefits. If it was found that an immigrant had received a Federal or State benefit they would have actually been disqualified from receiving because of a sponsor’s financial means, the Federal and State government can now demand reimbursement from the sponsor.

The overall goal of this welfare reform was to move recipients from a welfare lifestyle to a working lifestyle over a five year period and permanently keep them self-sufficient. It also sought to remove from recipient status those who were on the dole and shouldn’t be, one such category being the immigrant. Was this goal achieved? Was this goal good for America? In 1994 the U.S. welfare system logged 14.4 million caseloads. Five years later, these caseloads had dropped to 5.3 million. The gringa thinks it’s safe to say, “Mission accomplished! Way to go President Bill Clinton! Umm, maybe.”

Why maybe? You see, many of these families were not actually completely self-sufficient. They simply moved from government generated income to the status of low-income. Single mothers especially were affected by this, becoming even poorer than when they were receiving benefits. As these families lost their Medicaid benefit by entering the workforce, they were often faced with employers who did not offer affordable health benefits. A worker supporting three people would not qualify for Medicaid if they earned more than $11,920 (for a family of three) annually. Now, the gringa would like to know who in their right minds thinks a family can afford health insurance and medical bills for three people if they make less than, say, about $70,000? Washington D.C. was way off base deciding this number was the qualifying poverty line.

Families that were accustomed to a housing benefit that kept their rent very low, were suddenly faced with paying full market rate for the roof over their head. That could mean, for a family that was earning $11,920.01, a penny above the qualifying poverty line, their rent could go from $200 to $700. You tell the gringa if you honestly think these poor, working class people could afford such a thing? Many could not. Remember, they also still had to pay their electricity bill. Sheesh. What was Congress thinking? The problem was not in the legislation itself. The problem was with what Congress thought the economic threshold of “poverty” should be. This presented the nation with a demographic that still was in dire need of public assistance.

So, although welfare was definitely reformed and got a lot of people off the government dole, a whole other problem was created. More families and disabled people simply became impoverished. Many of these people worked but did not earn a living wage. So, for the many anti-immigrant xenophobes out there who thought it was the immigrants who poured across the border and stole American jobs, the gringa will tell you to look at the numbers. From 1996 until 2001 it was not the immigrants filling these low paying positions. It was former welfare recipients, about 9 million to be exact.

So, if you want to measure success by the caseload numbers, yeah, Clinton achieved his goal. However, if you want to measure success by comparing quality of life before and after, it’s a different story altogether. Consider that most of these transitioned welfare recipients could not work full-time or year round, especially single moms. Many earned minimum wage or just a bit more. Either way, it was not enough to provide a decent standard of living for their families. Once you consider achieving a decent standard of living to be the measure for success, you can see the Clinton administration failed miserably. Although welfare enrollment declined, the numbers of the poverty class increased dramatically.

Consider that the poverty line as established by the government was $11,920 for a family of three. Consider the working single mom that may be making about $8 per hour and working only when her kids are in school because she can’t afford child care. Working eight hours daily, five days weekly, ten months annually (two months off for her kids school summer break), with no days off, she then brings home, on average, $12,000 annually. So, she makes too much to be considered in “poverty” in order to qualify for government benefits, but, you tell me, does she make anywhere near the $30,000 needed to afford the basic necessities for an adult and two children in 1996?

Out of 126 New York City “welfare to work” cases, the average person was earning $7.50 hourly and 58% were supporting their families with their work income. The gringa asks, “How in the hell did they manage?” Nationwide studies reported that most welfare recipients that entered the workplace earned well below poverty level. This was actually good news because they would qualify for means- based Federal and State benefit programs. However, there were plenty more that earned over the poverty level but nowhere near the $30,000 threshold that was the bare minimum for a small family’s basic necessities. Thus, this legislation created a large poverty class in America.

When you check the specific budget cuts, it is easy to see that most of the people affected were immigrants, elderly, disabled and single mothers. These are the nation’s most vulnerable classes of people. What this legislation meant is that poor people who were dependent on government programs to feed and house them and provide medical care actually became poorer, and possibly un-housed, underfed and without health care (unless they showed up at a hospital emergency room; which is exactly what happened, starting a new trend of packed ER’s, but that is fodder for another gringa story).

Social workers who are the ground zero, in the trenches workers and see the direct effect of these programs, criticized this reform. They claimed that by replacing the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, even if a family met all eligibility requirements, there was no assurance that children or parents would receive assistance. This was because oversight of the block grants was performed by individual states. States had their own requirements for eligibility. This meant that some states could deny aid to families with teenage parents or to families where both parents were present in the home, even if they met every Federal qualifier and regardless of their income level, if they had any income at all. Also, once the grant money ran out, states would place applicants on a waiting list for the next Federal funding period.

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights had its own criticisms of the reform. They considered that within the welfare system was institutional racism and discrimination. They felt the legislation did not take into consideration the gender gap in wages. Rather than help women on welfare gain meaningful employment, the nation simply cracked down on eligibility requirements.  The government focus was on “work first” without doing anything to level the workforce playing field.

Many welfare recipients whose job and below poverty line wages qualified them for benefits would tolerate discriminatory practices in the workplace out of fear of dismissal and loss of benefits if they filed a complaint. Many immigrants were discriminated against with regard to case management and receiving benefits they qualified for because of language barriers.

To remedy these discriminatory practices, the USCCR recommended that Federal funds should be allocated for enforcement of civil rights among recipients, investigations of allegations of violations and to train caseworkers in how to better adhere to civil rights statutes. They further recommended better data collection on the people registering to qualify for benefits as well as the recipients and that all welfare agencies be subjected to audits with regard to civil rights grievances and compliance. The gringa understands this need but can’t help but think, “Dear God. It cost money to save money simply because some people can’t treat other people right.”

Specifically where immigrants were concerned, the USCCR was concerned with the law prohibiting immigrants from receiving any aid until they had been in the country for at least five years. The living conditions of many of these poor families continued to just get worse. Although, among some groups of people, the immigrant was a favorite target to accuse of entering the country just to live off the backs of taxpayers, this was actually a myth. Prior to 1996, statistics show that immigrant families were greatly outnumbered by citizen families in receiving benefits. This is because most immigrants come to the United States looking for jobs and opportunity, not handouts. As for immigrants that did qualify for aid, many would not accept it for fear of retribution.

The USCCR’s final recommendation regarding immigrants and the 1996 welfare reform was to immediately restore full benefits to immigrants regardless of when they entered the country and regardless of the financial resources of their sponsors. They further recommended that undocumented immigrants, for humanitarian reasons, should at least have access to health care, education and food stamps. To protect their civil rights, it was recommended that language assistance be provided for them throughout every step of the public assistance process.

Although these families may still struggle to feed, house and clothe their families, all is not doom and gloom. As mothers moved into the workforce, many children left in-home care and entered organized formal care. Studies resulted in surprising findings. Many of these children benefited from these environments with increased cognitive development, learning gains, and school readiness. These studies further suggested that the adolescents of these families were more likely to become employed later on when compared to adolescents in welfare dependent homes.

Now that the nuts and bolts of the legislation as well as its aftermath has been covered, the gringa asks, “Who REALLY benefited from this legislation?” The answer? Well, number one, the politician who was pandering to: a. voters with money and influence; and, b. corporations who contributed lots of money to campaigns. How so? Well, think about it. When the labor market is flooded with people looking for jobs, guess what, wages stay low! And that’s EXACTLY what happened, So, this piece of “social” reform was really a cheap labor package for the benefit of big corporations. Remember the economy boom during the Clinton years? Yeah, well, those growing businesses needed workers, and they wanted them as cheap as they could get ’em.

The reality is, if the government wants people to be self-sufficient, they must simply accept the fact that now, as in 1996, wages are too low for many families to escape poverty whether they work forty hours a week or even 60 hours a week. The gringa believes so much more could have been accomplished by simply raising minimum wage standards across the board to a living income level. Anyone who works forty hours weekly should make enough money to keep a roof over their head, feed and clothe themselves and afford healthcare.

For critics who argue that minimum wage jobs are simply entry level jobs for people to use temporarily and then move on to a better paying career level job, the gringa has got news for you. Welcome to the “New America” where 61% of young Americans have a college education, 44% of those college educated people are stuck in low income level jobs earning less than $25,000 annually and half of those have student debt of around $30,000 a year. Raising the minimum wage to a living standard level will not make these people rich, it will make them self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency was, after all, the true goal of this legislation. So, critics, the gringa says, “Quit pointing the finger and start lifting a hand to help these hard working Americans become self-sufficient. Join the cause to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.”

Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ashleystahl/2015/05/11/the-5-4-unemployment-rate-means-nothing-for-millennials/

https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/millennials_report.pdf

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-104hr3734enr/pdf/BILLS-104hr3734enr.pdf

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act_of_1996.aspx

http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/1996_Personal_Responsibility_and_Work_Opportunity_Reconciliation_Act

http://www.epi.org/publication/webfeatures_viewpoints_tanf_testimony/

https://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/welfare/legislation/summary.pdf

http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/prwora/welfare.htm

https://www.facebook.com/Fightfor15?fref=photo

Photo credit: www.slideshare.net

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1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a.k.a. the Simpson-Mazzoli Act


And what was going on in the United States in 1986 besides big hair, parachute pants, the Iran-Contra debacle of the Reagan administration, and Falco, the one hit wonder with “Rock Me Amadeus”? Well, Congress was getting together with President Reagan for his signature on the new immigration reform bill called the “Simpson-Mazzoli Act”. Considering this mammoth piece of legislative effort contains over 41,000 words, the gringa will stick to the facts that resulted in significant change for the immigrant and American society.

It is interesting to note that today’s “undocumented worker” was yesterday’s “illegal alien” and also was the “unauthorized alien” of the 80’s. These immigrants who were already present in the country in 1986 could apply and gain legal status according to certain guidelines:

  • Immigrants had to provide proof of residency and employment since January 1, 1982
  • Immigrants had to have a clean criminal record (a felony and/or 3+ misdemeanors got you the reject notice)
  • Immigrants had to provide proof of registering with Selective Service
  • Immigrants had to meet a minimal level of understanding of U.S. history, government and the English language or be enrolled in these courses of study (if you were 65 years old or older they let you slide on this requirement).
  • Immigrants must apply within 18 months of the passage of the bill

The bill also contained provisions of temporary resident travel so these new temporary resident aliens could legally return to their countries of origin and visit family and return to the United States. The gringa is proud of this particular provision and the humanitarian recognition by the United States of maintaining healthy family bonds and connections. The Attorney General also had the freedom to waive certain requirements if it was in the interest of family unity. The gringa is certain that the United States is on the right track here.

Once an immigrant became a lawful temporary U.S. resident, they were disqualified from federally funded public welfare for five years. The gringa is sure this provision was included to satisfy the xenophobes who just KNEW these folks only wanted to come to America in order to freeload! However, individual State programs that had National School Lunch programs, vocational education programs, Headstart programs, and their own health services, as well as Social Security benefits individuals may qualify for, were not prohibited.

Because this immigration reform legalized many workers, the bill outlawed the practice of any employer hiring an unauthorized alien. However, enforcement of this provision was to be deferred during agricultural seasonal services. Hey, when the country’s gotta eat, we should all just look away, right? The gringa then must ask, “What’s an immigrant hopeful to think?” I mean really, come on, think this one through with some common sense. If it was common knowledge within the immigrant community the U.S. law meant that you could enter undocumented and law enforcement would simply ignore you if you happened to arrive at the right time of the year, what would you do? If you are an opportunity deprived and economically oppressed individual, you choose the cheapest, shortest and quickest way to get into the land of opportunity. You enter during the agricultural harvest season when the nation puts out the welcome mat and simply stay. You keep your head down part of the year and walk around boldly the rest of the year. The United States is in no position to criticize immigrants for taking advantage of the law of the land! The nation can’t be willing to turn a blind eye when it’s convenient for their belly then turn around and point the finger and blame the immigrant and ask them, “What the hell are you doing here?!”

Migrant agricultural workers who entered the nation seasonally were considered separate from the unauthorized aliens who met the above conditions. The migrant workers had a different visa with different qualifying guidelines. For the xenophobes who complain that immigrants come to this country and steal American jobs, consider this requirement of migrant worker guidelines: “Requires an employer H-2A visa petition to certify that: (1) there are not enough local U.S. workers for the job; and (2) similarly employed U.S. workers’ wages and working conditions will not be adversely affected.” It seems that plenty of jobs are available in the agricultural industry but Americans refuse the opportunity. So, don’t be pointing the “Stealing American Jobs” finger at the immigrant. This provision put the American first only allowing immigrants to fill the position when Americans refused. Also, fearful xenophobes, consider President Reagan’s 1977 radio broadcast statement, ““It makes one wonder about the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do?” Way back then even the Gipper got it! Anti-immigration folks are recycling the same old arguments and, time after time, they are proven wrong.

One interesting stipulation regarding discrimination has the gringa scratching her head and tsk-tsking. The bill says it would be considered “unfair” for an employer to discriminate against an individual in hiring practices based on origin or citizenship. However, it would be considered NOT “unfair” if an employer preferred to hire a U.S. citizen or national rather than an equally qualified resident alien. The gringa asks, “Does not one of these statements negate the other?” Geniuses and Washington, the two do not go hand in hand. The gringa says, “Just one more law in favor of American laborers and protecting their right to work over the immigrant to use in an argument to shut up and shut down the anti-immigrant xenophobe crowd.” Mmph, take that!

For migrant workers, though, there was still an option to obtain residency status. During the 18 month registration period established by this bill, if they worked 90 days within one year in the agricultural industry they qualified for temporary residency and could travel between the U.S. and their country of origin. During the first five years of their new status, migrant workers are considered “eligible legalized aliens” and do have access to Federal assistance as well as state assistance for the first five years of their new status. Migrant workers were also entitled to legal assistance.

Cuban and Haitian entrants were granted permanent resident status if they arrived before January 1, 1982. This was because many of these immigrants were political refugees.

Considering the disaster of American children whose native mother was not married to an American G.I. and was left behind in Indochina in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Cambodia conflict, the gringa is pleased to find that the U.S. was more socially evolved in 1986. Children qualified for status, benefits and privileges if even one parent obtains resident status, regardless of the marital position of the child’s parents.

All in all, close to 3 million immigrants were legalized. This is a significant chapter in American immigration history. However, according to the numbers, about 2 million unauthorized aliens were left running around America without proper “authorization”. Some of these didn’t qualify, so, everyone just assumed they would eventually get deported. Others would have qualified but didn’t know a thing about the program. No one really had a back up plan for this eventuality. The gringa is not surprised. I’m sure Reagan and Congress thought, “We’ve done enough. That headache can be for the next administration.” Yes, U.S. government, how the wheels turn.

Critics of this legislation called it “amnesty”.  The real definition of amnesty is “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses”. The gringa’s not sure that the term “amnesty” applies. Perhaps a better term for a path to citizenship would be “the right thing” or, maybe, “the smart thing” or, “humanity at its best”. Regardless of what you call it, there were plenty of critics then and now who considered it a big, fat failure because illegal immigrants poured into the country after its passage. The fantasy was, the gringa supposes, that politicians thought after the passage of this bill, somehow, by some miracle, there would never be another unauthorized alien that would enter the country. The gringa can only guess that perhaps they thought the immigrants that were here were the only ones that would ever want to be here and no other immigrants would arrive in the future. What a bunch of dummies.

The gringa thinks they should have expected immigrant hopefuls around the world to jump up and take notice and point their finger toward America, wide-eyed as they exclaimed, “DID YOU SEE THAT! THAT COULD BE ME!” And off they go, running as fast as their little foreign feet can carry them to the Home of the Free and the Land of the Brave. With a path to citizenship laid out and easy to qualify for, of course hopefuls would hotfoot it across the border if given the chance.

The gringa thinks the problem was not with the legislation. The gringa thinks the problem was with the lack of preparedness. It should have been, sign the bill then yell, “Katie, bar the door!” They should have seen it coming! Big sillies! They needed to have a stronger presence on the border. Why didn’t they? Money, of course. Even though there was a provision to beef up border security by 50%, it seems they still didn’t spend enough money! Or, quite possibly, as often happens in bureaucracies, the money was mismanaged. All you xenophobes who are crying about border security, well, its gonna cost you. Are you willing to pay? That means taxes to fund it. Take a look at your paycheck stub. Are you still willing to pay?

Another reason illegals continued to flood into the country is because the framers just weren’t good planners. The bill was not a failure as critics claim when they point to the fact that illegal immigration was never eradicated, but actually increased. It’s because the bill didn’t go far enough. It never occurred to the framers of the legislation that the country might just continue to grow and need more laborers. Just like any good capitalist free market system ruled by supply and demand, the U.S. labor market demanded laborers and the nation’s southern neighbors were only too happy to supply them. And that is the very reason we need immigration reform now. Most of these people are here to work and raise their families and educate themselves and their children. They need to be able to come out of the shadows and live with security as proud American citizens.

For today’s critics of amnesty who treat it like it’s a dirty word, listen to the words of a wise humanitarian: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” Ronald Reagan, in a 1984 televised debate with Walter Mondale. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan K. Simpson’s opinion on amnesty? “Anybody who’s here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights.” How do today’s Republicans feel about Obama’s efforts to bring about meaningful immigration reform? Well, just listen to what Mitch McConnell had to say: “…take amnesty off the table…”

So, then, what really happens with the issue of immigration reform? Politicians stick to their tried-and-true methods of old. When their voter base is raising hell, but the politician is too afraid to tackle the realities of legislation that affects the lives of millions of people, they worry more about getting re-elected. They don’t really care about the plight of an oppressed, unrepresented class of people who are not registered to vote. It is safer for the politician to stir up constituents with anger toward the immigrant so the voters won’t ask for immigration reform, but, rather, just scream for mass deportation. But, the politician doesn’t want to do that either. I mean, think about it. If cowardly politicians actually started deporting people, deportees may have loved ones in the community that DO vote. Politicians don’t want to risk losing that potential vote. If the politician treads the murky waters of immigration reform with legalization in mind, he alienates xenophobes, racists and labor unions from his voter base. If he goes hard line on immigration reform, he risks alienating the voters of ethnic groups who see members of their own national origin being rounded up and oppressed. What’s a vote-hungry, cowardly politician to do? He continues to stir up fear, because fear mongering directs everyone to the subject of border control. It’s much safer for the politician to support funding of border security than deal with millions of human beings. So, basically, the United States never sees meaningful immigration reform because the politicians are cowards.

The gringa remains hopeful that in Obama’s lame duck years he will deliver on immigration reform because he doesn’t give a hoot about pandering for a vote. He is in the strongest position to do the right thing. He has managed to deliver on some other controversial, hot button issues. The gringa still has faith and sits on the edge of her seat to see what happens. In closing, the gringa defers to the wise words of President Reagan who remained a friend to the immigrant to the very day he left office in 1989 when he said this: “I’ve spoken of a shining city all my political life but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.”

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1986_immigration_reform_and_control_act.html

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d099:SN01200:@@@L&summ2=m&% 7CTOM:/bss/d099query.html

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/in-1986-congress-tried-to-solve-immigration-why-didnt-it-work/

http://asu.news21.com/archive/2009/the_first_immigration_amnesty/

http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/1986-amnesty/story?id=18971179

http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/history/35th/thelaw/irca.html

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128303672

Photo credit:  www.fusion.net

1982 Amerasian Immigration Act-The Baby Citizens Left Behind


Many soldiers fathered children in Indochina during the Vietnam War. Although immigration reform in 1975 addressed the refugee crisis of this region, these children were left out of specific consideration. The 1982 Amerasian Immigration Act sought to remedy this situation and provide preference in immigration admission policies for these children of United States citizens, whose mothers were not married to the U.S. G.I.’s. This legislation did not provide for the mother’s entry. She was required to release parental rights in order for the child to immigrate.

Eventually, the diversity of America’s population would be further enriched with the arrival of Amerasian children from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea. This humanitarian inspired legislation, although thoughtfully inspired, was also woefully deficient. Although the United States would definitely be a better place for these children to grow up in, the fact remains that they were separated from one parent in order to be reunited with another parent, simply because the parents were not married. Many of these parents desired to get married. For military personnel such as sailors, at that time in history, they could only marry with the consent of their captain. Often, consent was denied. Many of these children were born to Asian women and American servicemen who were in committed relationships yet could also be abruptly torn apart without a moment’s notice if a serviceman’s duty demanded redeployment. In these cases, the gringa believes the nation was terribly remiss in separating these families.

Many veterans of this conflict that were separated from loved ones by refusal of commanding officers to give consent to marry, or sudden redeployment, still have children and the mothers of their children in Asia with no contact with the American father in the States. Even today there are veterans and Asian women and Amerasian children who are searching for one another, searching for their families. Unfortunately, even if they find one another today, they would not be able to reunite under the conditions of this legislation. Although birthright to an American parent, regardless of geographical location of birth, guarantees a child the right to American citizenship, paternity certification documents must be filed before the child reaches the age of eighteen. The children left behind that were borne of this era of conflict and have survived, are now adults.

The gringa believes the U.S. failed to live up to its ideals in refusing these families to remain united. The gringa believes the U.S. failed to extend proper respect and appreciation for the servicemen who risked their lives for the nation and were then denied a marriage to a woman who was loved, and denied the serviceman the right to preserve his own family. Were these not rights the serviceman was defending and preserving in his very duty and service to country? What the hell, Congress of 1970’s and 1980’s? Where were your “pro-family, American freedom and American dream” minds? To the gringa this is so simple. You keep the family together. Period.

And as for the argument that some of these children were conceived by prostitutes, the gringa says, “So what?” It is estimated that over fifty thousand children in the Philippines alone were fathered by American servicemen in such a way. Does this mean a father would no want to be reunited with his own flesh and blood? Do these children deserve to be denied their rightful U.S. citizenship simply because their mother is a prostitute? Does the United States feel such a situation makes it okay to create a second-class citizen in these children? Does being the son or daughter of a prostitute disqualify a person from U.S. citizenship even if the father is a U.S. citizen? Show the gringa the law which says that is so. These children, by law, are United States citizens. Why the hell were they left behind? Why, with American blood coursing through their veins, are there any obstacles to them entering their own country and reuniting with their fathers?

As the conditions of post-war Indochina worsened when American troops left, many of these children suffered not only the loss of their American father, but many were also abandoned by their mothers. This is a tragedy that the United States had the power and, therefore, the moral obligation, to remedy, yet did not. Many of these orphans were further disadvantaged because of the stigma they suffered as the children of prostitutes. The gringa asks, “Why in the hell should any child bear any culpability for a parent’s career choice? Why should this be any factor at all in determining whether or not a child is socially acceptable? Why should this even be an issue to consider in allowing this child of a U.S. citizen to gain entry to the nation and reunite with a parent?” Even if a war veteran who fathered a child does not wish to reunite, why should any of this prevent a child who is legally a U.S. citizen from coming to their own, damn country? They are not even “immigrants”. They are CITIZENS! These children were U.S. citizens, helpless in their plight, and their country failed them.

The gringa is very disappointed how far this bill missed the mark considering that the prior two decades had shown such great promise in the humanitarian nature of immigration reform. Although the gringa is stirred to the point of anger because these innocent U.S. children were left behind, I must admit that the shortcoming of the nation was indicative of the social perspective at that time. Children born to parents that were not married were still stigmatized even on American soil. I suppose it is then only natural that the country did not regard children born to servicemen and women they were not married to as children who were legitimate citizens. That would account for why the amendment did not include specific wording for their inclusion. Not only were these children victims of war, they were victims of time.

After making such great strides in social progress, it seems the nation began to regress. Who in their right mind in this nation does not see that immigration reform is the most important humanitarian issue that affects so many people in the United States today? Why does Congress get together, year after year, and do nothing? Immigration reform is about human beings who not only want to come here and have a better life, immigration reform is often about coming here to find a long, lost loved one unwillingly ripped away from a person. Such inhumanity is a nasty stain on America. America is in need of redeeming itself. This can only be done with humanitarian inspired immigration reform that is long, long, overdue.

 

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1982_amerasian_immigration_act.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/opinion/the-forgotten-amerasians.html?_r=0

http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/03/world/asia/philippines-forgotten-children/

Photo credit:  www.blueskygallery.org

 

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

1945 War Brides Act – Love and War


Out of respect for the brave soldiers returning from World War II, the United States passed legislation allowing foreign spouses and children admission into the country outside the quota system that was still in effect. Even fiancées qualified if the couple had been engaged for at least three months. However, marriage bans to German women were in effect under this Act. If you were  one of those physical or mental “defectives”, well, tough luck, you were still banned from entering the country as well. At the time the War Brides Act was passed Asian spouses were not included in the measure, but amendments would change this policy in 1947. This legislation would also have a time limit but the Act would be revived as a result of later conflicts, such as the Korean and Vietnam wars. By 1950 the population of the United States grew as over 125,000 spouses, 25,00 children, and over 17,000 fiancées arrived, although numbers as high as 400,000 are reported by some. Who really knows. The gringa doesn’t really care about the numbers because the real story is about the women!

During the war, the U.S. military did not encourage these relationships. They wanted the soldiers to be focused on their mission. By imposing many restriction the military hoped to prevent such romantic entanglements. However, lonely soldiers risking their lives in a foreign land are gonna do what every red-blooded man is gonna do. He’s gonna get ‘im a girlfriend. Back home, this didn’t go over too well, especially with the single gals who were waiting for their Yanks to come home. But for the British and European girls, left and right they were falling in love with their American heroes. Although many Europeans approved of these romances, the bittersweet of it was the fear that if it led to marriage, their baby girls would run off to America and they would never see them again. But, after suffering through the horrors of such a war, many parents found comfort in the fact that their daughters would be in a place of peace and safety.

One group of newlyweds and sweethearts that had much to overcome were the interracial couples of American servicemen and their Japanese wives. Racial prejudice on both sides of the fence made for a very delicate situation indeed. Japanese women quickly adopted Western fashion, tossing aside more traditional garments. Soldiers faced restrictive policies designed to prevent contact with the women of the enemy. However, it was unrealistic to think that these men would live without a gal on their arm throughout a seven year occupation of Japan.

Although the soldiers and young women may not have had any prejudicial barriers to overcome between themselves, Japanese parents often considered the Americans to be murderers. So, not only did a Japanese bride have to overcome the bias of her family’s reaction, she later found herself arriving to her new country and experiencing discrimination and intolerance. However, the shock of American society seeing a beautiful, young Japanese bride on the arm of her American husband was nothing compared to the shock of American culture in the 1940’s seeing African American soldiers returning home with white European brides.

As the war brides began to arrive, most were welcomed warmly. Often they were treated like a novelty in their new communities. However, once the new wore off, they adjusted like all humans do and eventually assimilated into typical American life. After all, America is a nation of immigrants. They would never be alone in that status.

After the gringa complained and criticized her way through almost two centuries of U.S. immigration policies that were terribly flawed, this piece of work has restored my faith that the country can get it right from time to time. I mean, hey, who doesn’t bend over backwards to facilitate a good love story? Satan, maybe, but not the American people. Hopefully U.S. legislators will come away from this enlightened that immigration policies put in place for humanitarian reasons are the only ones that work out for both the nation and the immigrant because the motive is the right one. In all you do, intent matters.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1945_war_brides_act.html

http://northamericanimmigration.org/312-war-brides-act-act-of-december-28-1945-1945.html

http://uswarbrides.com/WW2warbrides/1945act.html

http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/war-brides/

http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/WARBRIDES/2012-12/1355634603

http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww2/cou/us/live/w2usl-bride.html

Photo credit: www.vintag.es

1943 Bracero Appropriations – Immigrant Exploitation, Again, And Again, And Again…


How many times had the United States implemented immigration policies for the purpose of importing cheap labor and things turned out badly because capitalist utopian ideology did not consider the human and civil rights factor?

  • 1798, new residency guidelines create a system where typical natural life span expires before citizenship requirements can be fulfilled; a dirty trick to continue to entice loads of hopeful immigrants to arrive only to be exploited as a working class with no political representation for the rest of their lives
  • 1882 the U.S. evicted Chinese laborers who had been exploited immigrants for decades as a cheap labor class during the California Gold Rush and railroad construction days
  • 1882, hot on the heels of kicking out the Chinese, the U.S. wanted to bar the door to prevent entry to those damn Irish Catholics and troublesome Germans, among other ethnic groups, who were coming over here and stealing all the jobs as well as creating Socialist rabble-rousers out of the working class. The masses of citizens were screaming for higher wages so it was politically expedient to blame the immigrant, wasn’t it?
  • 1888, the Scott Act once again has the U.S. snubbing its nose at the Chinese, kicking out even the diplomats, travelers who were just passing through, and wealthy elites who had previously been acceptable; once again legislators needed to manage the masses for the stability and economic growth of the nation
  • 1907, The Gentlemen’s Agreement, for the purpose of importing cheap Japanese labor, would also eventually go south, just like the same idea ended disastrously every single time the United States made immigration policies based on greed rather than moral racial equality
  • 1924, and here comes the final slap in the face for the Japanese, labor exploitation with no hope of representation due to the naturalization ban. Does anyone wonder, then, about the reasons behind Pearl Harbor? A national grudge was nursed for almost twenty-years before they slapped the U.S. right back.
  • 1943, after getting slapped back by the Japanese, the US goes crawling to the Chinese out of fear they would become allies with Japan. I can hear it now, “Um, please Chinese people, I know the U.S. treated you worse than a pack of ol’ junkyard dogs. We probably even fed our dogs better than we were willing to pay you guys, but, hey, we’re real sorry. We could really use your help over here and, we’ll make it worth your while. Whaddya say?” And, China returned to the fold like a junkyard dog that gets kicked and smacked but still faithfully sits at the feet of its abuser, or like the battered who bail their abusers out of jail and welcome them home. I say to the government of China in 1943, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” If a country exploited and oppressed this gringa then insulted me and kicked me out I WOULD NEVER GO BACK, FOR NO AMOUNT OF MONEY IN THE WORLD! But, I digress. My real question is, if Japan nursed a grudge for twenty years and then delivered a major smack-down such as the United States had not known up until that time, could China still be nursing a grudge and gauging conditions for the perfect moment to eventually give America the come-uppance it deserves for national insults dished out for decades? The gringa says, “Watch your back! It’s happened before. And that’s why treating people with loyalty and respect is a wise policy. You tend to get it in return.”

And that brings us to April 26, 1943 when the nation formalized an agreement that had developed between Mexico and the U.S. through a series of notes between Joseph F. McGurk, Counsel of the American Embassy in Mexico, and Ernesto Hidalgo, of Mexico’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs. With the assistance of Mexico’s Ministry of Labor, the United States’ Farm Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and War Farming Operations within the USDA, the Bracero Agreement opened the gates not only for immigrants from Mexico, but also for all of Central and South America.

The Bracero Agreement outlined what was mandated or what was prohibited in order for these immigrants to enter the nation temporarily and serve as migrant farm labor. These immigrants could not be engaged in military service. They would be entitled to round trip transportation and housing paid for, and provided by, the USDA and participating farms. Braceros were entitled to equal pay. If Braceros were accompanied by children under the age of fourteen, these children were entitled to equal education opportunities just like the children of U.S. citizens. The Mexican government, Mexican Labor Inspectors, and Mexican Consuls had the right to inspect the working conditions of Braseros. Burial service was also included in the act, provided and paid for by the USDA. The gringa wonders if this was indicative of the thought that, just perhaps, these immigrants may be exploited and worked to death. Hmmm, just sayin’, it is curious, isn’t it?

You see, because Mexico was much too docile in this round of negotiation, this program ended up being no better than America’s previous episodes of importing cheap labor. For one thing, farmers didn’t like the government intruding in order to monitor working conditions and wages. The farmers preferred to do things their own way, which usually meant hiring undocumented workers and paying them drastically lower wages. But, with most of the American population diverted to war industry jobs, and all the Japanese detained in internment camps, a labor shortage was created in the lower paying agricultural field. Despite the dissatisfaction of farmers, Roosevelt went ahead with the plan because it was critical to stabilize food sources for the nation, especially during wartime. The nation needed to fill the gap, so the nation decided it would exploit the Mexicans and their southern neighbors.

Roosevelt even whipped out Executive Order No. 8802, written June 25, 1941, to assure civil rights protection of the Braceros. The dear reader jumps for joy and says, “Aha! Aha! Civil rights! Well, well, well, social progress!” The gringa is sorry to disappoint. Don’t get all hopeful that this was proof of Roosevelt having a racial equality agenda in mind. This was more about the success of wartime defense production than civil rights. It was the President wagging his finger at any American who might get some high-and-mighty white supremacist attitude toward the Braceros, or any other people of color, during the critical time of war efforts and production. It was as if Roosevelt was telling these Americans, “Look, behave yourselves! We need this imported cheap labor to win the war!” The Executive Order states “…as a prerequisite to the successful conduct of our national defense production effort, I do hereby reaffirm the policy of the United States that there shall be no discrimination in the employment of workers in defense industries or government because of race, creed, color, or national origin…” Now, in case you didn’t notice, the gringa will point something out to you. It specified “no discrimination” in defense industry and government sector jobs. If you owned the local café and wanted to discriminate, well, by all means please do. Get it? Yes, you must have a very critical eye as you peruse these tricky documents. So, as for Roosevelt, a non-racist he was not, a cunning leader to war time victory, he was.

Now, the term “bracero” is from the Spanish root, “brazo”, which, in English, means “arm”. Yes, I suppose there will be lots of Spanish-speaking immigrant “arms” being employed as a result of this international agreement. I suppose this concession to try to appear more open-minded by using Spanish terminology was supposed to put at ease the nation’s southern neighbors, distracting them from memories of the prior decades of exploitation. I tell ya, the gringa just wants to pull her hair out! How many times will people from other countries fall for this dirty trick America plays? It’s like breaking up with a terrible boyfriend, then, six months later he comes slinking back and the gal thinks, “Oh, I miss him, “ and gets all wobbly in the knees. The next thing ya know they both have black eyes and the girl is saying to herself, “What the hell was I thinking?” When the U.S. starts squirming with the need to import cheap labor, other countries, listen up! The gringa’s gonna give you some advice! Let ‘em squirm til they wet their pants and THEN you’ll be in a position of power to negotiate the best terms possible. Quit selling out your populace for a quick infusion of cash into your anemic economy! Just stop it!

Despite the provisions to prevent discrimination, such things were enforced half-heartedly, if at all. U.S. federal government oversight was minimal and Mexican government oversight was practically non-existent. People wonder, “Why?” The gringa wonders, “Why do you ask?” I mean, hasn’t it become clear that U.S. immigration policies are always motivated by capitalism or national security? It was in the interest of neither motivator to invest time and money to see that these non-citizens were treated right. America’s only interest was how quickly they could fill a bushel basket. Earning an average of about a buck a day, it is easy to see that the Bracero average income was about one sixth the national average that annually ranged between $1800-$2000. Equal wages? Are you kidding me?

And if low wages weren’t bad enough, their own country robbed them of their future retirement because Mexico had its own interests to serve off the backs of these hapless laborers. The act had a provision that 10% of wages would be deposited into a fund managed by Mexico. It was a plan similar to American wage withholding for Social Security. This compensation was never paid back out to Braseros who found themselves poverty ridden and abandoned by both governments when they reached old age. Is it just the gringa, or do my dear readers also have a problem with the United States exploiting a class of people necessary to help the nation win a war, and, in the end, the nation has no sense of loyalty and gratitude for such efforts and let’s these old folks waste away, disrespected and forgotten. America, these people you robbed and turned your back on played a critical role in keeping your people and military fed during the Second World War. Without them the U.S. would have starved and probably be speaking German by now. Good God, how do you say “betrayal” in German? Shame on the United States. Shame on Mexico.

Because of cultural differences, particularly the language barrier, these migrant workers experienced discrimination on the same scale as former slaves. Braseros often saw signs at businesses that read “no Mexicans” right alongside “no Blacks”. Restaurants would serve them in the kitchen, right alongside the nation’s other second-class citizens. The children of Braceros suffered discriminatory practices as their right to education was exercised and they entered U.S. public schools challenged by a language barrier. Los Angeles County responded to this challenge by forming language workshops for teachers to assist Spanish speaking students in their adjustment to English speaking classrooms. Despite good intentions, however, it fell far short of providing the bi-lingual education these students needed. This resulted in generations of Brasero children receiving little, or no education at all despite the fact it was their legal right, and, the gringa believes, the moral duty of a host nation who was exploiting the student’s parent(s) for wartime production in the name of national security. Shame on the United States and shame on Mexico for allowing sub-standard education conditions to continue and never compensate or correct this injustice to innocent children.

At this time in America’s history, lip service was the only attention civil rights issues received. The façade of America as a humanitarian nation protecting civil rights and promoting a culture of equality among all ethnicities was a sham. Supply and demand was what really mattered in a wartime nation that was rationing food and gasoline. Although I’m sure the Mexican Government was aware of this, I don’t believe that this was the bill of goods that was sold to the Braceros, bless their little hearts.

Sources:

http://www.farmworkers.org/bpaccord.html

http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?doc=72&page=transcript

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1943_bracero_appropriations.html

http://www.ccrh.org/comm/moses/primary/bracero.html

http://www1.american.edu/ted/bracero.htm

http://www.ushistory.org/us/51e.asp

http://www.theseamericans.com/civil-rights/california-collection-civil-rights-speeches-social-conditions-of-mexican-american-youth-1943/

Photo credit:  www.oregonhistoryproject.org

1943 Magnuson Act: Blueprint For Equality


December 17, the 1943 Magnusun Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt. The Chinese could once again immigrate into the United States and, even more amazing, be eligible for citizenship. Could it be that the United States was beginning to evolve socially and become less racist? Could it be that the United States had learned its lesson about insulting other nations after the disastrous and deadly outcome of spurning Japan for years?

It seems that key people banded together and put pressure on legislators, specifically, the “Citizens Committee to Repeal Chinese Exclusion and Place Immigration On a Quota Basis”. Quite a mouthful. Although these people may have been socially enlightened for their time, the gringa thinks they may have lacked the creative minds necessary to come up with a snazzier title for their think tank. This group of public figures formally organized May 25, 1943 with the purpose to reverse the racist legislation of 1882 that had sought to remove from white America an ethnicity that was singled out because of its racial, linguistic, religious and cultural differences.

During the 1930’s, author Pearl S. Buck’s book “The Good Earth”, a Pulitzer Prize winner, began to change public sentiment toward the Chinese as it depicted the privations suffered by the people of rural China. Where social evolution could not reach the hearts of the American people, it seems sympathy could. After suffering through the years of the Great Depression, the American people had obviously been humbled and could now overcome racial differences as they were able to relate to the sufferings of other human beings.

Time magazine also featured articles exposing Japan’s invasion of China. With American’s despising all things Japanese after Pearl Harbor, this was a prime example of just one more thing in common between the American and Chinese people that resulted in sympathetic feelings.

Politically speaking, Roosevelt’s motives most likely did not originate from the heart and soul of a man who wanted to right a racist wrong. His concern was what was in the nation’s best interest. As President, that was his job. If Roosevelt didn’t want to lose China to America’s enemy, Japan, the best thing he could do would be to perform a significant act that would pacify any doubt in the mind of China that the U.S. was their friend.

You see, at that time Japan was using United States history to make inroads with the Chinese. Japan’s cunning propaganda plan was to play up ethnic similarities between themselves and the Chinese and also remind China of the racist exploitation they experienced with the Americans and the insult of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Roosevelt’s motives were not because he was an apologetic non-racist, it was because he was a capitalist opportunist. In other words, Roosevelt was a typical American. The State Department even issued a public statement regarding the political necessity of this act: “The repeal of this act was a decision almost wholly grounded in the exigencies of World War II, as Japanese propaganda made repeated reference to Chinese exclusion from the United States in order to weaken the ties between the United States and its ally, the Republic of China”. In other words, the United States needed this critical wartime alliance with China. So, Roosevelt formed a committee to rally everyone in the nation to get on the pro-Chinese bandwagon.

Roosevelt’s committee was headed up by none other than Pearl S. Buck’s husband, James Walsh. I guess that seems fitting since she’s the one that got this party started. The committee consisted of over two hundred people who put pressure on groups larger and more powerful than themselves. These groups in turn would lobby Congress to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Social and professional elites of the country used their connections to advance the cause of the Chinese immigrant. When the moral argument of racial equality failed, the argument of patriotism and winning the war persuaded the hesitant.

The passage of the Magnusun Act of 1943 repealed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, allowed for Asians to become naturalized citizens, and established quotas to allow Chinese immigrants entry into the United States. The citizenship gate that had historically swung open only for free, white, men and remained closed to other ethnicities, had now become unhinged. This, however, did not mean that domestic racism had ceased. Although many in the nation may have been softening, the labor unions could only see the Chinese as potential competition among laborers and a threat to wages. Once the work had been completed to change the laws, the work began anew to change the hearts and minds of the people. This work was necessary to reverse racist opinions toward the Chinese that had been about one hundred years in the making. Until that happened, equality, although the law of the land, was, in reality, a myth.

The United States has always been designed to be a capitalist utopia with power vested in the hands of the wealthy. Historically, powerful, white men managed the masses for their own benefit as well as to strengthen the nation. Racism is a tool. If it is profitable to be racist, racist practices take place. If it is not profitable to be racist, the leaders reverse course. Racism seems to be fused with capitalist political agendas. But that doesn’t mean every American, and every American politician, thinks this way. The writer of the bill, Senator Warren G. Magnusun, spent the rest of his congressional career working to improve relations between Americans and the Chinese. Men and women like Magnusun are just the kind of socially evolved legislators the United States needs to grow into a nation that practices true equality.

In 1943 it only took seven months for the power of just one small group of wealthy, socially influential people to sway public opinion and effect significant legislative change. Why, then, have the social elites of today not succeeded in the same for the many non-white groups in the United States who experience racism on an oppressive level? I guess ethnic groups need to find a way for their cause to be either profitable or in the best interest of national security. That’s how it worked for the Chinese.

Sources:

http://library.uwb.edu/guides/usimmigration/1943_magnuson_act.html

http://immigration.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=000766

http://immigrationinamerica.org/431-citizens-committee-to-repeal-chinese-exclusion.html

http://immigrationinamerica.org/591-immigration-act-of-1943.html

http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8993

Photo credit:  http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/