Immigration pendulum keeps swinging |

Immigration pendulum keeps swinging

I just finished a little vacation from column writing after spending a couple of weeks in Hawaii.

Liberal, open-border supporters love to point to Hawaii as an example of how plural races and ethnicities can assimilate into one happy family.

Conservatives shudder at the prospect of the entire United States becoming as “blue state” as Hawaii by “comprehensive immigration reform,” which they define as amnesty plus citizenship and voting rights for all illegal aliens now in the country. Neither is entirely correct.

Both Hawaii and Alaska statehoods were approved by Congress in 1959, as a “package deal” because agricultural Hawaii was reliably Republican and chilly Alaska was reliably Democratic. Affordable jet travel turned Hawaii into a reliably Democratic tourist economy (service worker unions) and discovery of oil turned Alaska into a reliably Republican energy economy. So economics, rather than ethnicity, tends to dictate political persuasion.

Why is there so much distrust of Congress when it comes to “comprehensive immigration reform”? History tells the story.

In 1789, when the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the land area of what is now the United States was roughly equally divided between the U.S. and Spain. Spain ceded the 1 million square mile Louisiana Territory to France, and in 1803 the U.S. bought it from Napoleon inheriting its Spanish and French immigrants.

In 1821, Mexico became independent from Spain and became owner of all its North American colonies. Scotch-Irish settlers came to Texas from Tennessee and got into a rumble with Mexican Gen. Santa Anna and his army. Led by Sam Houston, they defeated Santa Anna, exiled him to Cuba, and declared Texas an independent nation in 1836. All of its Spanish and Mexican inhabitants became “Tejanos.”

In 1845, Texas accepted an offer from Congress to be the 28th state. Mexico considered Texas to still be its territory, which triggered the Mexican American War. Within two years, U.S. forces captured Mexico City.

The war ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago, in which the U.S. paid Mexico $18 million dollars for what is now California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. Mexican land owners were guaranteed their property and became “Americanos.” With lots of land available, the U.S. offered “40 acres and a mule” to whomever would farm the land and acquire it under the homestead law.

In 1849, the California Gold Rush brought lots of people from lots of countries. Chinese immigrants worked cheap and immigrated freely. In 1861, still more Chinese immigrated to build the transcontinental railroad.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the immigration pendulum swung the other way and various Chinese Exclusion Acts were passed. World War I and 1917 bought the first “Bracero” program in which Mexican laborers were brought in for farm work when America’s youth went in the army.

European immigration continued apace until 1924 when the Johnson-Reed Act was passed “to preserve American racial homogeneity.” The law limited immigration by country of origin to 2 percent of those ethnicities already in the U.S. as of the 1890 census respecting “southern and eastern Europeans and Jews.” The act banned immigration of Arabs, Asians and Africans, but placed no limit on northern Europeans.

In 1942, a second Bracero program was approved bringing Mexican laborers in to replace U.S. draftees. Over 4.5 million Mexicans came in under this program, which ended in 1964. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 ended quotas based on national origin and gave immigration priority to relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Additional priorities included professionals and those with specialized skills.

That’s the past and present of immigration laws. Next week, I’ll discuss proposals to fix things.

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at

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