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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Monday, May 8, 2006

Those damn immigrants.

They're violent. They depress the wages of US workers. They don't learn English. They're 'economic refugees' who'll just turn around and go back home after they make their pile.

No, those aren't the latest talking points over at Fox News. Those are the charges made against the people who immigrated to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A very good article in by reporter Michael Powell in Sunday's Washington Post looks at the immigration debate of 100 years ago., and finds that very little has changed in the century since then.


Landing at Ellis Island

Immigrants landing at Ellis Island, 1902. [Photographer unknown]


As the article points out, all of the charges hurled at immigrants in 1906 are being used now by immigration opponents in 2006. And, usually, those opponents have no clue about the history of immigration or the contributions of earlier immigrants to the US of today.
Advocates of stricter enforcement argue that those who came a century ago were different because they arrived legally....

Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, wrote about her Irish forebears in a Wall Street Journal column: "They waited in line. They passed the tests. They had to get permission to come. . . . They had to get through Ellis Island . . . get questioned and eyeballed by a bureaucrat with a badge."

But these accounts are flawed, historians say. Until 1918, the United States did not require passports; the term "illegal immigrant" had no meaning. New arrivals were required only to prove their identity and find a relative or friend who could vouch for them.

Customs agents kept an eye out for lunatics and the infirm (and after 1905, for anarchists). Ninety-eight percent of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were admitted to the United States, and 78 percent spent less than eight hours on the island. (The Mexico-United States border then was unguarded and freely crossed in either direction.) "Shipping companies did the health inspections in Europe because they didn't want to be stuck taking someone back," said Nancy Foner, a sociology professor at Hunter College and author of From Ellis Island to JFK: New York's Two Great Waves of Immigration. "Eventually they introduced a literacy test," she added, "but it was in the immigrant's own language, not English."

This is the kind of report that should be all over the place during our current immigration 'crisis', but isn't. Our compliments to the Post and reporter Michael Powell for getting the story out.

| | Posted by Magpie at 12:13 PM | Get permalink




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