Recent anti-immigration rhetoric abetted by white nationalism threatens state of immigration
A speech titled “Is the United States a White Nation” was given by Professor Gabriel J. Chin, a UC Davis law professor, on March 1 in King Hall. The speech traced the history of civil rights and immigration laws and the attitude Americans have had on immigration in the past compared with the current anti-immigration movement in the United States.
Kevin Johnson, the dean of UC Davis School of Law, introduced Chin as an activist and scholar and provided a background of his work.
“He and his students worked to repeal Jim Crow laws and successfully petitioned the Ohio legislature to ratify the 14th Amendment,” Johnson said. “A few years late, […] but better than never — it was only 136 years after the state had disapproved it. Professor Chin and his students also worked to repeal Anti-Asian land laws that were still in the books in Kansas, New Mexico and Wyoming. In that vein, Professor Chin’s lecture today, which is especially timely, addresses the question, ‘Is the United States a White country: a problem of immigration policy.’”
Chin began his speech by immediately identifying the current white nationalist problem.
“I want to talk to about where we are in immigration policy today through the lens of history,” Chin said. “In my view, white nationalism enjoys a respectability and influence now that it has not in other point in my lifetime. Many people believe, as I suspect as I do, that the white nationalist and extreme proposals for immigration restriction are as un-American as they are unwise. I believe that this country is, as it should be, a nation of immigrants, a nation of nations [and] the first universal nation. Immigration has always been the goose that has laid the golden eggs for the United States. It’s also served as a moral model for the rest of the world.”
He outlined legislation passed through history which included the Declaration of Independence, laws adopted after the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. One issue Chin mentioned was how immigration rights applied to Asians.
“I believe what we see in immigration policy, particularly with respect to Asians but with respects to other groups, is evidence that there is something less-than-meets-the-eye to our anti-racist legal changes that many of us celebrate,” Chin said.
Chin analyzed the civil rights and immigration laws enacted through history and omissions purposefully enacted in this laws that allowed bias in the areas of citizenship, voting and property ownership rights to persist.
Specifically, Chin talked about opposing opinions present when the 14th Amendment was being enacted. These opinions gave racist criticism of Chinese immigrants. Chin referenced the Burlingame Treaty of 1868 between the United States and China.
“It promised the Chinese People could immigrate to the United States on the same basis of all other foreigners except that the Burlingame Treaty, at the insistence of the Senate, contained an exception for naturalization,” Chin said. “Chinese [people] did not have the privilege of naturalization under the treaty.”
Chin said that while legislating the 15th Amendment, the western states allowed non-citizens to vote if they declared their intent to become citizens and in turn they received the right to vote and economic privileges. But Chin revealed that these rights did not apply to the immigration and naturalization of the Chinese population. In the end, the 15th Amendment allowed exclusions of ethnic groups which were adopted differently between states.
“This is what the framers of the 15th Amendment understood: […] that states were permitted to draw these lines among non-citizens,” Chin said. “They knew the franchise was not going to be divided between citizens and non-citizens. It was going to be divided on the basis of race at least among non-citizens.”
Asian immigration restrictions continued into the 20th Century. Chin supported this argument by highlighting Congressional testimony that disavowed the rights of Asians.
Chin spoke on the particular importance of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 in comparison to other civil rights and voting rights laws.
“In 1964 and 1965, the second reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965,” Chin said. “I call the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 the most effective civil rights law of the twentieth century.”
Chin explained how the Immigration and Nationality Act increased non-white immigration and how the immigration status quo was currently under threat.
“But in regards to immigration before 1965, 80 percent or more of the immigration stream were Caucasian by design by racial classification,” Chin said. “Since 1965, without racial preferences, with no affirmative action, with no preference for people from the third world, 80 percent or more of the immigration stream has been Asian, Latino [and] African. As a result, the 1965 [Immigration and Nationality Act] is a target of white nationalists who believe that it was either unintentionally or intentionally designed to destroy the United States by bringing undesirable races to the country.”
Chin then said that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was not popular with people at the time it was enacted and related this sentiment to today’s current climate.
“What President Trump has said simply reflect the views of the average American 50-something years ago,” Chin said. “As a result of the 1965 Immigration Act, groups like the Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center have predicted loudly and repeatedly that the United States will be a majority minority nation by the middle of [this] century. But it is not inevitable. It’s not inevitable if legal immigration is slashed as some have proposed the demographic future of the United States will change.”
In closing, Chin gave a warning on the anti-immigration movement supported by white nationalists.
“My study of the topic has led me [to the conclusion] that at founding we were clearly a white country,” Chin said. “During reconstruction, we became a black and white country [and] in 1965, the elites [asserted] that we were no longer to be a white country, but this moment now the Trump era is the first time in which the American people as a whole and there are lawmakers in Congress are simultaneously compelled to address the issue of whether race is an essential part of the American nation. And I hope that the decision comes out the right way.”
Kyle Edgerton, a third-year UC Davis law student, commented on Chin’s research.
“I think it is part of [Chin’s] scholarship to ask these questions and to share his insights with people,” Edgerton said, “I guess that [his] preliminary objective is to let people know about his research and where he stands. I don’t know to what extent a message like that gets beyond the four walls of the law school.”
Robert Irwin, a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Davis and the co-leader of the Humanizing Deportation project, reflected on the anti-immigration stance in relation to DACA.
“DACA is a program that aims to avoid what many would interpret as a human rights abuse by giving a protected migration status to undocumented young people who arrived in the US as children,” Irwin said via email interview. “Many believe that the only ethical way to treat these young people is to grant them a path to citizenship, but the current presidential administration has sought to end the program, and Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on what protections or options to offer this group.”
A full video transcript of Chin’s speech can be accessed on King Hall’s website.
Written by: George Liao — firstname.lastname@example.org