Shithole countries II: migration policies throughout American history

The United States of America is a country whose foundations were built upon migration. The first settlers didn´t arrive to a terra nullius, but to a populated country where they were the foreigners. Supported by their manifest destiny theory, they appropriated the land and everything it offered until the 13 colonies declared their independence in 1876 and a new country was born. One of the first waves of immigration was constituted by slaves, brought by the colonies to work in plantations. Slavery was legal in all 13 colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Europeans arrived looking for profitable ventures, but workers except indentured labourers, including convicted criminals, were hard to find due to the harsh conditions, so the colonies resorted on slavery. Massachussets was the first colony to authorise slavery through an enacted law. The most common countries of origin of the slaves were Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Angola, Congo, Gabon, Ghana (called the Gold Coast or the Slave Coast), the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon.


From 1849 to 1882 the country received a large flow of Chinese attracted by the gold rush after which they stayed in the country working on the railway construction and farms for lower wages than the locals. Voices were raised against Oriental immigration and there were riots, like the LA riot in 1871, which resulted in 15 Chinese citizens being lynched. As a result of the riots a clause was inserted and accepted in the new Constitution in California (1879) which forbade employment of any Chinese labourers. Later on, in 1882, the Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, that excluded Chinese labourers for 10 years and finished Chinese immigration for almost a century. In the same year certain restrictive policies were adopted banning paupers, convicts and the insane.


The country received wave after wave of immigrants. As a result the population tripled due to the arrival of immigrants between 1860 and 1920, when most of them came from western Europe and were mainly protestant; they arrived from Germany, Ireland and England. Immigrants from these countries started decreasing in number after 1890 and Scandinavians decreased after 1910. In 1920, 38% of the foreign born population was made up of Poles, Serbs, Italians, Hungarians, Austrians and Russians who were Catholics, Greek Orthodox or Jewish and hostility to immigrants surfaced in the Sacco & Vanzetti case. There was another wave of migration of Southern and Eastern Europeans in 1923 and the number of nordic Europeans and those of Anglo-Saxon stock decreased. Madison Grant expressed his fear that they would be overwhelmed by lesser breeds who were considered as intellectually inferior to whites from northern Europe. Racists, xenophobes, anti-Catholic and anti-semites supported this quotas system to preserve the WASP proportion of the population. As a result, the Congress adopted the National Origins Quota Act, establishing a greater quota of western and northern Europeans, of whom there was a limit of 150,000 per year, mostly from Ireland, Great Britain, Scandinavia and Germany, barring Asians entirely. This quota survived until de 1960s. Simultaneously, a large number of Mexicans, exempt of the quota regulation went northward across the Río Grande.

300px-Sacvan Sacco and Vanzetti

All this comes to mind when one is faced with Trump’s project to build a wall between Mexico and the USA in order to prevent South Americans from crossing the borders seeking for a better future. Not to mention the slavery issue; Africans were forced out of their homeland for centuries to be exploited in the States and now African immigrants are blatantly shunned by the president. As Ebba Kalondo, spokesperson of the African Union responded to Trump’s unfortunate comment on January 9th: ‘given the gistorical reality of how many Africans arrived in the US as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice’.


A Concise History of the American Republic – Morison, Commanger, Leuchtenburg

Associated Press


Shithole countries

Most of us can still remember clearly Trump’s shithole remark, although his entire tenure has been so dominated by offensive statements that it may be hard to single it out. The shithole remark was uttered in the context of a meeting held on January 9th concerning a bipartisan proposal on the visa lottery, which granted a substantial part of it to misrepresented African countries and Temporary Protective Status nations such as Haiti. It was then, when these countries were mentioned, that Trump asked: ‘why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ This remark wasn’t neither denied by the White House spokesperson Raj Shah nor by the Senator Dick Durbin. However, this is not by any means Trump’s only xenophobic remark. Late in 2017, the New York Times reported that he had complained that Haitian immigrants ‘all have AIDS’ and that the Nigerian who went to the US would ‘never go back to their huts’ in Africa.

pissed off

Sadly, all these remarks shouldn´t startle us much, since Western history has always been linked -and still is through TNCs- to facts supporting Trump’s statement, given the West’s systematic exploitation of non-Western peoples and their natural resources. What may strike us the most is the way that unfortunately common transhistorical concept is expressed. One would expect the president of the most influential and powerful country to be a bit more articulate. However, it goes to show that Western culture is more of a plutocracy than it is a meritocracy. But there may actually be a purpose behind Trump’s bluntness and poor expression. In Noam Chomsky’s words:

‘Trump’s role is to ensure that the media and the public attention are always concentrated on him. He’s a conman, a showman, and in order to maintain public attention you have to do something crazy. So, everyday there’s one insane thing after another and while this is going on, in the background, the wrecking crew is working (…)’

Let’s not fool ourselves; many other Western presidents, politicians and voters endorse implicitly this statement -as we have witnessed in Europe with the wave of increasingly restrictive migration policies- although they publically reject it for the sake of political correctness.


The Guardian, The New York Times, The Times, Huffington Post.