Taking issue

I must take issue with Thomas Sowell column in the June 12 paper. Mr. Sowell and his ilk depend on readers who do not know their nation’s history, which is, sadly, quite common. The fact that Mr. Sowell supports Senator William P. Dillingham and his Immigration Commission is laughable, but only if one knows their nation’s history.

Dillingham’s Commission ended their work in 1911, concluding that immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, South America, and Africa posed a serious threat to American society and culture. The Commission’s overall findings provided a rationale for sweeping 1920’s immigration reduction acts, including the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which placed severe limits on immigration from certain countries, and the National Origins Formula, part of the Immigration Act of 1924, which capped national immigration at 150,000 annually and completely barred immigration from Asia, Latin America and Africa.

By Dillingham’s way of thinking, only those immigrants who owned property, were literate, and Anglo-Saxon Protestant were worthy of being accepted in America. In February 1906, the Senate Committee on Immigration, chaired by Dillingham, voted to increase the head tax from two to five dollars and to restrict immigrants perceived as the cause of social problems, including “unaccompanied children under the age of 17”, “women and girls deemed likely to become prostitutes”, the “physically defective”, “imbeciles” and the “feeble-minded”.

Dillingham’s Commission found that “Slavs” possessed a fanaticism “in religion, carelessness as to the business virtues of punctuality and honesty, and were prone to periods of besottedness”. The classification of Jews emphasized facial characteristics to denote race, a propensity to live in cities, non-Aryan ancestry, and incorporated stereotypes such as, “millions in wealth”. Southern Italians were depicted as illiterate, poverty stricken and dependent on charity, and Catholic.

While a triumph for Dillingham and American nativists, the quotas reversed American immigration policy. American no longer welcomed “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. Instead, Dillingham’s and Progressive-era concepts of race and the Commission’s contention that national origin predetermined the ability to assimilate was incorporated into law, and his racist sentiments endured until 1965.

In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act marked a radical break from immigration policies of the past. At the height of the Civil Rights Movement, American immigration law was seen as an embarrassment. President John F. Kennedy called the then-quota-system “intolerable”.

Many children of immigrants from the southern and eastern hemisphere should be appalled by Sowell’s exhortation of Dillingham’s Commission and its findings. One must wonder what agenda Sowell seeks to support, in fact, since Sowell’s ancestors would have been denied immigration by Dillingham’s Commission and immigration law during Dillingham’s senate presence.

Mary C Kilgus


Submitted by Virtual Newsroom