December 19, 2008
Immigration and the political party platforms - Part One
Having a historical interest in how immigration to America has come in waves, (and also desiring the end to the current influx) got me to thinking of where to look for written declarations made by Republicans and Democrats on this subject over the years.
One source I found are the party platforms issued every four years at their conventions.
This post will summarize their positions from the period 1900 to 1960. I wanted to see what they said about the great wave that occurred up until 1921, then the sharp reduction that ran from 1924 to 1965, and finally, the reasons for the 1965 increase.
I found a website that has copies of all the party platforms and nearly all Presidential speeches, the site is called The American Presidency Project and its homepage is here.
It's a great site for history buffs, it's quite impressive.
The first thing that surprised me was how little the party platforms had to say about immigration from 1900 to 1920. Despite this being a period of record high immigration, with a peak of 14% of the country being foreign born in 1910 (a percentage we are just about at now), the platforms didn't mention immigration in 1900, 1904, or 1908. The first call for a reduction came with the 1912 Republicans version, which said:
We pledge the Republican party to the enactment of appropriate laws to give relief from the constantly growing evil of induced or undesirable immigration, which is inimical to the progress and welfare of the people of the United States.
The Democrats had nothing to say in 1912. Neither party mentioned immigration in 1916, which may have been due to the fact that World War I had greatly reduced it. In 1920, however, the Republicans had a lot to say about it:
The standard of living and the standard of citizenship of a nation are its most precious possessions, and the preservation and the elevation of those standards is the first duty of our government. The immigration policy of the U. S. should be such as to insure that the number of foreigners in the country at any one time shall not exceed that which can be assimilated with reasonable rapidity, and to favor immigrants whose standards are similar to ours.
The selective tests that are at present applied should be improved by requiring a higher physical standard, a more complete exclusion of mental defectives and of criminals, and a more effective inspection applied as near the source of immigration as possible, as well as at the port of entry. Justice to the foreigner and to ourselves demands provision for the guidance, protection and better economic distribution of our alien population. To facilitate government supervision, all aliens should be required to register annually until they become naturalized.
The existing policy of the United States for the practical exclusion of Asiatic immigrants is sound, and should be maintained.
There is urgent need of improvement in our naturalization law. No alien should become a citizen until he has become genuinely American, and adequate tests for determining the alien's fitness for American citizenship should be provided for by law.
How things have changed since 1920! The above would make a strong argument today for another immigration time-out, if the parties weren't so Politically Correct.
Despite this strong statement, the 1920 Democratic platform had nothing to say about immigration!
The 1924 Immigration Act, which greatly reduced the amount and instituted the national origins quota had already been passed before the party conventions. The Republican platform was an affirmation of the reasons for its passage:
The unprecedented living conditions in Europe following the world war created a condition by which we were threatened with mass immigration that would have seriously disturbed our economic life. The law recently enacted is designed to protect the inhabitants of our country, not only the American citizen, but also the alien already with us who is seeking to secure an economic foothold for himself and family from the competition that would come from unrestricted immigration. The administrative features of the law represent a great constructive advance, and eliminate the hardships suffered by immigrants under emergency statute. We favor the adoption of methods which will exercise a helpful influence among the foreign born population and provide for the education of the alien in our language, customs, ideals and standards of life.
The Democrats, for the first time in the 20th Century, had only this to say about immigration in their 1924 platform:
We pledge ourselves to maintain our established position in favor of the exclusion of Asiatic immigration.
That was it, nothing pro or con about the 1924 Act, and what they did say back then would have them apologising for their racism today, if anyone were to bring this to their attention.
In 1928, both parties made statements about immigration:
The Republican Party believes that in the interest of both native and foreign-born wage-earners, it is necessary to restrict immigration. Unrestricted immigration would result in widespread unemployment and in the breakdown of the American standard of living. Where, however, the law works undue hardships by depriving the immigrant of the comfort and society of those bound by close family ties, such modification should be adopted as will afford relief.
Laws which limit immigration must be preserved in full force and effect, but the provisions contained in these laws that separate husbands from wives and parents from infant children are inhuman and not essential to the purpose or the efficacy of such laws.
In 1932, during the worst part of the Great Depression, the Republicans said:
The restriction of immigration is a Republican policy. Our party formulated and enacted into law the quota system, which for the first time has made possible an adequate control of foreign immigration. We favor the continuance and strict enforcement of our present laws upon this subject.
The Democrats said nothing about it, and neither party platform mentioned immigration in 1936. In 1940, only the Republicans had this to say:
We favor the strict enforcement of all laws controlling the entry of aliens. The activities of undesirable aliens should be investigated and those who seek to change by force and violence the American form of government should be deported.
Neither party platform mentions immigration in 1944 or 1948.
In 1952, however, a significant change occurred. The Democrats platform, after being nearly silent about immigration all century, had this to say:
Subversive elements must be screened out and prevented from entering our land, but the gates must be left open for practical numbers of desirable persons from abroad whose immigration to this country provides an invigorating infusion into the stream of American life, as well as a significant contribution to the solution of the world refugee and overpopulation problems.
We pledge continuing revision of our immigration and naturalization laws to do away with any unjust and unfair practices against national groups which have contributed some of our best citizens. We will eliminate distinctions between native-born and naturalized citizens. We want no "second-class" citizens in free America.
Here, for the first time, we see dissatisfaction with the 1924 national origins quota.
The Republicans didn't mention immigration in 1952.
In 1956, the Democrats basically repeated what they said in their 1952 platform, under the heading "Progressive Immigration Policies":
The Democratic Party favors prompt revision of the immigration and nationality laws to eliminate unfair provisions under which admissions to this country depend upon quotas based upon the accident of national origin. Proper safeguards against subversive elements should be provided. Our immigration procedures must reflect the principles of our Bill of Rights...
We also favor more liberal admission of relatives to eliminate the unnecessary tragedies of broken families. We favor elimination of unnecessary distinctions between native-born and naturalized citizens.
The Republicans, having been silent on immigration since 1940, had this to say in 1956:
The Republican Party supports an immigration policy which is in keeping with the traditions of America in providing a haven for oppressed peoples, and which is based on equality of treatment, freedom from implications of discrimination between racial, nationality and religious groups, and flexible enough to conform to changing needs and conditions.
We believe that such a policy serves our self-interest, reflects our responsibility for world leadership and develops maximum cooperation with other nations in resolving problems in this area.
Here, they also are having second thoughts regarding the 1924 Act, although rather vaguely compared to the Democrats.
In 1960, John F. Kennedy is nominated as the Democratic Presidential candidate, and it was he who really started to push strongly for the end of the 1924 Act. The party platform reflected this by putting immigration near the top of their 1960 platform:
We shall adjust our immigration, nationality and refugee policies to eliminate discrimination and to enable members of scattered families abroad to be united with relatives already in our midst.
The national-origins quota system of limiting immigration contradicts the rounding principles of this nation. It is inconsistent with our belief in the rights of man. This system was instituted after World War I as a policy of deliberate discrimination by a Republican Administration and Congress...
We must remove the distinctions between native-born and naturalized citizens to assure full protection of our laws to all. There is no place in the United States for "second-class citizenship."
The protections provided by due process, right of appeal, and statutes of limitation, can be extended to non-citizens without hampering the security of our nation.
We commend the Democratic Congress for the initial steps that have recently been taken toward liberalizing changes in immigration law. However, this should not be a piecemeal project and we are confident that a Democratic President in cooperation with Democratic Congresses will again implant a humanitarian and liberal spirit in our nation's immigration and citizenship policies.
The 1960 Republican platform mentions immigration, but unlike the Democrats it was placed at the very bottom of the page, indicating to me that the changes Kennedy & the Democrats wanted weren't all that objectionable:
Immigration has historically been a great factor in the growth of the United States, not only in numbers but in the enrichment of ideas that immigrants have brought with them...
Immigration has been reduced to the point where it does not provide the stimulus to growth that it should, nor are we fulfilling our obligation as a haven for the oppressed. Republican conscience and Republican policy require that:
The annual number of immigrants we accept be at least doubled.
Obsolete immigration laws be amended by abandoning the outdated 1920 census data as a base and substituting the 1960 census.
The guidelines of our immigration policy be based upon judgment of the individual merit of each applicant for admission and citizenship.
While not openly advocating for the end of the 1924 national origins quota, they are heading in that direction with the call to use the 1960 census as a guide. More alarming from a restrictionist standpoint is the call to double the number of immigrants. Even the Democrats didn't even call for this in 1960!
After reading the two parties 1960 platforms, it is clear that the 1924 restrictions were on life-support, and it's not surprising that they were eventually repealed with the passage of the 1965 Immigration Act.
Posted by AndyK at 7:25 PM