Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric


A young boy is held in an American immigrant detention facility. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, more than 161,000 unaccompanied child immigrants have been detained at the country’s southwestern border since October 2013. (Eduardo Perez/U.S. Customs and Border Protection.)

America has a long history of biased immigration policies. The first Chinese immigrants to the United States faced similarly racist political rhetoric. In the 1870s, campaign slogans declared “The Chinese Must Go!” and baseless political cartoons depicted Chinese immigrants as violent murderers. In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. It was the first federal law to restrict the entry of a specific ethnic group. The Immigration Act of 1924 established racial quotas, banned Arab and Asian immigrants, and severely restricted entry from Africa. These rules remained in force until 1965.

Divisive campaign tactics and racialized anti-immigrant rhetoric are not new. Today, the people labeled as dangerous criminals and terrorists who should all be barred from this country include desperate families fleeing civil war in places like Syria, and children seeking asylum from violence and recruitment by Central American gangs.

In June 2015, presidential candidate Donald Trump said Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs,” “bringing crime,” and were “rapists.” His proposal to build a 2000-mile wall along the border with Mexico earned both condemnation and support. Tens of thousands filled Trump rallies, chanting “Build that wall!” and cheering his call to ban Muslim immigrants.

For centuries, some American politicians have tried to gain power by directing public anger toward people of color and by promoting discriminatory immigration policies that scapegoat the world’s most vulnerable people.

For centuries, American politicians have tried to gain power by promoting discriminatory immigration policies.