Tag Archives: #immigration

Fill In The Blank


On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, the following words are inscribed:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

All my life, I have been taught and have believed that the words of “The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus embodied the spirit of the United States. Whether an immigrant came willingly to the United States through Ellis Island in the New York harbor or by some other path, the ethos of a new hope was still the same. My father’s Anabaptist ancestors came to America in the mid 19th century to flee religious persecution in what is now Germany. My mother’s ancestors came from poverty in England, Scotland, and Wales hoping for a better life. In essence, I am a byproduct of that tired and poor wretched refuse, and I strongly believe that others should have the same chances now that my ancestors did then. However, as anyone keeping track of American politics knows, this sentiment is not as widely shared as I might hope.

In many ways, the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has become the rallying point for those who fear the influx of dangerous “foreigners” from Latin America or the Middle East, he is certainly not the originator of the hysteria. As can be seen from the July 2014 editor of this blog (“The Right Thing To Do”), there has been a rising concern about those crossing our borders. With the recent attacks in Paris and closer to home in San Bernardino, CA, the national focus of some has shifted to a panic about possible “radical Islamic terrorism.” Mr. Trump, who has turned into an amazing barometer for populist right-wing sentiment, has made his answer to the porous border with Mexico (i.e. build a wall and make Mexico pay for it), and fears of dangerous arrivals from the Middle East (i.e. ban all Muslim travel to the United States) into the basis of his appeal. Yet, for those who know American history, fear of “foreigners” is certainly not a new thing.

American history is filled with rhyming events to those we are experiencing now. To demonstrate this, let me present a part of a letter to the editor that was penned by a famous American from the past. In this letter, the author discusses a certain group of immigrants to the United States and why there were efforts to forbid these people from entering the country. In order to show how little some things change, I will replace a few key words with blanks. At the end, I will reveal who wrote the letter, when, and which group is his subject. Hopefully you will find this exercise as fascinating as I did.

Let us first examine that nightmare to many Americans, especially our friends in California, the growing population of _______ on the Pacific slope. It is undoubtedly true that in the past many thousands of _______ have legally or otherwise got into the United States, settled her and raised up children who became American citizens. Californians have properly objected on the sound basic ground that ________ immigrants are not capable of assimilation into the American population. If this had throughout the discussion been made the sole ground for the American attitude all would have been well, and the people of ______ would today understand and accept our decision.

Anyone who has traveled in the Far East knows that the mingling of ______ blood with European or American blood produces, in nine cases out of ten, the most unfortunate results. There are throughout the ______ many thousands of so-called _____—men and women and children partly of ______ blood and partly of European or American blood. These ______ are, as a common thing, looked down on and despised, both by the European and American who reside there, and by the pure ______ who lives there.

The argument works both ways. I know a great many cultivated, highly educated and delightful ______. They have all told me that they would feel the same repugnance and objection to having thousands of Americans settle in _____ and intermarry with the ______ as I would feel in having large numbers of ______ come over here and intermarry with the American population.

In this question, then, of ______ exclusion from the United States, it is necessary only to advance the true reason—the undesirability of mixing the blood of the two peoples. This attitude would be fully understood in ______, as they would have the same objection to Americans migrating to ______ in large numbers.

Unfortunately, ______ exclusion has been urged for many other reasons—their ability to work for and live on much smaller wages than Americans—their willingness to work for longer hours, their driving out of native Americans from certain fruit growing or agricultural areas. The _____ themselves do not understand these arguments and are offended by them.

The author was none other than future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. The letter to the editor was printed in the Macon Telegraph on April 30, 1925. If we change 1925 to 2015 and fill in the the blanks from Japan/Japanese/Asian to Mexico/Mexican/Latino or ISIS/Islamic/Muslim, we would not notice a significant difference between this letter and more recent speeches, blogs, and letters to the editor.

Although history does not repeat itself and the future is unknown, this editorial (and especially who penned it) may give us a cautionary tale of a possible future. After all, it was written by the same man who penned these words who also placed Japanese-Americans into internments camps at the beginning of World War II. Hopefully, we will not head down that slippery slope – especially in regards to Muslims. At least one elected official has already suggested such a course of action so perhaps we are already starting to slide. If that is not the way we wish to go, we must use the lessons from the past to help make sense of these uncertain times. That is why the History Rhyme is here and why history is still important.

The American Party


Earlier in the year, a group calling themselves the American Party, met in Philadelphia in order to codify their political views and to organize for the upcoming presidential election. Those who attended this convention were formerly members of other existing political parties, but had come to believe that neither the opposition Republicans nor the incumbent Democrats would address their main concerns. With a presidential election looming on the horizon, they felt compelled to meet and approve a multi-part political platform. Some of the main issues addressed were:

  • The belief that following the Constitution was the best way to ensure the civil and religious liberties of American citizens
  • “Americans must rule America” meaning that only native-born citizens should be eligible for election or public office
  • That anyone (native-born or otherwise) who “recognizes any allegiance or obligation” to a foreign authority or “who refuses to recognize the Federal and State Constitutions” shall be excluded from public office
  • The call for “the non-interference by Congress with questions appertaining solely to the individual States, and non-intervention by each State with the affairs of any other State.”
  • The assertion that no United States state or territory can give the right to vote to non-citizens
  • A change in naturalization laws to require legal immigrants (with the exclusion of criminals and those receiving public support) to reside in the United States 21 years before they can become citizens.
  • The demand that the United States government not interfere with religious faith and worship
  • “Opposition to the reckless and unwise policy of the present Administration in the general management of our national affairs, and more especially as shown in removing ‘Americans’ (by designation) and Conservatives in principle, from office, and placing foreigners and Ultraists in their places; as shown in a truckling subserviency to the stronger, and an insolent and cowardly bravado toward the weaker powers; as shown in reopening sectional agitation… as shown in the corruptions which pervade some of the Departments of the Government… and as shown in the blundering mismanagement of our foreign relations.”

At the end of the convention, the American Party voted on who they would support for President. The main contenders were a man with political experience in Washington and at the state level and a wealthy businessman from New York. In the end, it was the politician who was selected.

You may now be scratching your heads and wondering why you did not see a story about this group and their provocative platform on any news website (all the way from Foxnews on the Right to MSNBC on the Left). If you have paid attention to American politics this year, then the parts of the party platform should seem familiar – whether or not you agree with them.

The reason why you saw nothing about this meeting, this party, and its platform, is because the American Party convention was held on February 18, 1856. The party’s selected candidate was former President Millard Fillmore (the New York businessman was George Law) and the party was better known by its unofficial name – the “Know-Nothings.”

Prior to the most recent presidential election season, the relevance of the views of the secretive Know-Nothings (who would say that they knew nothing about the party if pressed for information) might have been seen as limited to a study of the antebellum period. Their fears of waves of new types of immigrants (mainly Irish fleeing the famines of the 1840s) coming and changing their culture would have seemed excessive in our more multi-cultural times. Also, their fears that the Catholic Pope would have undue influence on America because of the arrival of so many of his churchmen would have seemed odd. Yet, as recent events have shown, concerns about foreign immigrants and their religious affiliations are not as “old-fashioned” as we might have hoped.

With a slew of controversial comments, several about Mexican immigrants, Republican front-runner Donald Trump has risen to the top of the polls and his antics have actually helped to make fears of immigrants a primary concern for the GOP electorate. Considering Trump’s theatrical nature tendency towards bombast, it may not be surprising that he has become a focal point of a campaign that would have aligned well with the Know-Nothings. However, it was perhaps the least outrageous candidate in the Republican field, Dr. Ben Carson, who has this History Rhymer seeing greater relevance in the 1856 American Party platform.

During a September 20, 2015 edition of the NBC news show Meet the Press, Dr. Carson asserted that he “would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” The reason for his opposition was that he felt that Islam was “inconsistent with the values and principles of America.” While Carson’s comments were renounced by many, Carson has remained a strong contender for the nomination. Also, after the results of a late September 2015 USA Today/Suffolk University poll were released, it appears that his views are not as uncommon as some might have hoped. In that poll, it was revealed that 53% thought that a Muslim could not be elected president (and 40% said that they would not vote for a Muslim). Considering the continuing fears of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and the vehement assertions by people like Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz of the dangers of allowing Syrian refugees to come to America, perhaps it should not have been surprising that resistance to a Muslim president is so strong.

Although it is impossible to know with certainty how future Americans will feel about a Muslim president, another result of the aforementioned USA Today poll along with our look at the views of the Know-Nothings may give us a glimpse of how fears and prejudices can change over time. In the poll, it was revealed that 93% said that they would vote for a qualified Catholic candidate. This is a remarkable change from the strongly anti-Catholic view many Americans held through the nation’s history.

During the revolutionary period, every colony besides Pennsylvania had anti-Catholic laws and founding father and future first Chief Justice, John Jay, asserted that his home state of New York should tolerate every religious group “except the professor of the religion of the Church of Rome, who out not to hold lands, in, or be admitted to a participation of the civil rights enjoyed by the members of this state.” After the Civil War, fears of Catholics and the influence of the Pope continued to be a main issues of presidential campaigns. For example, in 1884, the Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine labeled the Democrats as the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” This label, in a modified form, was still useful in the 1928 election when the Democrats were called the party of “rum, Romanism, and ruin.” It was not until the 1960 election when John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic president.

Now, five Catholics are seeking the presidency – Republicans Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal and Democrat Martin O’Malley – and there is not great outcry about the potential power Pope Francis might have over America. Time will tell whether the current sentiments against immigrants and a Muslim president will remain strong or will decline as past fears about Irish immigrants and Catholics have. As the United States continues on its path to becoming a much less caucasian nation, it seems certain that a change in perspective is likely.

“The Right Thing To Do”


The people of the United States, with the notable exception of Native Americans, came to this country sometime since the seventeenth century. Some came, as my ancestors did, to avoid religious persecution, others came for a chance for a new prosperous life, while others tragically came here against their will. Yet, all of these people were immigrants. The poem “The New Colossus,” written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 about the Statue of Liberty, describes the kind of nation many hoped to find. One that says “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” While some of those arriving were able to come to established communities and join family members, others were not so fortunate. This edition of The History Rhyme examines two cases of the latter type of immigrants – those who come with nothing – to see how different political and economic conditions within the United Sates can affect the receptiveness of this new Colossus.

Despite the eloquent words from Ms. Lazarus, the United States has not always been so eager to live out the sentiment of that poem. American history is littered with a variety of rules, regulations, and quotas that were designed to limit who could come to America and when. A notable examples of this was the quota system were set by the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited yearly immigration for an ethnic group to the United States to 2% of that group’s population in the U.S. in 1890. This had tragic consequences leading up to World War II since it severely limited the number of people who could enter the United States from Southern and Eastern Europe. Even after that point, the pace of legal immigration has been slow, at best. Since the 1980s, the rate of illegal immigration has increased greatly, especially across the porous southern border with Mexico, resulting in millions of illegal immigrants residing in the United States. From this, the issue of immigration reform has become a major political issue that has been inflamed by the increasingly partisan culture. There are numerous stories in the press and in blogs that argue that the immigration issue is a “winner for [insert party here].” Although this does help address the underlying issues behind the rise of illegal immigration (e.g. the lack of stability in Mexico and Central America, the inability of American employers to find legal Americans to take their demanding, low paying jobs, etc.), it does make good fodder for political attack ads and bombastic political pundits.

The latest chapter in the immigration saga concerns the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children at the US/Mexico border since October 2013. As with most crises these days, the first question that is asked in America is not “what is to be done” but rather “who is to be blamed.” It is not surprising that the political right blames President Obama for what Senator Rand Paul (R-TN) calls as “humanitarian nightmare.” It is also not surprising that some like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has called for Obama’s impeachment. More surprising is that the President is also being criticized by members of his own party for what has been perceived as a lack of decisive action by the nation’s leader. As of late July 2014, there are still no answers to this crisis in sight.

While the blame game is played at the highest levels, the question of “what is to be done?” still remains – especially with an overwhelming number of immigrant children needing care. One answer was to move children to camps in the states bordering Mexico. In some cases, this has encountered local opposition. The most notorious example was when a group of protesters confronted a bus filled with children in Murrieta, California on July 4, 2014, with people in the crowd carrying signs such as the ones that read “Stop Rewarding Start Deporting” and “Send Them Back With Birth Control.” In addition, the option of sending children to various states was considered, but this met with resistance from the governors of those states. One of the governors who said he would not accept any of the children was Terry Branstad of Iowa. In a July 15, 2014 story in the Des Moines Register, Governor Branstad explained why he did not want children sent to Iowa when he stated “I do want empathy for these kids, but I do not want to send the signal to send these children to America illegally.” The response to the governor’s stance has followed generally party lines. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) reacted by saying “I am disappointed that Gov. Branstad has stated that we somehow shouldn’t take these kids. Why not? Why can’t we help protect these kids and open up our arms to them, help them here to keep them safe and give them every reasonable opportunity to apply for asylum?” On July 18, 2014, the editors of the Des Moines Register chastised the governor for for abandoning Iowa’s long history of helping those in need. At the same time, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) focused his energies on passing a bill that would require the Federal government to inform states that children were being sent to the various states This arose after stories emerged that the Federal agencies were sending children to states such as Iowa without informing local officials.

This edition of The History Rhyme is concerned with this issue is that the response of the Iowa governor brought to my mind (as a lifelong Iowa resident) and to the mind of others like Senator Harkin a very different response to the plight of desperate people needing help of an earlier Republican governor of Iowa, Robert D. Ray (governor 1969-83). In the aftermath of the fall of the South Vietnamese capital of Saigon in April 1975, a “humanitarian crisis” much more serious than the one encountered recently at the Mexican border emerged. Within months, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled to overcrowded and under-supplied camps in neighboring countries such as Thailand. Included in that total were over 1,000 Tai Dam people who had been refugees in Laos since the 1950s when they had fled North Vietnam to escape the Communist government. With the takeover of Laos in 1975 by the Communist Pathet Lao, the Tai Dam were forced to flee again to the camps in Thailand. Arthur Crisfield, a former United States employee in Laos who had worked with the Tai Dam, wrote 30 United States governors asking for a place for these refugees. President Gerald Ford also asked the governors for help. Not only did governor Ray feel that helping these people was “the right thing to do,” so also thought it important to make sure that the Tai Dam were not separated. The governor asked President Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to allow all the Tai Dam to be resettled together into Iowa. In Iowa, Ray ensured that the support the state gave emphasized work over welfare, because he felt that was the best way to ensure that their community would remain cohesive in the values and cultural identity they had fought so hard and so long to maintain. Ray later explained his views on the crisis by saying “I didn’t think we could just sit here idly and say, ‘Let those people die.’ We wouldn’t want the rest of the world to say that about us if we were in the same situation… Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” (see NOTE 1). Because of his efforts, the largest Tai Dam population outside of Southeast Asia is in Iowa.

In 1979 (when Terry Branstad was his Lieutenant Governor), Ray repeated his efforts to help Vietnamese refugees after he viewed a heart-wrenching report by Ed Bradley on the plight of the “boat people” – those fleeing Vietnam in rickety boats on perilous journeys to Malaysia (see NOTE 2). Ray led the relief effort by lobbying President Jimmy Carter to act, touring a camp in Thailand, speaking before the National Governors Association Meeting to promote acceptance of the refugees, and urging the people of Iowa to welcome more refugees into their communities. With the help of his efforts, 168,000 Vietnamese refugees were resettled in the United States and in 1980 the Federal refugee law was rewritten to ensure that there was a permanent and standardized process for accepting refugees.
It might be enough to stop this History Rhyme at this point and make comparisons between the actions of Governors Ray and Branstad. On the surface it seems that there are similarities and differences between the two cases. Both are circumstances of helpless people in need of aid so it would be easy to look poorly on the resistance of Governor Branstad to taking in children. However, there are significant differences between the two cases. In the case of the Vietnamese, the choice of how America and Iowa would respond was entirely up to us. The refugees were half a world away. In the current case, there are tens of thousands of children arriving at the border and action of some sort must be taken. There is something about being asked to help and being forced to help that can change attitudes. In addition, the current situation fits into the hotly contested issue of how to handle illegal immigrants in a way that the refugee situation in Southeast Asia did not. If anything, there was more sentiment for the Vietnamese refugees since their plight was due to our inability to defeat the Communist there. Yet, these issues really miss the humanitarian heart of Governor Ray’s response. He was not concerned with policy but with people. It is easy to see images of a bus being confronted by a mob or video taken from a helicopter of thousands of children trying to get to the United States and lose the personal aspect of the crisis.

In order to bring this story back to the plight of the people in these two cases, I will conclude with of my own personal story. During the late 1970s, I was an elementary school student in Iowa. We saw on the television the stories of the “boat people” and were told by our teachers that some Vietnamese families would be coming to our community. The next year, I moved to the community middle school where I met one of the Vietnamese kids, who was assigned as my locker partner. What started then was a friendship that strongly affected how I viewed the world and how I have taught my children to do likewise. I learned about his culture, his people, their cuisine (including a very weak form of iced tea that I still prefer), and their intense desire to succeed in this new opportunity. My friend excelled at everything he did and that was inspiring to me. I am sure that things were not easy for them and they probably encountered discrimination that I did not understand. Yet, they never lost their gratitude for the chance for a new life. I gained from it an exposure to differences that a white, middle-class, suburban, Iowa kid would not have had if not for the actions of Governor Robert Ray. For that I am eternally grateful. Perhaps that same good-fortune might come to others like me if they have the chance to interact with more people unlike them. Hopefully they will.


Note 1: Governor Ray’s thoughts on the crisis are presented in a series of short interviews.
Note 2: An example of Ed Bradley’s reporting on the situation can be seen in a June 1979 edition of 60 Minutes.

The History Rhyme posts and additional information about the author are also available at TheHistoryRhyme.com.