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Commentary By Jason L. Riley

We’ve Had This Immigration Debate Before

Economics Immigration

More than 25 million people arrived in the U.S. between 1865 and 1915.

In 1903, Judge magazine, a satirical weekly with a Republican bent, published a political cartoon with the caption, “The Unrestricted Dumping-Ground.”

The image shows Uncle Sam staring out at the ocean as swarms of immigrants, depicted as armed rodents, exit passenger ships from southern and eastern Europe and swim ashore. The vermin have human heads with swarthy complexions, and they wear hats or bandannas labeled “Mafia,” “Anarchist” and “Socialist.” One carries a sword that reads “Assassination” on the blade. Another holds in his teeth a gun with “murder” inscribed on the grip.

Looming off in a corner of the drawing is a likeness of President William McKinley, who had been assassinated two years earlier by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist. Czolgosz was not an immigrant; he was born in Detroit to parents who had migrated from Poland. But that detail didn’t stop McKinley’s successor, Teddy Roosevelt, from using the assassination to call for what today might be described as extreme vetting. “They and those like them should be kept out of this country,” said Roosevelt in his eulogy of McKinley delivered to Congress. “And if found here they should be promptly deported to the country whence they came; and far-reaching provision should be made for the punishment of those who stay.”

The late 19th century had seen the start of the second great wave of immigrants from Europe, and Roosevelt understood that resistance to these newcomers was growing. More than 25 million people arrived in the U.S. between 1865 and 1915. But they were no longer coming mainly from places like England, Ireland, Germany and Scandinavia. The more recent immigrants were Italians, Poles and Russian Jews, who some saw as upsetting the country’s social balance. Their different religions and political traditions provoked fears and anxieties among the native-born population that politicians were happy to exploit. Roosevelt’s Republican Party didn’t mind his—or Judge magazine’s—conflation of immigration and homeland security because it was concerned that too many of these latest arrivals ultimately would vote Democratic.

Read the entire piece at The Wall Street Journal


Jason L. Riley is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, and a Fox News commentator.

This piece originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal