This is a blog on immigration—past and present—written by a cultural anthropologist who started his career as a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa, went on to do Fulbright research on ethnic relations in Liberia and ended up administering programs for the federal Refugee Resettlement Program in Maryland.
Monday, November 18, 2019
Norway Keeps Winning
Trump's Most Favored
Immigration Nation Nothing New
A week or
so ago, President Trump tapped an old immigration policy tradition when he
voiced his interest in having more immigrants from Norway. In 1896, the
Immigration Restriction League (IRL), then the nation’s most ardent and
educated anti-immigrant organization—the founders were all Harvard men—wrote
America’s state governors asking if they wanted immigration to their state to
continue and, if so, from where did they want their immigrants to come? At the
time, the volume of immigration was on the rise. The immigrants were nearly all
European, but the countries of origin were shifting.
the 1880s, the vast majority had come from northern and western Europe. They
were now coming in increasing numbers from southern and eastern Europe. From
our perspective, this change in immigration’s center of gravity may seem like a
minor detail—after all, they were still white Europeans—but at the time the
experts saw this as a racial problem. These folks were not the sturdy stock
that had founded the country. They were, in the words of MIT President Francis
Amasa Walker, “beaten men from beaten races.”
some Americans were feeling nostalgic for the “old immigration.” This nostalgia
was reflected in the governors’ responses to the IRL survey. Of the 28 who
responded, eight said they wanted no more immigration. Of the national groups
the governors identified as desirable, the winner was Germany. Fifteen
Governors said they wouldn’t mind more Germans. Next came Scandinavians.
Fourteen governors said they were okay. People from the “British Isles” came in
third, with twelve positive votes.
countries then sending significant numbers of immigrants—the “new
immigrants”—two governors said they’d take a few from Italy. Mississippi’s
governor qualified his preference. He said that unskilled laborers were not
wanted, but that “farmers with small means are highly desirable.” Except for
these two votes for Italy, the governors did not identify as desirable a single
country then sending significant numbers to the US—not Russia, not
Austria-Hungary, not Greece, not Poland. To the governors' credit, however, not
one used Trump-like language to describe any country. Maine indicated
“Scandinavians, but no others.” So, even back then, Norway was fine.