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.

Before 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.”

Already, 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.

Of those 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.

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