A Historian Explains How Immigration Restrictions Have Always Been About Race

President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)—an Obama-era executive order protecting DREAMers DREAMers are undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. DACA allows them to defer deportation and legally reside in the United States for two years, and makes it possible to obtain driver's licenses, enroll in college, and hold jobs. Latest government figures estimate that there are nearly 800,000 DREAMers living in the United States. —earned near-universal condemnation from Democrats and Republicans. But while targeting immigrants who were brought here as children is new, Trump’s actions are consistent with a strain of American politics going back centuries.

Nativism—the often racialized view that local interests should be protected over those of immigrants—is as old as the country itself. The anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic “Know-Nothing Party” was a major political force in the middle of the 19th century, electing eight governors and more than 100 members of Congress. The Immigration Act of 1924 severely restricted immigration from Southern and Eastern Europeans, targeting Italians and Jews. Just this week, former White House adviser Steve Bannon revived anti-Catholic tropes in voicing his opposition to DACA.

I spoke with Tyler Anbinder, a historian at The George Washington University and expert on the history of nativism in the United States, about how Trump’s decision fits into nativist politics throughout the country’s history.

Jeremy Slevin: You’ve written a lot about this concept of nativism. Can you start by explaining what it means and where Donald Trump fits into it?

Tyler Anbinder: Nativism is the fear of or dislike of immigrants and the belief that immigrants make the United States a worse place to live. Donald Trump fits in the pattern of American nativism that we’ve had for several centuries in that there’s always been a certain portion of the population that has a gut reaction that immigrants are a bad thing, that they take jobs from other Americans, that they change American culture for the worse, that immigrants can never become true Americans. Those tend to be the strains of nativist thought.

JS: Is there precedent for this level of vitriol and this level of nativism at the presidential level?

TA: Probably not at the presidential level. Typically, it’s been Congress that’s been much more anti-immigrant than presidents. In the past, when you had Congress pass anti-immigrant legislation, presidents have repeatedly vetoed it, and that happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with presidents such as Taft and Wilson vetoing immigrant-restriction legislation.

This is a rare case in which the president is the leader of the anti-immigrant movement.

So this is a rare case in which the president tends to be the leader of the anti-immigrant movement and Congress is maybe a little less willing to go along.

JS: Obviously the big news this week is DACA, rolling back President Obama’s executive order protecting DREAMers. I think what makes this shocking to a lot of people is that these are people brought here as kids, traditionally a sympathetic political group. Has there been a singling out of immigrant children, either for good or for ill, in the past? Or is this a new territory?

TA: This is pretty much a new territory, because for most of American history, children have not been immigrants. Immigrants would overwhelmingly be people in their 20s especially, late teens, maybe early 30s … immigrants rarely brought children to America. They typically came to America unmarried, trying to strike out in the world on their own. There were exceptions—during the Irish potato famine for instance, or when Eastern European Jews were escaping the Pogroms in Russia. But typically, children haven’t been a very big part of the American immigration story.

JS: The not-so-subtle subtext of all this is racism, whether against Muslims like we saw in the travel ban and now Latinos with the end of DACA. It seems like race and immigration have always been linked—how has that evolved over time?

TA: Certainly American nativism has always had a racial dimension, even though exactly what people mean by the term “race” has changed. In the 19th century, the big targets of the nativists were the Irish. The American nativists believed that the Irish were of a different race—that most white Americans were Anglo-Saxon in origin, and the Irish were different and therefore couldn’t become true Americans, and weren’t even intellectually capable of reaching the status of other Americans.

In the late 19th century, the same charges were leveled against Eastern European Jews and Italian immigrants, which were the two biggest immigrant groups in that period. People said the same things. They would go so far as to say that these groups weren’t really “white,” and therefore being “less than white,” they weren’t capable of the intellectual attainments that other whites were and they should be barred from the United States.

JS: Have nativists always wrapped themselves in the identity of whiteness?

TA: Yes, with some exceptions. In the 1920’s, when there were restrictions on Southern and Eastern European immigration, African Americans were big supporters of that. They supported it primarily because they said, “immigrants are taking our jobs, and if we have fewer immigrants, better jobs would go to African Americans.”

So it’s not just that nativism is solely something that whites participate in. It can be something that others partake in, too. But in terms of the majority of American nativism, there’s always been a sense that the new group isn’t part of what the current Americans define as being American. For a long time that meant being a certain type of Protestant. Then it meant all Protestants. Then it meant all Christians. Then it meant Judeo-Christians. And that’s where we are today, perhaps.

JS: Steve Bannon said today that American Catholics have an economic interest in unlimited illegal immigration, so you’re kind of seeing that Anglo-Saxon anti-Catholic sentiment creep up again.

TA: That’s so interesting, I didn’t hear about that. Yes, that would precisely fit in with that historic trend.

JS: At the same time, there’s a tension within the modern Republican party between business leaders and Republican elites who often support immigration because it’s seen as a boon to the economy. Has that tension always existed?

TA: Yes, although the important thing to understand is that the business community won out for most of American history. Even when immigration restrictions were in place, often there would be loopholes. A great example of that is in the 1920’s, when restrictions were put in place on Southern and Eastern European Jews, there was an exception for Latinos. And that’s so those employers say, “well, we may not be able to get those Eastern or Southern European workers, but we can get Mexicans instead to do the work that those other people used to do.”

It’s only really starting in the 1960’s, when the restrictions were relaxed on groups like Asians and Africans and Eastern Europeans, that the restrictions were put in place on Latinos.

JS: So it kind of shifted—when Eastern Europeans were the largest immigrant group, they were targeted, and now that Latinos are a larger immigrant group, they’ve become the target.

Obviously, you’re more accustomed to looking backward, but what do you think is next, after DACA? Do you think we’re on a more restrictionist path like the 1920’s, or do you think this has got to shift?

It’s hard to predict where Trump is going to go.

TA: Well, it’ll be really interesting. Until very recently, I’d have said that the restriction could not win out legislatively. Politicians have found that talking tough on immigration is good, but Congressional Republicans are split between a cultural wing and a business wing, and the business wing has been very adamantly against restricting immigration for the reasons that we talked about. Because of that, there’s been this 30-year stalemate where nothing has changed.

But typically, Republican presidents have leaned toward the business wing. Clearly, it’s hard to predict where Trump is going to go, but one option he has is removing the [undocumented] immigrants that are already here. That’s something that the president can do on his own; he doesn’t need Congress, since it’s just an enforcement matter. That seems like the most likely possibility.

The next possibility would be the bill that was proposed by Tom Cotton a few weeks ago calling for a reduction in the number of legal immigrants. I find it hard to imagine that bill passing Congress, but certainly a lot of the Trump base would support that proposal, I’d imagine. I still think the most likely thing is gridlock on that, but with stepped-up deportation.

But I have to say this is a whole new ballgame, so it’s hard to predict.

This interview was conducted for Off-Kilter and will air as part of a complete episode on September 15. It was edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview below.



Reminder: Hurricane Survivors Still Get Their Periods

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are reminding us, with excruciating lucidity, just how tenuous the everyday can be. When catastrophe strikes, the search for food, potable water, and a roof instantly becomes an all-consuming task, alongside every other conceivable human need: a bed, a shower, diapers for the babies, tampons for the women.

Except that tampons are almost never mentioned.

Americans have an abiding discomfort, bordering on revulsion, toward any discussion of menstruation. In discourse both public and private, this most human of bodily functions is treated as secret and shameful, a demi-illness that must be concealed if the sufferer is to have any hope of being taken seriously in functional society. God forbid a man catch you with a tampon in your hand.

Even as our generosity is called upon to help meet the daily needs of hurricane survivors, though, the specific needs of menstruating people are largely forgotten. Some organizations, such as food and diaper banks, include requests for period supplies in their appeals; a handful of menstruation-specific nonprofits exist; and there have been occasional media mentions, but these are by far the exception rather than the rule. For the most part, the parts of being a victim that are deemed unpleasant are studiously ignored.

Of course, for many Americans, it doesn’t take a natural disaster for the everyday to become tenuous. The poor, the homeless, the unemployed, and underemployed must regularly choose between school supplies or winter coats, diapers or tampons.

Depending on type, brand, and coverage, tampons and pads cost roughly $6 to $9 for a package of about 40, which any menstruator can tell you may not even last a month. Four weeks later that expense comes by again, to the tune of $70 to $110 a year before sales tax. For people who make $15,000 working full time at a minimum-wage job, that’s the kind of expense that can easily mean the difference between paying a bill or defaulting.

In recent years a movement has emerged to lessen this burden by eliminating sales taxes on period supplies; recently enacted laws to that effect are both hugely welcome and not remotely sufficient. What’s really needed, nationwide, is something akin to the law passed last year in New York City providing tampons and pads free of charge at schools, shelters, and correctional facilities—a move echoed by the federal government in late August, when it issued a recommendation that all federal penitentiaries do likewise.

Half of human bodies were designed to function this way.

Because lest we forget, period supplies are not optional. At the end of the day, pads and tampons serve one purpose: to contain menstrual fluid. With nothing to stop it, the combination of vaginal secretions, uterine lining, and (yep) blood can become a powerful mess. It’s a feature of the human reproductive system, not a bug—half of human bodies were designed to function this way. Forgetting that humans need period supplies is like forgetting that they need toilets (and then shaming them for urinating).

Girls and women (and some trans boys and trans men) who can’t readily meet this need are forced to make do however they can, often resorting to inappropriate or fundamentally unsanitary solutions that threaten their health, fertility, and basic ability to get things done—it’s hard to focus in math class or on the job if you know you’re bleeding all over your chair. That’s why Human Rights Watch recently released a report recognizing that menstrual hygiene is in fact not just a question of finances, but a human right.

We are right to open our hearts and our wallets to those who have had to watch as all they hold dear is literally washed away. No matter the weather, families always need food, babies always need diapers, and people who menstruate always need pads or tampons.

But what is true for the survivors of hurricanes is also true for the survivors of poverty. The deeply held misogyny that prevents us from treating female bodies as normal intersects with our dehumanization of poor people, and it prevents us from seeing that need (much less meeting it).

As we struggle to build a world that’s fairer for everybody who lives in it, it’s not enough to consider only the bodies we feel comfortable talking about. Whether rising to the challenge posed by natural disasters or acting to mitigate the unnatural disaster of poverty, we must begin to acknowledge the full humanity of all affected, reproductive organs included.



Trump Administration’s Response to the Opioid Crisis: Re-Igniting the War on Drugs

Three weeks ago, President Donald Trump announced that he considers the opioid crisis, which is now the worst addiction crisis in the country’s history, a “national emergency.” But nearly a month later, a national emergency still hasn’t been formally declared, and the administration hasn’t taken any steps to expand treatment. In the meantime, close to 2,500 more Americans have died from opioid overdose.

Now the Trump administration and congressional Republicans seem to be coalescing around a response: They are preparing to open a new front in the war on drugs.

The House’s fiscal year 2018 budget, which could be up for a vote as early as next week, shifts resources from treatment to enforcement. It strips hundreds of millions of dollars from public health agencies: $306 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and $198 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Furthermore, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will lose $219 million if the bill is passed, and Medicaid itself—which covers more than 40 percent of opioid treatment in the hardest-hit states—is also facing extreme cuts. Meanwhile the FBI will get $48 million more, the Department of Homeland Security will get nearly $1.9 billion more, and the Drug Enforcement Administration will get an increase of $98 million from 2017 levels.

By beefing up law enforcement and cutting funding for treatment, the House budget builds on the priorities outlined in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ notorious memo that re-ignites the war on drugs. In it, he orders federal prosecutors to seek maximum sentences for nonviolent, low-level drug offenses, re-implementing draconian policies that are emotionally and economically devastating to low-income and minority communities.

Decades of evidence make it clear that war on drugs policies don’t work.

Decades of evidence already make it clear that war on drugs policies don’t work. The United States’ last experiment with this approach left the country with the largest prison population in the world, without addressing the root causes of drug use and addiction. Ninety-five percent of addicts return to substance abuse when they’re released from prison, compared with just 40 to 60 percent who complete a rehabilitation program.

These relapse rates are especially relevant now, as the opioid epidemic spreads on a massive scale. There were 33,091 opioid drug overdose deaths in 2015—roughly the same amount of lives claimed by firearms and motor vehicle accidents the previous year.

Screen Shot 2017-09-05 at 10.09.05 AM

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation.

To minimize this widespread growth, addiction must be met with treatment—not punishment. But currently only 1 in 10 of the roughly 20 million adults in the United States with an addiction disorder receive the treatment they need. Hacking away at the limited budget that does exist for treatment is unlikely to improve the likelihood that people with addiction disorders get help.

Unlike previous drug crises, the American people want addicts to receive treatment. At least in part due to the race of the people affected—about 90 percent of the people who died from opioid overdose were white—this crisis has garnered sympathetic attention from politicians, the media, medical researchers, nonprofits, and the public, and has largely been framed as a public health crisis. Until recently, the attention set the country up to craft a progressive, proactive policy response to the crisis; a response that needs to be scaled up in order to effectively fight this epidemic.

In March 2016, for instance, the Department of Health and Human Services released $94 million in new funding to 271 Community Health Centers with a special focus on expanding medication-assisted treatment (MAT) in underserved communities—expected to treat nearly 124,000 new patients with substance abuse disorders. Furthermore, up to 11 states expanded their MAT services due to SAMHSA funding grants.

If Congress passes this budget and builds on the Sessions approach to criminal justice, the progress that’s been made in treating addiction as a public health issue—along with hundreds of thousands of American lives—will be lost.



The War on Medicaid Is Moving to the States

In the early 1960s, as the Johnson administration worked to enact Medicare and Medicaid, then-actor Ronald Reagan traveled the country as a spokesman for the American Medical Association, warning of the danger the legislation posed to the nation. “Behind it will come other federal programs that will invade every area of freedom as we have known it in this country,” he said in one widely distributed speech. “Until one day … you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”

Reagan set the tone for a conservative war against Medicaid that is now in its 52nd year. Recent congressional proposals to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would have reduced Medicaid enrollment by up to 15 million people, and, despite being defeated, congressional Republicans aren’t done yet: It’s likely they will attempt to gut the program during the upcoming budget debate. Meanwhile, more than half a dozen conservative governors are trying to take a hatchet to the program—at the open invitation of the Trump administration—through a vehicle known as a “Medicaid waiver.”

Waivers are intended for state pilot projects designed to improve health care coverage for vulnerable populations. But that’s not what conservative governors are pursuing. In Maine, for example, as citizens prepare to vote on a referendum that would force the state to expand Medicaid to 70,000 people, Gov. Paul LePage (R) is moving in the opposite direction. His Department of Health and Human Services has requested permission to create a 20-hour-a-week work requirement, impose co-pays and premiums, and implement a $5,000 asset cap on Medicaid beneficiaries. The result, health care experts warn, will be that low-income people in Maine will be kicked off the program.

LePage’s administration argues that the work requirement will help people earn more and become more self-sufficient. But according to Hannah Katch, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former administrator of the California Medicaid program, 80 percent of Medicaid patients nationwide are already in working families. “The vast majority of people who aren’t working are either taking care of a family member, have a physical or behavioral health condition, or are in school, or have a combination of these factors,” said Katch. “While a work requirement is unlikely to help them get a job, it is very likely to take away health coverage from people who can’t work.”

While Maine’s application specifies categories of exemptions for the work requirement—including for individuals receiving treatment in a residential substance abuse program, caring for a child under age 6, or who are “physically or mentally unable to work”—Katch said that the exemptions are likely to be difficult to obtain. “The burden could fall on an individual to prove their exemption,” she said. “If a person is low-income and has a disability, or a substance abuse disorder, or has young children—proving an exemption in a specified time period with the proper and often extensive documentation can be really difficult.” As a result, Maine’s work requirement would likely result in a much broader population being kicked off of assistance than intended—or at least than explicitly intended. (Maine Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to requests for comment.)

Of equal concern is the people who likely wouldn’t qualify for an exemption under Maine’s proposal. Previously, the state allowed a limited Medicaid expansion for women with low incomes who need family planning services, and for people who are HIV-positive. Katch said that these are two of the groups who could be deemed “able-bodied” and required to work for their coverage—people who clearly need consistent access to their medications. (Low-income parents and young adults aging out of the foster care system are also of particular concern.)

That seems to be LePage’s ultimate goal: forcing people out of the program.

Direct service providers in Maine share Katch’s apprehension. Kara Hay is CEO and president of Penquis community action agency, which serves approximately 17,000 people annually through 80 programs across the state, including Head Start and child care, legal aid, housing, transportation, business training and financial support, health care assistance, and more. Hay said that the state’s waiver request “is not new, innovative, or designed to deliver care more efficiently” to low-income people, as waivers are supposed to be. In addition to a work requirement that offers no access to transportation, child care, or training—common barriers experienced by her agency’s clients—Hay takes issue with the state’s proposal to force people with little to no money to pay co-pays and premiums, and to deny coverage to people with $5,000 or more in assets. Maine used asset tests for public assistance programs for 40 years and they were “complicated to administer, devilishly inefficient, and problematic to document,” Hay said. “They often cause people who would be eligible to give up during the application process.”

That seems to be LePage’s ultimate goal: forcing people out of the program.

Another problem with Maine’s proposal is that with far fewer people having Medicaid coverage, the costs of caring for the uninsured will fall on “rural hospitals and providers—who are the least capable of absorbing these additional costs,” Hay said. “It unintentionally sets up the foundation for a collapse in rural health care. It’s a recipe for escalating rural decay.”

Maine is not the only state trying to tighten its Medicaid requirements. Wisconsin, Kentucky, Utah, Indiana, Arizona, and Arkansas have requested similar waivers. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Seema Verma, have made clear that waivers granted to one state will be an option for other states. That means that for now, the front lines in the conservative war on Medicaid are in the states, where the fight might be a little quieter than in Washington, but equally dangerous.

This article was produced in partnership with The Nation.



Trump Is Trying to Cut Disaster Relief to Build a Border Wall

On Monday, President Donald Trump was asked point-blank whether he supports cutting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) budget in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. His response: “No.”

Left unmentioned was the fact that, earlier this spring, the president of the United States called for historic cuts to FEMA’s budget. Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint proposed more than $1 billion in cuts to FEMA—11 percent of its total footprint. The proposal would make major cuts to six FEMA grants, including its two largest for preparing for and responding to emergencies. It would also entirely eliminate four grants, including funding for emergency food and shelter and training for first responders.

The administration’s rationale is that FEMA funding cuts are needed to pay for its immigration enforcement and mass deportation efforts—along with Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the southern border. All told, Trump wants to shift $5 billion within the Department of Homeland Security, where FEMA is housed, to Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

FEMA is not Trump’s only target for cuts when it comes to disaster preparedness. The budget also takes an axe to the U.S. Coast Guard (unusual given the administration’s support for increased U.S. military spending), which has already rescued dozens from the floodwaters in Texas. The budget cuts a whopping $1.2 billion from the Coast Guard’s approximately $9 billion budget.

The administration is so focused on deportation that it is neglecting real national security risks

And despite promises to invest in the country’s infrastructure, Trump’s budget slashes the investments that are critical for disaster preparedness. He would immediately eliminate the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant, which, among other things, helped Florida build a new hurricane evacuation route in the Everglades. His cuts to the Highway Trust Fund would starve the country’s highway infrastructure of nearly $100 billion—and put more than 97,000 jobs at risk in Texas alone. Just last week, Trump announced the rollback of an Obama administration order that new infrastructure projects be designed to survive rising sea levels and climate change (FEMA was in the process of soliciting public comment).

The impact of these cuts will not be felt equally. Cuts to emergency preparedness—like the natural disasters themselves—fall particularly hard on the most vulnerable. Communities of color are the most likely to live in neighborhoods that are at risk of flooding. They’re also more likely to live near the petrochemical plants that could discharge toxic substances during the hurricane. According to social vulnerability maps, seniors, people with disabilities, immigrants, and people in poverty are all more likely to live in neighborhoods most affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The irony is that the administration is so focused on mass deportation and building a wall that it is openly neglecting real national security risks. FEMA and the U.S. Coast Guard not only respond to natural disasters and protect vulnerable populations; they also respond to terrorist attacks. As with so many other policies, Donald Trump is so focused on chasing his white whale that he’s ignoring the core functions of government.

Editor’s note: The Center for American Progress has launched a coalition of over 20 groups united in pushing back against any cuts to health care, disability benefits, nutrition assistance, and other basic living standards in the upcoming congressional budgets. Learn how you can get involved here.