So the reason that all those European immigrants to the U.S. did not have a single illegal immigrant amongst them was because before 1882 the United States had no federal laws regarding immigration. So all immigrants were “legal” by default.

So what happened in 1882?

“The first federal general immigration law was enacted in 1882. It prohibited from entering the U.S. “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” In other words, unless you were physically or mentally incapable of taking care of yourself, you were in — unless you were Chinese.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. They did not even make any attempt to hide the intention of this racist law. This was done specifically to prevent competition from Chinese laborers, who did things like provide 90% of the labor for the transcontinental railroad. This is one example of how White Privilege and White Supremacy was codified into U.S. law. Implementation of the Homestead Act, G.I. Bill and redlining practices through the FHA are other great examples of how the government provided “handouts” disproportionately favorable to Whites to support their economic prosperity.

Meanwhile, Chinese weren’t allowed to immigrate to the U.S. in any significant numbers until 1965, when a merit based system finally allowed certain Chinese and other Asian people to come to the U.S. Once these merited immigrants came, they could petition to have their family members join them here. This is how my parents came to the U.S. I was born here shortly thereafter.

Currently, in the anti-immigration rhetoric, this humanistic, long-standing practice of family reunification is being rebranded as “chain migration” which sounds like immigrants doing something much more nefarious than reuniting with loved ones – which again has been a normal part of the process of legal immigration. It’s how my immediate family and my extended family came to the U.S. It’s how we are all Americans.

Systemic racism, White Supremacy, and immigration are all one story. It is the singular story of American history.

White Americans want non-whites to be here to do the hard and dangerous work, but once those slaves and laborers want equality, then there’s pushback.

The audacity of people of color wanting equality, right? Especially when the whole premise of the founding of this country starts with a Declaration against oppression that’s based on these words:

We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

That’s the idea of what America is all about so God forbid that people want it to actually be that way.

Written by Joseph Lee, M.D.

I'm a Psychiatrist in private practice in Redondo Beach, CA. I completed both medical school and residency training at UCLA. My practice is psychotherapy based with a health-oriented focus on personal growth and wellbeing. I also teach about mental healthiness and advocate for social emotional learning (SEL) in all contexts.

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