Donald Trump’s calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and, more recently, for “extreme vetting” of anyone seeking to immigrate to the United States have been condemned as breaks from the nation’s traditions of religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants. Actually, Trump’s proposals reflect a long-standing, if ugly, strain of U.S. immigration policy, one that restricted the entry of Arab and South Asian Muslim immigrants and barred them from becoming citizens until the middle of the 20th century.Why would a group want to come to Christian America if they felt they couldn't assimilate? Wouldn't they be happier somewhere else?
The Naturalization Act of 1790, which limited citizenship to “any alien, being a free white person,” drastically restricted the ability of Muslims to become citizens. The requirement meant that immigrants seeking lawful residence and citizenship were compelled to convince authorities that they fit within the statutory definition of whiteness. Arabs, along with Italians, Jews and others, were forced to litigate their identities in line with prevailing conceptions of whiteness — which fluctuated according to geographic origin, physical appearance and religion. Courts unwaveringly framed Islam as hostile to American ideals and society, casting Muslim immigrants as outside the bounds of whiteness and a threat to the identity and national security of the United States.
Long before 9/11 and the war on terrorism, U.S. courts painted Islam as more than merely a foreign religion, but rather as a rival ideology and “enemy race.” In a notable 1891 case, the Supreme Court highlighted “the intense hostility of the people of Moslem faith to all other sects, and particularly to Christians.”
Scores of Muslim immigrants were turned away at U.S. ports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Christian immigrants suspected of secretly being Muslims were also excluded. In 1913, a South Carolina court rejected the citizenship petition of a Lebanese Christian, saying that his skin complexion, “about [the color] of walnut, or somewhat darker than is the usual mulatto of one-half mixed blood between the white and the negro races,” provided evidence of miscegenation with Muslims. Ahmed Hassan — a native of Yemen and the first Arab Muslim to apply for citizenship — was denied naturalization in 1942, because, a court said: “It cannot be expected that as a class they [meaning Arabs, a term used synonymously with Muslims at the time] would readily intermarry with our population and be assimilated into our civilization.”
The United States’ functional ban on Muslim immigration persisted until 1944, two years before Trump’s birth.
Friday, August 19, 2016
The Washington Post has an op-ed from Khaled A. Beydoun is an associate professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law:
Posted by Steve Bartin at 4:49 AM