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Not Fit for Our Society

Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America

Peter Schrag
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Not Fit for Our Society
    Book Description:

    In a book of deep and telling ironies, Peter Schrag provides essential background for understanding the fractious debate over immigration. Covering the earliest days of the Republic to current events, Schrag sets the modern immigration controversy within the context of three centuries of debate over the same questions about who exactly is fit for citizenship. He finds that nativism has long colored our national history, and that the fear-and loathing-of newcomers has provided one of the faultlines of American cultural and political life. Schrag describes the eerie similarities between the race-based arguments for restricting Irish, German, Slav, Italian, Jewish, and Chinese immigrants in the past and the arguments for restricting Latinos and others today. He links the terrible history of eugenic "science" to ideas, individuals, and groups now at the forefront of the fight against rational immigration policies.Not Fit for Our Societymakes a powerful case for understanding the complex, often paradoxical history of immigration restriction as we work through the issues that inform, and often distort, the debate over who can become a citizen, who decides, and on what basis.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94577-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Sources and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    It’s long been said that America is a nation of immigrants. But for closely connected reasons, it’s also been a nation of immigration restrictionists, among them some of the nation’s most honored founders. Indeed it would be nearly impossible to imagine the first without the second. And since we were to be “a city upon a hill,” a beacon of human perfection to the entire world, there were fundamental questions: Would America be able to refine all the imperfect material that landed on our shores, or would we have to determine what was not perfectible and shut it out? And...

  5. CHAPTER 1 A City upon a Hill
    (pp. 18-40)

    From the beginning, Americans’ perceptions about who they were and their hopes for whom they wanted to be necessarily embodied a deep strain of ambivalence. If this New World “shall be as a Citty upon a Hill,” a beacon to the world, as the Puritan John Winthrop devoutly hoped it would become, where the “eies of all people are upon us,” how do we judge others of varying degrees of difference who want to come among us? How do we decide who does and does not fit the decreed model, religiously or ethnically or racially, and with what justification? If...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “This Visible Act of Ingurgitation”
    (pp. 41-76)

    The Civil War, like most American wars since, was a powerful assimilator. The two-million-man Union Army, in addition to its black units (most of them commanded by white officers), included at least five hundred thousand foreign-born troops—Irish, British, Canadian, Hungarian, Russian, French, Indian. Among them were Louis Blenker’s regiment of Germans, the Italian Garibaldi Guards, and the Irish Brigade, New York’s “Fighting Sixty-ninth,” which, flying a green banner with the harp of Ireland, established a reputation for its gallantry, most famously at the First Battle of Bull Run. After taking heavy casualties from Confederate fire at Fredericksburg, much of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 “Science” Makes Its Case
    (pp. 77-107)

    In its extensive surveys of immigrants in the United States in the years 1907–10, the Dillingham Commission’s determination of the high percentage of “retarded” immigrant children in American schools, like its numbers about immigrant paupers, inmates of public asylums, and other data, coincided with a great deal of popular belief about the inferiority of the new immigrant stocks.¹ Its surveys didn’t control for the fact that native Americans were far more likely to be able to afford better private hospitals and institutions, and that immigrant children from southern and eastern Europe were growing up in homes where Yiddish or...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Preserving the Race
    (pp. 108-138)

    The nativist ideology and the mountains of “scientific” data generated on the immigration issue and on the consequences of the new waves of arrivals in the half century after 1880 made the outlines of the immigration laws enacted in the 1920s almost predictable. If Americans could just get into the habit of using the “term ‘the American race,’ ” Harry Laughlin told Congress early in 1924, “their foreign and their immigration problems would be greatly simplified. We could have a standard to go by, and we could recruit to this standard from different European nationals in accordance with the qualities...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Great Awhitening
    (pp. 139-162)

    The melting pot had always involved a more complicated chemistry than the metaphor suggested, and the forty years following the adoption of the 1924 immigration act—the decades of the Depression, the New Deal, and two wars—demonstrated how complicated assimilation was. Historian Mathew Frye Jacobson contends that “the saga of European immigration [as] proof of the openness of American society . . . and the robust health of American democracy” is “a pretty story [that] suddenly fades” when one recognizes “how crucial Europeans’ racial status as ‘free white persons’ was to their gaining entrance in the first place; how...

  10. CHAPTER 6 “They Keep Coming”
    (pp. 163-193)

    Hart-Celler didn’t come close to working as expected. Even as it was being passed, the world had begun to change in altogether unexpected ways. Economics and events abroad—religious persecution in England, the Irish and German potato famines, the failed revolutions of 1848, the Russian pogroms, Stalin, Hitler, the two European wars, the strong post–World War II recovery of western Europe and Japan, the creation of the state of Israel, and, as ever, boom and bust—had always influenced immigration. But in combination with spiking third-world birth-rates, the rapidly growing economic gaps between the booming developed world and the...

  11. CHAPTER 7 A Border without Lines
    (pp. 194-224)

    The history of American attitudes about immigration and immigration policy has long been a spiral of ambivalence and inconsistency, a sort of double helix, with the strands of welcome and rejection wound tightly around one another. Current law allows admission of about 400,000 “new arrivals” a year, with priorities based on family reunification, employer sponsorship for special skills, and humanitarian cases. First preference goes to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, though for countries like Mexico, China, and the Philippines the wait can be many years. In addition, hundreds of thousands of others already in the country are granted...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 225-232)

    The United States is hardly the only destination in the great migrations of the modern era or the only developed nation confronting the problems or evaluating the opportunities that its third-world immigrants bring. Nor is it the only nation trying to deal with the backlash newcomers generate. Every day’s headlines bring reminders of the conflicts: Pakistanis in Great Britain, Turks in Germany, Algerians in France, Indonesians and other Muslims in Holland, Tunisians in Italy, Guatemalans and other Central Americans in Mexico, Koreans in Japan. And we are far from being the only country on earth with a streak of nativism...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 233-274)
  14. Index
    (pp. 275-299)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 300-300)