As a history nerd, I know that immigration has frequently been a sticky issue in this country. I have occasionally written about this in the past, like discussing the book American Intolerance: Our Dark History of Demonizing Immigrants by Robert E. Bartholomew and Anja E. Reumschussel (http://www.bobwelbaum-author.com/xenophobia-continued/).
So what could be worse than demonizing people who show up at our borders? How about using “science” to justify the demonizing? The idea that some humans are inferior to others is probably as old as the human race itself. But if someone can provide “proof”, then the debate goes to a whole new level.
That’s what happened in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when a wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe began arriving at our shores. The attitude of many was these people were inferior, and their justification was eugenics — the belief that the genetic quality of our race could be improved by excluding those considered inferior, and conversely by promoting those groups considered superior. At its height, eugenics had many prominent supporters, For example, President Calvin Coolidge once said that “biological laws” had proven the inferiority of southern and eastern Europeans.
This was the rationale for a change in immigration laws that banned people deemed undesirable. This sordid chapter in American history can be revisited in The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics and the Law That Kept Two Generation of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America by Daniel Okrent. I think you’ll be amazed at how many people, especially those of high rank and social standing, subscribed to this now-discredited movement.
Or maybe not.