The Immigration Law Nobody's Heard of That Changed America

Is COVID-19 bringing the mythology of America as a nation of immigrants to an end? Q&A with The New York Times' Jia Lynn Yang


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What will the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown of our society mean for the hundreds of thousands of foreign workers, refugees, and asylum seekers who apply annually to become Americans? Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016 in part by vowing to "build a wall," deport all unauthorized residents, and massively reduce the number of people welcomed here legally.

COVID-19, which has its origins in Wuhan, China, may help the president to deliver fully on his campaign promises. Is the mythology of America as a nation of immigrants coming to an end?

A deputy national editor at The New York Times, Jia Lynn Yang is the author of the timely new book, One Mighty and Irresistible Tide: The Epic Struggle Over American Immigration, 1924-1965. The book begins at another dark moment in American immigration policy when a restrictive law ended a long period of relatively open borders and effectively stopped mass movement to the United States for the next 40 years. It tells the story of the decadeslong battle that led the U.S. to begin accepting foreigners once again. And yet almost nobody involved in that fight foresaw the extent to which the 1965 law signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson would open the door once again to large numbers of new immigrants—including Yang's family, who came here from Taiwan in the 1970s.

Nick Gillespie sat down with Yang in early March and again in May to discuss what her book and personal story can teach us about immigration policy in the midst of a pandemic.

Edited by John Osterhoudt, intro and bridge by Lex Villena

Photos: Immigrants arriving, Everett Collection/Newscom; Wall Photo, ID 152963524 © Alexanderphoto7/; Trump speaking, Stefani Reynolds/CNP/AdMedia/Newscom; Johnson signing, LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okam/Yoichi Okam—LBJ Library via CNP/Newscom

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  1. My goodness, do you have any ideas that are your own, Reason? Fuck the NYT.

    1. Of course they do. After they read Vox.

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  2. “The Immigration Law Nobody’s Heard of That Changed America”

    Nobody who follows the NYT line heard of the immigration law of 1965 until a NYT editor chose to write about it.

    That must mean nobody else is familiar with the law.

    1. “1924-1965. The book begins at another dark moment in American immigration policy when a restrictive law ended a long period of relatively open borders and effectively stopped mass movement to the United States for the next 40 years.”

      The “dark moment in American immigration policy” coincided with the rise of Amerca to the largest economy in the world with the highest standard of living, while defeating imperial fascism, and saving most of the world from being overrun by communist totalitarianism.

      Meanwhile, since Invasion USA began in 1965, median income has stagnated, job security has collapsed, and housing costs have exploded.

      1. Don’t go messing up a good heart-bleed with facts.

      2. Bingo. “The three decades . . . from the mid forties to the mid seventies, were the golden age of manual labor.” Why were times so good for blue collar workers? To some extent they were helped by the state of the world economy. They were also helped by a scarcity of labor created by the severe immigration restrictions imposed by the [ Johnson–Reed ] Immigration Act of 1924.” Paul Krugman, Conscience of a Liberal, Chapter 3 (pages 48-49)
        “A small generation, presumably, would do well if it arrived on the labor market when demand was high. The catch here is unrestricted immigration. . . . the bright prospects of a small cohort were swamped by competitors from abroad.” Richard Easterlin, Birth and Fortune, Chapter 2, page 33

  3. I thought we are a nation of Europeans who invaded and slaughtered all those peaceful natives that were in no way killing and enslaving each other but just camping out on the prairie and eating berries whilst having fun dance parties.

    1. And gobbling up lots of peyote, don’t forget that fun fact.

  4. Why do people insist on moving to a failed crapitalist state filled with such horrible racists?

  5. “Is COVID-19 bringing the mythology of America as a nation of immigrants to an end?”

    One can only hope.

    I mean not that the mythology will actually end nor the truth to it, but rather the particular way the mythology is deployed today — in support of a radical government interventionist experiment, unprecedented in human history, of importing millions of foreigners to suppress the wages of working citizens and dilute the power of their vote and rob them of self-governance.

    1. Actually, totalitarian governments are hardly unprecedented.

    2. Don’t forget the part about some of them pumping money into the Ponzi scheme of Social Security, that, if the payouts were stopped, would see federal politicians once again exposed to the tar and feathers they so richly deserve.

  6. Wait wait wait hole up. The “Immigration Law Nobody’s Heard of” is Hart-Cellar ?!?!

  7. Since America isn’t a so-called nation of immigrants, the point, or lack thereof, is moot, as is pretty much Reason unreasons about immigration…

  8. First sentence, legal immigration.
    Second sentence, border crossing criminals.
    Stopped reading.
    I thought Reason put a warning label on this by crediting Shikha.

  9. Don’t know who wrote the headline but it is misleading. America is a nation founded by and built on the blood, sweat, and tears of liberty-pursuing immigrants – and of their descendants. I celebrate my immigrant forebears.

    1. They weren’t immigrants. They were settlers and colonists.

      At most, they were emigrants, but I don’t even think that describes the majority.

    2. Unfortunately, most of the ones we see now ain’t in pursuit of that liberty thing. More likely it’s that free stuff thing they’re pursuing.

  10. Honestly, all nations are nations of immigrants if you go back far enough in history.

    I have no problem with the expression, though, as long as it isn’t just used as a cliché to short-circuit rational discussion. Most people don’t want to repeal every aspect of the Hart–Celler Act, or return to the National Origins era that existed before it, but to reform it. Lots of forces who support (and sometimes benefit from) the status quo and are going to push back on any attempts at reforms as “extreme” and try to evoke the racism of earlier immigration policies — as the “soulless minions of orthodoxy” (catch the reference) always do — when the goal is just to bring the immigration law back to something sane.

  11. I can imagine Sitting Bull calling a group of tribal chiefs together and saying: “Hey fellas, getting steamed up about all these European immigrants is xenophobic. Our culture will change, but what’s wrong with that? The Europeans have as much right to be here as we do. So what if we lose the buffalo? So what if we lose our native languages, our native traditions and our native cultures? Let’s not be bigots and racists. Put down your weapons and welcome the new arrivals.”

    1. Brilliant! May I quote you?

    2. Truth is the subjugated tribes allied with the superior liberating forces to overthrow their cruel overlords and received *cheezus* and western civilization in return.

  12. “Is COVID-19 bringing the folklore of America as a country of workers to an end?” Best School in Rohini

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