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