Monday, April 9, 2018

Resistance Geneaology

Three cheers for Jennifer Mendelsohn, a journalist who started what she called "resistance genealogy."

Mendelsohn researches the immigration story behind the anti-immigrant buffoons of the Trump administration and their most public supporters. She found that Stephen Miller's Yiddish-speaking great grandmother didn't speak English for years and that Dan Scavino's Italian relatives arrived sequentially in the first decades of the 20th century.

Most recently, she's written up Joe Arpaio, that guy who should be in prison but is instead running for the Senate in Arizona. His maternal grandma was a "chain immigrant" (of course), following her brothers after the first one came in 1902. I prefer calling that process "family reunification," since that's what it does, but Arpaio is against it. Altogether, 13 family members followed the first immigrant, using him or a later-arriving relative as a sponsor.

Not only that, but his father belonged to an Italian fraternal organization whose rules were written in Italian as late as 1931. And the family obviously benefited from the racist exclusion laws that existed through 1924, which kept out non-Europeans. That first guy only had to answer a couple of simple questions and he was in, and the rest followed him.

But the law changed soon after they had arrived:

In May of 1924, just five months after the last of the Montanos entered the United States, Congress passed the Johnson Reed Act, which was aimed at reducing the number of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. The result was dramatic. Prior to 1924, Italians had been coming to the U.S. at a rate of over 200,000 a year; but the new law set a quota of just under 4,000 Italians a year. (The German quota, by contrast, was over 50,000.)

So Arpaio’s family managed to get in just months before the door closed on people like them due to discriminatory laws. (His father arrived in the summer of 1923.) For some people, that kind of history would generate a compassion for contemporary immigrants pursuing similar American dreams. But instead, Arpaio is one of countless politicians who seems particularly insistent — gleeful even — about slamming the door and pulling up the ladder.
Emphasis added, in case it wasn't clear how biased U.S. immigration laws were (and continued to be).

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