Back in November I published a long column discussing the results of the 2018 midterm elections and then a couple of weeks ago I also released a private letter I’d distributed to prominent figures in the Alt-Right movement back in 2017, suggesting some of the ways that their public positions had severely damaged their credibility and injured their nascent political movement.
Immigration and the closely-related issue of Hispanic crime were important elements of both my pieces, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that I provoked such an enormous outpouring of (mostly hostile) responses, now totaling well over 3,000 comments and nearly 500,000(!) words. The bitter immigration dispute between President Donald Trump and the new Democratic Congress has already produced the longest federal government shut-down in American history, so this controversial subject has certainly reached the absolute center of the American political stage.
Unfortunately, I believe that there are few other topics in which such severe misinformation, often of an emotionally charged nature, has so totally contaminated the political debate, sometimes on both sides of the controversy. Given this situation, I’ve decided to provide a general summary of what I see as some of the crucial facts together with my analysis.
The dismal state of factual misinformation widespread within the anti-immigration community is best illustrated by a single striking example. Among such individuals, no piece of American legislation is as fiercely condemned as the 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act, routinely denounced as the law that destroyed our country by opening the floodgates to the influx of countless millions of non-white Third Worlders, thereby dooming America to eventual white-minority status. These critics often single out Ted Kennedy as the particular villain behind this policy, even though he had only just reached the Senate a couple of years earlier, and as a very junior member played only a relatively minor role in enacting this statute.
This supposed impact of the 1965 Act certainly possesses superficial plausibility. The measure was widely advertised as a loosing of our strict immigration quotas of the 1920s and non-white immigration did enormously increase in the decades that followed. Largely as a consequence of the latter, America’s white population declined from 84% to just 62% between 1965 and 2015, with our rapidly-growing Latino population now reaching 18% of the total. Today more than half of young American children are non-white, and within a couple of decades whites will have become a minority of our entire population, a situation that would have been absolutely unimaginable back in 1965. Indeed, the careful demographers of the Pew Research Center have determined that the overwhelming majority of these racial changes have been due to post-1965 immigration, without which America would still be 75% white today. Since 1965 our non-white population has grown by 86 million, but 60 million of that increase has been due to immigration, overwhelmingly from Latin America and the Caribbean.
Given these undeniable statistics, I would guess that 99% of anti-immigration activists currently believe that the 1965 Immigration Act was responsible for opening our borders and thereby destroying white-majority America. Ann Coulter’s best-selling screed Adios America! is filled with ferocious attacks against the 1965 Act and Sen. Ted Kennedy on exactly these grounds.
Unfortunately, all these individuals have the facts exactly backwards and upside-down. The 1965 Act didn’t OPEN America’s borders, instead it largely CLOSED America’s borders.
The history is very simple. Prior to the 1920s, America allowed unlimited immigration from Europe and Latin America. Then the 1924 Immigration Act sharply restricted European immigration, but retained an “open borders” policy toward Latin America and the rest of the Western Hemisphere, largely because Southwestern business interests desired an unrestricted supply of Mexican labor. This only changed with the 1965 Act, which for the first time imposed strict quotas upon immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean even as it loosened restrictions upon European and Asian immigration. Prior to 1965, any Latin American who paid a small fee at the border, generally in the range of $18, could legally immigrate to America with almost no waiting period. Immigration had remained low merely because Mexico and most of Latin America had traditionally been under-populated.
The huge rise in Latin American immigration after 1965 was due to the enormous population growth in that region and came in spite of the 1965 Act rather because of it.
If Congress had never passed the 1965 Act, illegal immigration would never have become an issue because legal immigration from Latin America would have remained entirely unlimited. I suspect that the influx of legal Hispanics might have reached 5 million per year by the 1990s, and perhaps the entire impoverished population of Haiti might have relocated to our shores. Immigration over the last fifty years has increased our non-white population by some 60 million, but without the sharp restrictions of the 1965 Act, the figure would surely have been 120 million or perhaps even 180 million. Such a scenario can hardly be viewed with favor by racially-focused immigration-restrictionists.
This gigantic factual error at the core of the anti-immigration movement was almost certainly unintentional. Presumably, some early activist 25 or 30 years ago was careless and made an honest mistake regarding the legal details of the 1965 Act, a mistake that soon got into widespread circulation. Since that time, many thousands of other immigration-activists have quoted and requoted that initial blunder across the Internet, until almost everyone in this insular ideological community has come to believe it.
Anyone can make a mistake, but the fact that this misinformation has remained so widespread for so many years suggests the rather unreliable quality of most anti-immigration sources across the Internet.
Indeed, for the last dozen years or so, I’ve periodically brought this serious error to the attention of various anti-immigration websites. They’ve checked the facts, said Oops!, and immediately discontinued their incessant attacks against the 1965 Act and Teddy Kennedy. But they obviously couldn’t take down the hundreds of pieces they had already published on the subject, nor could they publicly admit their longstanding error without looking ridiculous, so almost none of their readers or peers become aware of the correction, and the denunciations of the 1965 Act in their community continue almost unabated. Sometimes after a few years, these websites even return to attacking the 1965 Act themselves, as less well-informed contributors join or the peer-pressure simply becomes too strong.
When we recognize that almost all of today’s anti-immigration activists have spent decades looking at our central immigration legislation of the last half-century upside-down, we should not be surprised to discover that other erroneous beliefs are also widespread in that community, and some of these have far greater practical political significance. The enormous support for “building a wall” to stop illegal immigration is perhaps the best example.