Anti-Immigrant Sentiments in America: A Cyclical Phenomenon

Dec 10, 2015

Controversy continues to swirl around Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the United States in the wake of the violence in Paris and in Southern California.  

Some GOP leaders, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, have condemned Trump’s idea. But Ryan and others have stopped short of saying the comments should disqualify Trump from holding the highest office in the country.

But if you think Donald Trump’s proposal is an outlier when it comes to how Americans view immigration, Lake Effect foreign policy contributor Art Cyr would have you look closer at our history – both recent and long ago.

"The more you learn about our wars as well as our remarkable long-term economic growth, the more you appreciate the importance of diversity in ethnicity, race, gender, across the board," says Cyr.

Wartime can create difficult climates, especially for immigrants and minority groups. For example, during World War II, Franklin Roosevelt interned Japanese on the west coast, along with limited interning and surveillance of German and Italian visitors in the United States. However, Cyr notes that Roosevelt and then Director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, were strenuously against it.

"Actually Roosevelt did not want to intern the Japanese, it was contrary to his whole wartime theme of national unity and allied cooperation which was a vital theme then and it is now," he explains.

Further back in American history is the influx of immigrants during after the Civil War to help supply, rebuild and expand the country, particularly by rail. However then President Chester B. Arthur had a great hostility to foreigners, especially the large Chinese population.

The United States would continue a pattern of welcoming and then shutting the door on immigrants according to the world climate due to world wars, the Cold War and currently with terrorist threats and attacks. However, Cyr explains that throughout American history the value has always been placed in diversity and on the side of law.

"The long-term trend has been toward tolerance and then toward opening the door more," he says.

Lake Effect contributor Art Cyr is a professor of political economy and world business and director of the Clausen Center for World Business at Carthage College in Kenosha.