What Does Interracial Marriage Have to do With Immigration?

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By Joseph Orosco (June 12, 2017)

Two legal news items today that may seem disconnected, but are not. In fact, they are reflections of the deep legacy of white supremacy in the United States.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the US Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down the 1924 Racial Integrity Act that prohibited whites from interracial marriage. Also today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the stay on Trump’s travel bans, targeting travellers from several Muslim majority countries.

The 1924 Racial Integrity Act was the brainchild of a little known, but incredibly influential white supremacist, Madison Grant.

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In 1916, Grant became well-known for his book The Passing of the Great Race. In it, he argued that the Nordic Race, a race of white people known for all the highlights of Western civilization, was in danger of becoming extinct in the United States as a result of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe (Grant did not consider those people to be proper white people).   He was consulted for the Racial Integrity Act and he believed it was one measure to prevent the dilution of a powerful white blood line in the US (the Act did not prevent people of color from marrying each other, for instance, which is why the SCOTUS struck it down recognizing that it was mostly about maintaining white segregation).

But Grant was also the force behind the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, one of the most impactful federal immigration laws in the 20th Century. Grant was invited by US representatives to lead an investigative committee into immigration and his book was shared in the halls of Congress by representative reading groups. The Johnson-Reed Act created a quota system that capped total immigration into the United States and essentially stopped most immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. However, immigrants from Northwestern and Western were allowed easy access. The result was an enormous demographic shift that carefully curated the make up of the white majority. The Johnson-Reed Act was not lifted until the mid 1960s.

The shadow of Madison Grant behind these two pieces of legislation should remind us that immigration law in the United States has almost always been designed to maintain white supremacy under the guise of providing security from some sort of crisis. Trump’s dog-whistle tactics concerning “bad hombres” and “radical Islamic terrorists” to justify a wall with Mexico or a travel ban, then, are not recent developments in American politics, but long standing examples of tried and true strategies for carefully crafting a white supremacist society.

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