The Racist Origins of America’s Broken Immigration System

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Group of protestors holding up signs protesting American immigration and border policies. Sign in middle says "Immigrants make America GREAT" in red and blue letters, and sign on the right says "NO HATE NO FEAR" on the first line and "Refugees are welcome here" on the second line.

Photo by Nitish Meena on Unsplash 

As radical as the contemporary GOP has become in recent years, it remains generally verboten in mainstream circles to openly call for murder. At least, for all but one demographic: migrants, whom Texas Governor Greg Abbott earlier this year lamented he couldn’t order killed. At best, party officials might argue that they are disease-ridden freeloaders; at worst, that they’re a demographic ticking time bomb engineered to wipe out real, white America.

This rhetoric has often been mistaken as a new turn for American political discourse, but it’s more of a return to an earlier era, one cemented by a law signed a century ago this month by Calvin Coolidge: the Immigration Act of 1924, known as Johnson-Reed after its House and Senate sponsors.

In a 2015 interview with right-wing operator Stephen Bannon, then–Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions spoke glowingly of the era set off by this bill that most listeners, and most Americans writ large, were probably unfamiliar with. In his languid drawl, Sessions described an era that “created really the solid middle class...

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