The U.S. has seen its fair share of discriminatory xenophobes who at different points in time went to great lengths to keep foreigners far from American shores, from the 19th century Know Nothing Party and the KKK to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Most damaging for Jews desperately seeking asylum from abject poverty, persecutions, the ravages of war-torn Europe and Nazism were the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921 and the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924. These laws slowed Jewish immigration down significantly.

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Jews who did manage to reach America during this period, like those who had arrived earlier, were subjected to virulent anti-Semitism as showcased during the Leo Frank trial, in Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent, and on Father Charles Coughlin’s popular radio program. They were also forced to endure a quieter but no less damaging anti-Semitism that expressed itself in the marketplace, in social clubs, in universities admissions offices and in residency restrictions. It took several decades for many of those anti-Jewish attitudes to begin to dissipate.

Let us hope our legitimate security concerns will not make it all too easy for fear and paranoia to replace fact and civility.

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