President Donald Trump’s executive order to impose a temporary moratorium on admitting foreigners from seven Mideast countries was met with noisy howls of protests from the news media, Democrat politicians, and left-wing activists who charge that the order is not only contrary to America’s founding principles but also illegal. In reality, the howlers are distorting the truth in both cases.
The truth is that America’s founders never intended the country to be a “nation of immigrants,” and in fact the U.S. has a long history of immigration restriction based on national origin.
In his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson warned about letting in too many foreign citizens. He said, “They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty. These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children. In proportion to their numbers, they will share with us the legislation. They will infuse into it their spirit, warp and bias its direction, and render it a heterogeneous, incoherent, distracted mass. ”
America was founded not by immigrants, but colonists who were mostly from the mother country of England. They feared that foreign populations would distort the new country’s cultural heritage.
Alexander Hamilton wrote, “foreigners will generally be apt to bring with them attachments to the persons they have left behind; to the country of their nativity, and to its particular customs and manners. … The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities. In the composition of society, the harmony of the ingredients is all-important, and whatever tends to a discordant intermixture must have an injurious tendency.”
Other of America’s founders, including John Jay and George Washington, expressed similar sentiments.
As a result of these views, America often put strict controls on who could enter the country and who could become citizens. America’s first naturalization law, The Naturalization Act of 1790, limited citizenship to “free white persons” of good character, and excluded American Indians, slaves, indentured servants, and free blacks. It further specified that citizenship was not available to anyone “whose fathers have never been resident in the United States.” American Indians were not allowed to be citizens until 1924.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited immigration of all Chinese labor. It was renewed in 1892 and again in 1902.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 codified what was called the National Origins Quota System, which imposed a quota on immigrants based on their country of origin. It revised the 1924 system to allow for national quotas at a rate of one-sixth of one percent of each nationality’s population in the United States in 1920. As a result, 85 percent of the 154,277 visas available annually were allotted to individuals of northern and western European lineage.
Those American immigration traditions of restriction were not abandoned until relatively recently in our history. In 1965 liberal Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy sponsored and arranged for passage of legislation signed by President Lyndon Johnson that repealed the traditional national origins system and opened America’s border to immigration from Asia, Africa and India.
Despite the noisy protests and false reports in the news media, President Trump’s executive order is no violation of federal law, which states, “Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”
In 1982 the Supreme Court ruled, “an alien seeking initial admission to the United States requests a privilege and has no constitutional rights regarding his application, for the power to admit or exclude aliens is a sovereign prerogative.”
So when President Trump issues an order to protect Americans from alien terrorist attacks by temporarily suspending admission of a certain group of foreigners until the U.S. develops thorough vetting procedures to screen out potential terrorists, he is well within his authority granted by federal law, and his action is perfectly compatible with America’s long tradition of immigration restriction.