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( – Focusing on news reports during the last ten years, one could assume that the US had an emerging immigration problem of "Hispanic Hoards" inundating the southern border. An "honest" assessment of the 'immigration problem' shows it as a long-standing problem entwined in issues of racism and xenophobia. Reconciliation of these problems involves squarely facing them and moving to overcome these festering sores.

In 1911, The Dillingham Commission, convened by the government to study immigration policies, issued a report that, arguably, has colored the complexion of immigration policy to date. In 1917, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917 (Asiatic Barred Zone Act) that prohibited specific 'undesirables' from entering the country. These so-called undesirables included, but were not limited to alcoholics, anarchists, homosexuals, criminals, epileptics, idiots, insane persons, feeble-minded persons, persons mentally or physically defective, polygamists, professional beggars and "illiterate" immigrants over the age of sixteen. Adding to a prior ban on Chinese, a section of the law prohibited immigration from an "Asiatic Barred Zone.”

In 1921, attempting to limit southern and eastern Europeans, Congress enacted the Emergency Immigration Act, pegging the number of immigrants permitted from each country at 3% of the number of people from that country who had lived in the US in 1910. The Immigration Act of 1924 made American policy more restrictive by setting the national quotas at 2% of the number of people from each country living in the US in 1890.
As echoed in contemporary rhetoric, many white Americans possessed a pathological fear of being overrun by races/nationalities considered inferior. With the exception of the Irish, little emphasis was placed on limiting immigrants from northern Europe. These attitudes are similarly based in the thought that solutions to social problems affecting US urban areas - crime, slums, poverty, illiteracy - are found in regulating immigration to those groups which could most easily assimilate.

If one listens closely to the contemporary dialogue, a common theme is realized between then and now. US immigration reform is based on a southern strategy. Instead of negative characterization of the Italians or Slavs, we now direct comments and place unsavory characteristics on all of those who enter this country from south of the border.
Instead of offering Constitutional amendments or challenging the citizenship protections of the 14th Amendment, Congress should endorse a sane policy that will open a pathway to citizenship for those who have chosen to weave their lives into the fabric of the US.

While states and local municipalities work with extreme enthusiasm to resolve their "Hispanic Problem," it seems that no one is willing to examine our immigration policy related to other nationalities. We’ve forgotten to include our northern border in the process of immigration reform. While we embrace the immigrant who possesses the H-1B visa, we must also welcome the taxpaying farm laborer who makes his/her living with the sweat of his/her brow.
There is little, if no, historical evidence to support the idea that a country can thrive or prosper without control of its borders, but there is also little evidence that national conduct and policies which are rooted in racism or xenophobia can have a long-term benefit to a nation or its citizens. Instead of self-deportation, we must establish a realistic immigration policy based on a strictly-enforced rule of law preventing corporate interests from circumventing established immigration policies and sacrificing immigrants or laws at the altar of corporate greed.

The fact that millions of people, worldwide, remain as attracted to the hope of life in the US, as is a moth to a flame, is testament to our national greatness and our potential for an even brighter future. We must not allow irrational fear or hatred to impede our quest to that brighter future for anyone—especially not we African Americans.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is Chair of the National Congress of Black Women,

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