The recent tension in Arizona over State Law 1070 that would allow local police to ask for proof of citizenship or legal residency as part of a crime investigation can and should be seen in a broader historical context. That is, the concern and even hysteria over “illegal aliens” is nothing knew.
Nativism, or anti-foreign sentiment, has a long history and perhaps is as American as apple pie.
All non-English immigrants to the United States have faced discrimination and hostility. Indeed, the Know-Nothing Movement of the 1850s persecuted even English-speaking Irish Catholics in the 19th century. This antagonism was so great that some nativists even dared to call these Irish Catholics “niggers.” In the early 20th century, the so-called “New Immigrants” composed of immigrants from Russia, Eastern Europe such as Poland and Lithuania, Italy, and Greece likewise encountered the wrath of so-called “old-stock Americans.
If one reads the nativist literature of this period, one finds fears that these immigrants were the wrong kind of immigrants and the wrong kind of Europeans: too Jewish, too Catholic, too Mediterranean. Nativists went so far as to consider these immigrants as “non-white.” The children of Italian immigrants who migrated to the South had to have their children attend segregated schools with black children.
Of course, Asian immigrants faced even harsher responses. Cries of the “Yellow Peril” in the late 19th and early 20th centuries lead to the severe restriction and later complete elimination of Asian immigration in the early 1920s.
Moreover, nativism has never been a stranger to Mexican immigrants. In the 1930s, close to half a million Mexicans were deported or repatriated to Mexico on the grounds that they were taking jobs from “real Americans” even though Mexican immigrants had been welcomed prior to the Great Depression as booming industries in agriculture and mining welcomed this source