The shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh is believed to be the . Eleven people were killed when the gunman burst in on the congregation’s morning worship service carrying an assault rifle and three handguns.
The suspect, Robert Bowers, is reported to be a frequent user of Gab, a social networking site that has becoming increasingly popular among white nationalists and other alt-right groups. He is alleged to have , expressed virulent anti-immigrant sentiments, called immigrants .”
The magnitude of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre may be unprecedented, but it is only the latest in the series of hate crimes against Jews. In February 2017, more than 100 gravestones were vandalised at a , Missouri, and at another . Indeed, hate crimes have been on an increase against minority religions, people of color and immigrants. In the 10 days following the 2016 presidential election, nearly 900 hate-motivated incidents were reported, . Many of these incidents targeted Muslims, people of color and immigrants, along with Jews.
This outpouring of anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiment is reminiscent in many ways of the political climate during the years between the first and second world wars in the US or the interwar period.
America as the ‘Melting Pot’
I am all too aware that by the early 1880s, American nativists – people who believed that the “genetic stock” of Northern Europe was superior to that of Southern and Eastern Europe – began pushing for the exclusion of “foreigners,” whom they “viewed with deep suspicion.”
In fact, as scholar writes, most of the immigrants, who were from Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, “were considered so different in composition, religion, and culture from earlier immigrants as to trigger a xenophobic reaction that served to generate .”
In August 1882, Congress responded to increasing concerns about America’s “open door” policy and passed the , which included a provision denying entry to “any convict, lunatic, idiot or any person unable to take care of himself without becoming a public charge.”
However, enforcement was not strict, in part because immigration officers working at the points of entry were expected to implement these restrictions as they saw fit.
In fact, it was during the late 19th century that the American “melting pot” was born: Nearly 22 million immigrants from all over the world entered the US between 1881 and 1914.
They included approximately 1,500,000 million European Jews hoping to escape the longstanding legally enforced which limited where Jews could live, what kinds of universities they could attend and what kinds of professions they could hold.
Fear of Jews and Immigrants
Nativists continued to rail against the demographic shifts and in particular took issue with the high numbers of Jews and Southern Italians entering the country.
These fears were eventually reflected in , since the electorate voted increasing numbers of nativist congresspeople into office who vowed to change immigration laws with their constituent’s anti-immigrant sentiments in mind.
Nativist and isolationist sentiment in America only increased, as Europe fell headlong into World War I, “the war to end all wars.” On 4 February 1917, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917, which reversed America’s open door policy and denied entry to the majority of immigrants seeking entry. As a result, between Jews were admitted into the U.S.
The 1924 Immigration Act tightened the borders further. It transferred the decision to admit or deny immigrants from the immigration officers at the port of entry to the Foreign Services Office, which issued visas after the completion of a lengthy
The quotas established by the act also set strict limits on the number of new immigrants allowed after 1924. The number of Central and Eastern Europeans allowed to enter the U.S. was dramatically reduced.
The 1924 quotas provided visas to a mere 2 percent of each nationality already in the US by 1890. They excluded immigrants from Asia completely, except for immigrants from Japan and the Philippines. The stated fundamental purpose of this immigration act was to Congress did not revise the act until 1952.
Why Does This History Matter?
The political climate of the interwar period has many similarities with the anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic environment today.
President Trump’s platform is comprised in large part of strongly . shows that as many as 66 percent of registered voters who supported Trump consider immigration a “very big problem,” while only 17 percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters said the same.
President Trump’s claims about the dangers posed by immigrants are not be supported by facts; but they do indicate increased isolationism, nativism and right-wing nationalism within the US All over again, we see anti-immigrant sentiment and anti-Semitism, going hand in hand.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation)