The Immigration Hospital

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name MOTHER OF EXILES.”

Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”


With Trump’s immigration executive order making waves in an already scandal-ridden transition of power. And with the ACLU making good on its promise to “see Trump in court:” riding to the rescue to the tune of 26 million dollars from donations (e.g. this+ this). I’d like to share a few interesting tidbits from history related to this issue. With students zealous to overthrow the architectural history within the walls of our pluralistic campus citadels, it seems appropriate that Lady Liberty is being heralded as the values we still seek to uphold.

The Boston Globe has published an article by staff writer Neil Swidey about three “Brahmin intellectuals” from Boston at the end of the 19th century who graduated from Harvard and started a modern equivalence of a think-tank (Immigration Restriction League) to push the theory currently in vogue among White House intelligentsias like the ideologues Steve Bannon. This theory—developed largely by people like Prescott Farnsworth Hall—warned of unchecked immigration and found audience with famous senators like Henry Cabot Lodge who would introduce the IRL’s bill on the Senate floor in an attempt to instal literary tests to root out the “uneducated souls” from our shores (similar things happened with Mormons).

Fast-forward to 1917. The men of the Restriction League finally see the fruits of their labor when the federal Immigration Act passes (including the infamous literary test above)—“open[ing] a new epoch in the nation’s handling of immigration” centered, not on just the regulation of immigration, but broad restrictions aiming to serve some concocted national interest (like, say, a Red Scare or a made-up terrorist attack). This eventually culminated with a “Draconian quote law signed by President Calvin Coolidge” who put Sean Spicer to shame by telling Congress on December 6, 1923 that “America must remain American” and that “those who do not want to be partakers of the American sprit ought not to settle in America.” Swidey writes:

[Immigration Act] imposed an $8 head tax on each arriving immigrant and froze out everyone from a huge swath of the globe known as the “Asiatic Barred Zone.” It also expanded the list of prohibited “undesirables” — which already included epileptics, “imbeciles,” and prostitutes — to encompass vagrants, alcoholics, a wider class of alien radicals, and the opaque “persons of constitutional psychopathic inferiority.” Most important, and reflecting the centerpiece of Hall’s argument, the law imposed a new literacy test that shut out any foreigners who lacked basic reading ability in their native language.


the Immigration Act of 1917 opened a new age in how this nation — weary from a bloody, seemingly fruitless war in Europe — would treat foreigners. Many news outlets have traced Trump’s “America First” slogan back to the isolationist group of the same name that was founded in 1940. In fact, the slogan’s nativist roots can be traced to 1917, when James Murphy Ward published his book, The Immigration Problem, or America First.

The entire article is worth reading if for nothing more than the irony of the current administration’s correlating themes with the Know-Nothings. For now, let us stay in the 1920s where the great historian of religion Martin E. Marty picks up our narrative in his second volume on Modern American Religion called “The Noise of Conflict.” In it, he describes the so-called Yellow Peril—code name for white Americans’ horror of immigration by Asian hordes—where the Chinese and Japanese faced systematic restrictions on immigration (particularly in 1902 and 1924 respectively) where measures where aimed at ending their traffic based on fears, even instigated by religious communities, of their presence defiling the America “God-intended.”

Congressman John Tillman (D) from Arkansas illustrated these sentiments well when describing his vision:

 We have admitted the dregs of Europe until America has been oreintalized, Europeanized, Africanized, and mongrelized to that insidious degree that our genius, stability, greatness, and promise of advancement and achievement are actually menaced.

Echoing these sentiments was representative Ira Hersey (R) of Maine who described how:

 God-intended [America] to be the home of a great people. English-speaking—a white race with great ideals, the Christian religion, one race, one country, one destiny.

Reflecting on this history, a recent amicus wrote this in response to Trump’s executive order:

“In no case since the Chinese Exclusion cases has the Supreme Court blessed the sort of discriminatory immigration rule at issue there.”

Perhaps most poignant in Martin Mary’s analysis of this era was the statement from ex-Presbyterian sociologist E.A. Ross, who offered a psychologically profound theory for this brand of resentment:

Resentment is a species of hostility springing from menace to the mirrored self.

Whatever the issues are, I can only image they are deeply rooted and not likely to change based on a few thousand disgruntled protestors or anti-free speech rioters living at home with their moms.

As part of a failed system, the powers that be will surely insulate themselves from the noise of criticism. I personally find it easier to ignore the content of a person’s protestations when their noise becomes amplified. I find the mind to suffer great inertia when contained in areas polluted by excessive noise. This is perhaps why clubs, bars, and sporting events attract a certain type of person, while libraries do not. But I digress.

In the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapter 13), the author corresponds the dynamic character of love from verse 1 to the new mode of sharing in verse 2, characterized by “hospitality to strangers and ministry to those who have been imprisoned or mistreated.” p. 511. Their is no need to reiterate the lessons in Genesis where angels arrived at the front doors of saints; or, the lessons of Matthew 25 that show the Lord will hide within the veils of poverty; or, remind you how the hospitality of the Shunammite woman who kept the company of Elisha was reward with sustenance and miracles of resurrection. What I will says is that perhaps more importantly the Christian community has an opportunity now to be that salt and light in times of stridency and division; if for no other reason, than to entertain angels.

I leave you with this from Marty-

The final destiny of the country is still in suspense, and it is unable to foretell what tomorrow will be its very soul.

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