“First as Tragedy, Then As Farce” Donald Trump’s Plan to Police Political Views of Immigrants Hardly Original

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Trump’s vitriolic anti-immigrant, anti-civil libertarian, and openly racist policies have elicited a wave of condemnations. However, as many have pointed out, some of those most quickly running to condemn him are themselves the architects of policies that have been largely racist and anti-civil libertarian. In short, they are guilty of creating policies similar to what Trump advocates, but without the bombastic openly xenophobic rhetorical gloss, a fact that the commentariat largely seems unwilling to acknowledge.

An excellent rejoinder to this nonsense is Alex Emmon’s article in The Intercept that chronicles how using a provision in the Patriot Act, both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration have denied visas to individuals based on their politics. These include under Bush, a South African anti-apartheid activist, a Greek economist, and renowned scholar and opponent of the Iraq War Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan, with the help the ACLU, was able to sue and have his visa denial reversed. The Obama Administration did not end this practice. In a particularly noteworthy incident–

 In 2013, Palestinian film director Emad Burnat was detained in the Los Angeles Airport, and threatened with deportation. He was allowed to enter the United States after security learned he was on his way to the Oscars.

Emmon points out that Trump cites as his model the McCaran-Internal Security Act. The McCarran-Walter Act gave the US government the authority to block people from entering the United States due to their political views.  

The McCarran-Walter Act, passed in 1952, comes from a longer line of such legislation. The Immigration Act of 1903, commonly known as the “Anarchist Exclusion Act,” prohibited anarchists from immigrating to the US. In 1918, as part of a coordinated effort to suppress anti-war, socialist, and anarchist speech Congress passed a law that allowed the Department of Immigration to deport and detain foreign born anarchists residing in the US. The act was used to deport Emma Goldman.

The Immigration Act of 1918 though proved insufficient after the US government unsuccessfully tried to deport labor organizer Harry Bridges. The Immigration Act of 1918 only allowed for an individual to be deported if they currently belong to an organization that advocated the overthrow of the government and it was determined that Bridges did not have such affiliations at the time the US government tried to deport him. As a result, the Alien Registration Act of 1940 was drafted, which would allow the US government to deport an immigrant if at any time they had belonged to such an organization. It also required all resident aliens to register with the US government. The initial bill even contained a provision allowing for the interning of immigrants in camps if their home country was unable to accept them, though this provision never passed into law.

The Alien Registration Act is better known as the Smith Act, and it not only targeted foreign-born radicals, but made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government. This provision was used to successfully try and jail members of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party. It also served as the basis for an unsuccessful 1944 prosecution of 33 Nazi and fascist sympathizers, as well as isolationist, that ended in a mistrial when the presiding judge died and the Department of Justice lost interest in the case. The US government used the Smith Act to once again attempt to deport Bridges. However, the US government once again failed to do so when in 1945 the Supreme Court ruled that they had failed to prove Bridges was “affiliated” with the Communist Party. Bridges would later become a naturalized citizen, but the US government, after convicting Bridges of perjury, would try to strip him of his naturalization and deport him yet again. However, in 1953 the Supreme Court threw out Bridges perjury conviction.  Bridges lived out the remainder of his in the US until passing away at age 88 in 1990.

While Trump’s call to impose ideological litmus tests on immigrants runs contrary to the values of free expression that any free society is predicated on, it is not much of aberration from the past policies of the US government. Not only have Obama and Bush actually excluded individuals from the US because of their political views, the politically motivated exclusion of immigrants dates all the way back to 1903. Donald Trump’s ideas are odious and at odds with the principles embodied in the Bill of Rights, but they are hardly original.