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01/13/2018

Eugenic immigration policies revisited

Many people, when they think of the history of eugenics, think of Nazi Germany. However, eugenics was widely accepted and implemented as policy in America long before the Nazis rose to power.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the numbers of immigrants to the United States were increasing rapidly. This greatly alarmed those who were aligned with the eugenics movement, the quasi-scientific movement to preserve “racial purity.” In 1920, Harry Laughlin, superintendent of the Eugenics Record Office, testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Immigration and Naturalization that the “American” gene pool was being polluted by certain immigrants who were portrayed as social inadequates, intellectually and morally deficient — understood as those from southern and Eastern Europe. Laughlin was subsequently appointed the committee’s “Expert Eugenics Agent.” The committee crafted the Immigration Act of 1924, which was designed to limit the immigration of “dysgenic” peoples: Italians, Slavs, Eastern European Jews, and Africans; Arabs and Asians were banned outright. The quotas were set to favor those from the racially superior Northern European countries. According to the State Department Office of the Historian, “In all of its parts, the most basic purpose of the 1924 Immigration Act was to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity.” The House of Representatives History, Art, and Archives website describes the act as “a legislative expression of … xenophobia.” President Coolidge commented as he signed the act, “America must remain American.”

With the specter of a new, Gattaca-like eugenics staring us in the face, it had seemed like the worst abuses of the old eugenics — forced sterilization and the like — were history. It is painful — but plain — to see, if recent reports prove true, that the elitist, racist mentality behind the eugenics movement still holds sway at the highest levels of our government.

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