Senator Pat McCarran is largely forgotten these days, but I ran across a quote that strongly reminds me of something a recent President-elect has said. In 1951 this Senator claimed that there were five million illegal aliens in the United States and that they largely consisted of “militant communists, Sicilian bandits and other criminals.”
I’m exploring the history of this period, and to my surprise the political history of the 1950s has some resonance to 2016. The resonance includes current claims that under the 1952 Act, the President could unilaterally bar Muslims from entering the country.
The citation is from a book I just finished, Ronald Bayor, Encountering Ellis Island. How European Immigrants Entered America (Johns Hopkins 2014, citation page 136). Ellis Island was for decades a main entry point for immigrants, but by the 1950s had become a place of detention of would-be immigrants detained and of naturalized citizens about to be deported—which lasted into the 1950s.
McCarran was a powerful Republican Senator from Nevada. He disliked many immigrants, apparently including Italians (note the quaint reference to Sicilians in the citation). He was cosponsor of the notorious Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, often known as the McCarran-Walter Act. Truman vetoed it and the veto was overridden. The Act allowed the deportation of immigrants or naturalized citizens engaged in subversive activities and barred immigrants suspected of subversive activities. It could be used to prevent people from entering the country on visits, not just immigrants. The Act has been revised, most notably in 1992. Portions of the legislation remain in force.
According to an entry in Wikipedia, among the people barred from entering the US were Doris Lessing, Julio Cortazar, Michel Foucault, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, Farley Mowat and Pierre Trudeau before he became Canada’s Prime Minister.
I see some interesting parallels here. The deportation of naturalized citizens for “subversive” activities, and holding people in detention centers pending deportation, for what were political offenses.
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