Banner Lecture focuses on ‘The Good Immigrants’

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Professor discusses new book, legislative history

This year’s John Francis Bannon, S.J. Annual Lecture was given on Friday, Feb. 12, to approximately 70 people, in DuBourg Hall’s Pere Marquette gallery. Madeline Y. Hsu of the University of Texas at Austin presented some of the research for her recent book, “The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril became the Model Minority.” The subtitle for her talk was “Restriction and Selection in Citizenship and Immigration Law,” and she dealt with the competing interests often at play in the case of immigration, as well as the link between immigration eligibility and citizenship eligibility.

Prior to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a project completed by immigrant labor, Hsu pointed out that Hong Kong was effectively closer to San Francisco than San Francisco was to Boston. There was no match between the 3- to 4-month voyage by sea between Hong Kong and San Francisco and the three months required for the land journey from Boston to San Francisco. With Chinese immigrants responsible for the development of both railroad and agriculture in the U.S., Hsu noted how their presence was both productive and problematic for Americans seeking to maintain the racial makeup of the country. Extensive land borders, then, as today, proved difficult to shutdown, with the current immigration station in El Paso, Texas, originally built to halt Chinese immigration, not Mexican.

While the very name of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Law made clear its intentions, Hsu felt that it was not until the Emergency Quota Law of 1921 that the quantification of American prejudices became so apparent. This law sought to cap the number of foreign immigration at 3 percent of the 1910 consensus for that particular group. Hsu noted how some claim that this law, in conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1924, was the motive for the attack on Pearl Harbor, years later.

Hsu mentioned how the complications of war made for exceptions to such laws, with foreign students suddenly stranded in the United States, due to communist victories in their home countries. The ensuing weapons and space race with the Soviets only encouraged Americans to allow international students to remain in the U.S. This exception also served the important purpose, according to Hsu, of proving to the world that democracy could be compatible with, and support people from, a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Hsu shared how this would form the basis of what later was coined the “brain drain,” aided by laws like the 1952 McCarren Walter Act, which made exception to current immigration restrictions for skilled workers.

Immigration preference became even more apparent in 1965, with the Hart Cellar Act, which capped immigration from any particular country at 20,000 per year – of which 75 percent were to be family of current U.S. residents, 20 percent specifically for employment, often in STEM fields, and just 5 percent as refugees. Helping prove that the process of immigrant selection continues today, Hsu revealed that although only 10 percent of the population of India has at least some college education, 81 percent of immigrants from India to the U.S. have a college degree.

Given such a complicated history, Hsu finds it ironic that immigration from Asia has recently surpassed immigration from Latin America, and with little notice. In the final slide of her presentation, Hsu presented an image showing global, international migration that helps demonstrate two principles of migration flows. The first was the flow of migrants from poorer to wealthier countries. The second was the importance of proximity, noting especially the amount of immigrants that pass from Mexico to the U.S. With such exclusionary immigration laws, and a Border Patrol consisting of about 20,000 agents, Hsu wondered if even Jesus Christ Himself would be able to enter the U.S., today.