Bachmann claims immigration worked ‘very well’ before 1960s reforms, when nonwhites were excluded

Created: September 13, 2011 16:37 | Last updated: July 31, 2020 00:00

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/MahurinImmigration_Thumb.jpgAt the Florida tea party debate on Monday, GOP presidential candidate and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann criticized policies allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition for public universities by hearkening back to a previous era. From CNN’s debate transcript:

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: … I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way. Because the immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws.

What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket legally with sponsors so that if anything happens to them, they don’t fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them. And then they also have to agree to learn the speak the English language, learn American history and our constitution. That’s the American way.

In her criticism of liberal immigration reform, Bachmann was presumably referring to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, or Hart-Celler Act, which ended the de facto national origins quotas that had governed U.S. immigration policy since 1924. As ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser writes:

In 1924, Congress passed a package of immigration laws — including the National Origins Act and the Asian Exclusion Act — establishing a quota system giving preferential treatment to European immigrants. Under these laws, the number of immigrants who could be admitted from a given country was capped at a percentage of the number of people from that nation who were living in the United States in 1890. Because Americans were overwhelming of European descent in 1890, the practical effect of these laws was an enormous thumb on the scale encouraging white immigration.

Although explicit racial restrictions were abolished in 1952, national origins-based restrictions remained, using the 1920 Census as the foundation for the quotas, meaning that only a token quantity of non-European immigrants were allowed into the United States. Bachmann’s own Norwegian ancestors arrived in the Midwestern United States in the mid-1850s, well before any serious restrictions had been placed on U.S. immigration.

Passed by the same Democratic Congress that produced Medicare, Medicaid and the Voting Rights Act, Hart-Celler substantially increased the total number and proportion of Asian, Arab and African immigrants permitted within the United States. For example, in 1960 there were 99,735 Chinese-born people living in the United States, according to the Census. By 1970, that number had grown to 172,132 and in 1980 it was 286,120.  Meanwhile, the number of U.S. residents born in Norway shrank from 152,698 in 1960 to 97,243 in 1970 and 63,316 in 1980, with all other Northern and Western European nationalities experiencing similar drops in representation in the U.S. foreign-born population.

Bachmann appears to be touting her stance on immigration to demonstrate her superior conservative credentials over Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas), whose endorsement of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants prompted Bachmann’s condemnation of liberal ’60s reforms. Whether Bachmann will continue to praise the pre-1965 immigration system of national origins restrictions, even as her supporters take care to highlight her position on immigration, remains to be seen.