Week 5: Catholics & the Politics of Immigration

This week we discussed the importance of Catholicism intertwined with immigration to the United States. Gonzalez and Dumenil’s pieces come together to make the reader look retrospectively into speeches from Senator Ellison DuRant Smith and Representative Robert Clancy in 1924 in response to discussions surrounding the upcoming vote on the Immigration Act of 1924. These speeches from Smith and Clancy are both great resources to understand the division within the United States over immigration, which typically also involved race, ethnicity, and religion, and continues to plague the country today.

To begin, Gonzalez writes about Mexican Catholic immigrants attempting to assimilate into American society with comparisons to European Catholics ability to assimilate into the same society in Milwaukee. Because of similar difficulties in dealing with anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant sentiment from hate groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, the two groups were able to come together to establish “a Catholic mission chapel attuned to the needs of the Mexican community, [which] served as a bridge between Milwaukee’s Mexican and European-origin communities in the late 1920s.” Gonzalez continues to maintain that the Mexican Catholics refused to assimilate to an extent by encouraging churches to remain as a place to enhance and continue to educate the younger generation in Mexican culture and traditions. Although, Gonzalez does mention the importance of the YMCA (Youth Men’s Christian Association) and the YWCA (Youth Women’s Christian Association) in immigrants’ ability to assimilate into American society. While Gonzalez’s article explains the struggles of Mexican and European Catholic immigrants to the United States, it’s important to note that not all politicians in the Midwest, where the KKK, racist, and religious discriminatory issues were boiling over, weren’t anti-immigrant in this era. Congressman, Robert H. Clancy, explains in his speech on April 8, 1924, a little over a month before the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, that spoke out against the act because of it’s discriminatory nature. Clancy, a congressman from Michigan, references the growing Jewish population in Detroit, with an important reflection on a post World War I country, where a little over one hundred thousand men died fighting for the United States, immigrants or not. Clancy powerfully states: “They showed themselves as patriotic as the native born in offering the supreme sacrifice,” and essentially implies that immigrants are deserving of rights, regardless of status, race, ethnicity, or religion because they fought for the country as a sacrifice. Clancy then pulls on the idea of the United States being a melting pot by sharing his family’s involvement with the American Revolution and the Civil War, which is an idea of America we presently attempt to understand. While most people who are in the country today are here because of some form of immigration, there needs to be an important distinction of what kind of immigrant each person is. Because the idea of illegal immigration is such a hot button issue, it’s important to note that no human is illegal. It’s unfair for, specifically, white people to be proud of their ancestors from Europe coming without documentation, but feel the need to prevent other’s, specifically, Mexican and Middle Eastern immigrants from doing the same thing. Additionally, this country cannot pride themselves on being a “melting pot” while allowing Trump to be president and without voting in local and state elections when they directly effect the way states deal with undocumented citizens, and putting their children in cages.

Dumenil writes about the Ku Klux Klan and focuses on their anti-Catholic, immigrant, and integration views that plague the country’s views on these issues. By sighting the end of World War I as a reason for such strong anti-Catholic sentiment from the KKK, extends to the idea of isolationism that was practiced by the US until they entered World War II in response to Pearl Harbor. This isolationist viewpoint is found most prevalently in Senator Ellison DuRant Smith’s “Shut the Door” speech given on April 9, 1924, just a little over a month before the Immigration Act of 1924 is passed, which only allowed a specific number of immigrants into the country based on ethnic background. In his speech, Smith uses the idea that America has enough immigrants and needs to close the door on the ones coming in, in order to “let us breed pure American citizens and develop our own American resources.” He references World War I as a reason to halt immigration because of the issues the United States got into when they left their isolationist standpoint. Essentially Smith sees immigrants as bringing more issues to the country after a physically and economically destructive international conflict. Smith believes that by setting a quota, there’s a better chance for the country to remain strong and, essentially, white. Additionally, Smith is one of the first politicians of the time to use science to rationalize his racism by referencing The Passing of a Great Race by Grant Madison, which explains his goal for a fully Nordic society and his reasoning against integration of races, ethnicities, and religions.  While Smith’s views are absolutely repulsive at any time in the United States, they’re also reflective of the time. Smith was a Senator from 1909 to his death in 1944, which means that was obviously supported in his beliefs. This support for anti-Catholic, immigration, and integration can be perfectly exemplified in a photo of the KKK marching on Pennsylvania Ave. in DC in 1925. The photo shows forty thousand white hooded men, women, and children marching to showcase their power and prominence in daily life in American society, especially in the law forming city of Washington DC.


KKK Marching on Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC, 1925 http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6689


To conclude, Gonzalez and Dumenil showcase two different cases of immigration to the United States and are supported in their modern writings by sources from times of which they’re writing about. In my lifetime, I believe there has been three large shifts on immigration, the first being after the September 11 terrorist attacks, where there was extreme backlash towards all people of color. As a way to mask the fear people felt about the threat to national security and they took it out on the easiest, and most innocent, aka: those who weren’t involved and were simply here for a better life. The second was in 2012 when President Barack Obama passed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) with a lot of backlash from the older generation, but more support from millennial age people, like myself. The third was in 2016 when Trump became president and promised to build a wall at the US-Mexico border, which then caused the greatest political divide the country has seen, aside from the Civil War and the Civil Rights Era. Although, it’s difficult to know whether Catholicism was a main point in these pivotal points in immigration reform that I’ve seen in my lifetime because the main divide is by political party affiliation rather than religion. Ultimately, it’s important that our generation recognize the issues that previous ones refused to acknowledge. By understanding these previous problems, future generations can be have equal opportunities regardless of race, ethnicity, class, religion, or gender identity.

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