Hating Refugees Is Pretty Much As American As Apple Pie

In the 1940s, U.S. officials worried that Nazi agents would pose as refugees to infiltrate countries.

In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, a growing number of politicians are calling on the United States to close its doors to refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. Their concerns center around the fear that terrorists could pose as refugees and enter the country, even though none of the Paris attackers have so far been identified as Syrian.

Syrian Muslims -- and Muslims in general -- are receiving particularly harsh treatment, with some GOP presidential candidates suggesting that the United States should help Syrian Christian refugees but not Syrian Muslims. And in recent days, Muslims across the United States and Canada have reported assaults, vandalism and threats.

While America, home to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, likes to think of itself as a safe haven for the world's tired, poor, huddled masses, it has also long harbored nasty anti-refugee sentiment driven by stereotypes and fears that people who look different or have unfamiliar traditions aren't quite capable of ever becoming truly American. German Jews, Catholics and Japanese-Americans have all faced this sort of skepticism over the years, as evinced by polling from the time, as well as old news clips and cartoons:

This 1881 cartoon in Puck magazine depicts Jewish immigrants.
This 1881 cartoon in Puck magazine depicts Jewish immigrants.
Library of Congress
In his 2003 book <em><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Nazis-Good-Neighbors-Campaign-against/dp/0521675359" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="Nazis and Good Neighbors" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="564c8fdbe4b06037734bc8a0" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="http://www.amazon.com/Nazis-Good-Neighbors-Campaign-against/dp/0521675359" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="6">Nazis and Good Neighbors</a></em>, Max Paul Friedman recounts how top U.S. officials worried that Nazis would pose as refugees to infiltrate the Western Hemisphere. H/T <a href="https://twitter.com/histopinion" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="@HistOpinion" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="564c8fdbe4b06037734bc8a0" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="https://twitter.com/histopinion" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="7">@HistOpinion</a>
In his 2003 book Nazis and Good Neighbors, Max Paul Friedman recounts how top U.S. officials worried that Nazis would pose as refugees to infiltrate the Western Hemisphere. H/T @HistOpinion
Nazis and Good Neighbors by Max Paul Friedman
Dr. Seuss' 1942 cartoon played on fears that Japanese-Americans may be loyal to Japan and planning to destroy America.
Dr. Seuss' 1942 cartoon played on fears that Japanese-Americans may be loyal to Japan and planning to destroy America.
University of California San Diego Library
This Associated Press article appeared in the Tuscaloosa News on March 15, 1963.
This Associated Press article appeared in the Tuscaloosa News on March 15, 1963.
Tuscaloosa News/Google News
A priest hearing the confession of a government official secretly telegraphs the state secrets thus revealed to Rome in this American cartoon from 1873 by C.S. Reinhart.
A priest hearing the confession of a government official secretly telegraphs the state secrets thus revealed to Rome in this American cartoon from 1873 by C.S. Reinhart.
Granger
On Nov. 29, 1939, The New York Times <a href="http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1939/11/29/112728906.html?zoom=16&pageNumber=1" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="wrote about" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="564c8fdbe4b06037734bc8a0" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="http://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1939/11/29/112728906.html?zoom=16&pageNumber=1" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="8">wrote about</a> first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's speech cautioning against intolerance toward refugees.
On Nov. 29, 1939, The New York Times wrote about first lady Eleanor Roosevelt's speech cautioning against intolerance toward refugees.
New York Times
In 1938, college students <a href="http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1938/12/14/poll-shows-students-dont-want-reich/" role="link" class=" js-entry-link cet-external-link" data-vars-item-name="resoundingly said" data-vars-item-type="text" data-vars-unit-name="564c8fdbe4b06037734bc8a0" data-vars-unit-type="buzz_body" data-vars-target-content-id="http://www.thecrimson.com/article/1938/12/14/poll-shows-students-dont-want-reich/" data-vars-target-content-type="url" data-vars-type="web_external_link" data-vars-subunit-name="article_body" data-vars-subunit-type="component" data-vars-position-in-subunit="9">resoundingly said</a> they did not want the United States to be "a haven ... for Jewish refugees from Central Europe."
In 1938, college students resoundingly said they did not want the United States to be "a haven ... for Jewish refugees from Central Europe."
Harvard Crimson

This post has been updated with an article about a speech by Eleanor Roosevelt.


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