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US Human Rights Abuse Against Refugees and Immigrants: Truth and Facts

Xinhua | Updated: 2023-03-30 11:50
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In this file photo, US Border Patrol agents on horseback try to stop Haitian migrants from entering an encampment on the banks of the Rio Grande near the Acuna Del Rio International Bridge in Del Rio, Texas on Sept 19, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

BEIJING - US Human Rights Abuse Against Refugees and Immigrants: Truth and Facts

March 2023


I. Violations of the rights of immigrants in the United States

II. The human rights violations against refugees and immigrants in the United States see no improvement

III. Multiple domestic factors behind the entrenched immigration and refugee problem in the United States

IV. The United States is the primary cause of the global refugee crisis



The United States is a nation of immigrants. Ever since colonial times, immigrants from around the world have come to the country in waves. However, the history of US treatment of immigrants is one rife with inhumane tragedies such as discrimination, exclusion, arrest, detention, expulsion, and a litany of human rights abuses. Worse still, the recent years have witnessed one humanitarian disaster after another caused by the US government on refugees and immigrants going to the country.

This report gives a truthful account of the United States' egregious record on the issue of refugees and immigrants by reviewing events in the past and present within the United States and beyond. Using facts and figures, this report lays bare the lies and double standards on the issue of refugees and immigrants of the United States, a self-proclaimed "beacon of democracy."

I. Violations of the rights of immigrants in the United States

◆ When the United States was first founded, white Americans, mainly Anglo-Saxon Protestants, were very suspicious of immigrants and tried to restrict and assimilate them. A US president once said outright that there is no need to encourage emigration "except of useful mechanic's-and some particular descriptions of men-or professions." Fearful of domestic chaos inspired by the French Revolution, in 1798, the US government formulated the laws such as the Naturalization Act, the Alien Act, the Alien Enemies Act and the Sedition Act. These acts made it more difficult for immigrants to become US citizens and gave the president the power to imprison and deport dangerous immigrants or those from enemy countries. It is worth noting that the Alien Enemies Act is still in effect today.

◆ Black people are among the earliest immigrants to the United States. Their immigration was not voluntary, but forced. After they arrived in the United States, they suffered inhuman abuses and had no human rights to speak of. In 1619, the first 20 Africans were sold as slaves to the colony of Virginia. Soon after that, the colonies passed laws to legitimate black slaves as "permanent property" whose children also automatically became slaves. The idea and the system of racism against blacks have thus taken root in America. In order to justify the enslavement of blacks, white people established an oppressive racial hierarchy based on skin color. The United States Declaration of Independence declared that "all men are created equal." Nonetheless, the earliest US Constitution did not recognize the civil rights of blacks. The three-fifths clause was introduced, under which the actual number of black slaves would be multiplied by three-fifths in the allocation of House seats. The harms of historical enslavement still haunt black descendants today. Their rights to life, development and political participation are not effectively secured.

◆ Irish immigrants were severely discriminated against and alienated in the early years of the United States. Between the 1830s and the 1860s, Catholic Irish immigrated to the United States in large numbers. A strong movement against Irish immigrants emerged. Irish immigrants were stigmatized and labeled as being lazy, inferior, violent and dangerous. A large number of early American nativist and exclusionist organizations and political parties were formed at this time. The American Party, or the Know-Nothing Party, made anti-Irish immigration its main agenda. In the 1850s, the party produced seven governors, eight senators and 104 House representatives. New York and Massachusetts enacted laws to deport and repatriate Irish immigrants. Xenophobes even resorted to violence, attacking Irish immigrants and burning down their churches. In 1844, riots against Irish immigrants broke out in Philadelphia, causing at least 20 deaths. Irish immigrants were treated as blacks and were not accepted by white Americans until the 20th century. They were long-time victims of racial discrimination in the United States.

◆ The anti-Chinese movement is among the most infamous in discriminating and ostracizing immigrants in the US history. Since the mid-19th century, Chinese laborers were trafficked in large numbers by Americans to the United States as coolies. By 1880, the total number had exceeded 100,000. The Chinese laborers undertook the most arduous work in the construction of the Central Pacific Transcontinental Railroad. Thousands of people died. They made enormous contributions to the development of the United States with their hard work and even their lives, but were not treated with respect and kindness which they deserved because of rampant racism in the United States. As the railroad projects came to completion, the United States began to turn its back on those who helped it. In 1875, the US Congress passed the Page Act, obstructing the entry of Chinese laborers and women. In 1882, the United States went further and enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, putting an absolute end to immigration from China and denying resident Chinese immigrants US citizenship. It was the first and only law in the United States to ban all members of a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the country on the grounds of race and nationality. It was not until 1943 that it was formally repealed. To prevent Chinese immigration, US Citizenship and Immigration Services established an immigration detention facility on San Francisco's Angel Island in 1910, which remained open until 1940. Meanwhile, Chinese immigrants suffered from severe violent attacks. On Oct. 24, 1871, 19 Chinese immigrants were killed by hundreds of white people around Calle de los Negros in Los Angeles. In 1877, the houses of Chinese residents in Calle de los Negros were burned down by white people. In 1876 and 1877, two riots erupted in which armed white racists attacked Chinatown in San Francisco. Then on Sept.2, 1885, white miners rioted on the Stone Springs mine in Wyoming, destroying the residential village of Chinese workers and killing at least 28 Chinese immigrants.

◆ Japanese immigrants were discriminated against and ostracized in the United States. Although Japan had undergone Meiji Restoration and championed "leaving Asia and entering Europe" at the turn of the 20th century, Japanese immigrants still faced discrimination and exclusion in the United States because of their different skin color and distinctive culture. The US West Coast saw a particularly strong anti-Japanese sentiment. San Francisco adopted a policy to ban Japanese schoolchildren from public schools. In 1907, the United States and Japan reached the so-called Gentlemen's Agreement, meaning the United States would limit the entry of Japanese immigrants, and Japan would voluntarily ban immigration to the United States. In 1913, the California state government enacted the Alien Land Law, barring Asian immigrants, including Japanese, from owning land. In 1917, the US Congress enacted the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, which barred most Asians from immigrating to the United States. After the adoption of the Immigration Act of 1924, the Japanese were completely banned from immigrating to the United States. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were forcibly moved by the US government from the West Coast to internment camps further inland. They had to take "loyalty questionnaires" to completely remove their suspicion of being an enemy alien. It was not until 1988 that the US government formally apologized.

◆ White immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe were strongly ostracized in the United States. Immigrants from countries like Italy, Poland, Greece and Russia made up the majority of US immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. In 1911, the US Congress released the Dillingham Commission report, claiming that Eastern and Southern European immigrants had made limited contributions to the United States and degraded the unique American race, culture and system. To curb their immigration, the report recommended having immigrants take literacy tests and introduced a nationality-based quota scheme. Racists sought to use the theory of evolution for their argument that immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe belonged to an inferior non-white race, and would contaminate the race of Anglo-Saxon whites in the United States. Xenophobes launched the Americanization Movement to deprive Eastern and Southern European immigrants of their language and culture, forcing them to be fully Americanized. Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, required migrant workers in his company to attend the so-called English Melting Pot School. White supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan recruited millions of members to terrorize and attack Eastern and Southern European immigrants across the country. The 1917 October Revolution in Russia triggered the first Red Scare in the United States. The US government was convinced that communists were among Eastern and Southern European immigrants, and used this excuse to arrest and deport them in large numbers.

◆ The fear of foreign immigrants eventually led to the adoption of a race-based quota system. Following the Chinese Exclusion Act, the US government enacted a series of laws to restrict immigration, which culminated in the Immigration Act that the US Congress passed in 1924. This Act stipulated that the annual number of immigrants from each country to the United States shall not exceed 2 percent of the number of foreign-born population of that nationality as recorded in the 1890 census. Since Americans was mainly made up of immigrants from Western and Northern Europe before 1890, the Act effectively banned Asian immigration and restricted immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. Quotas for immigration from different countries were actually allocated based on skin color, race and religious beliefs. The primary goal was to ensure that the majority of Americans were Anglo-Saxon Protestants. It was not until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed that the restrictions based on ethnic origins were formally abolished, and that immigrants from different countries were granted a relatively equal right of entry.

◆ Hispanic immigrants, especially Mexican immigrants, have been among the most rejected by the United States since the 1920s. Most of the immigrants arrested by the US Border Patrol since its establishment in 1924 have been Mexicans. In 1929, the United States made illegal entry a felony in an attempt to stop Mexican immigration. During the Great Depression, tens of thousands of Mexicans were deported from the United States. After the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Mexico became the largest source of immigration to the country, with arrests and deportations of Mexican immigrants often accounting for 90 percent of the total. In the late 1970s, the number of Mexican immigrants arrested each year was close to 800,000, and then rose to 1.5 million by the late 1990s. The influx of Mexican immigrants once again stoked strong xenophobia within the United States. American political scientist Samuel Huntington points out in his book Who Are We that Mexican and Hispanic immigration "could eventually change America into a country of two languages, two cultures, and two peoples." Hispanic immigrants are often a target of white supremacists in the United States. In 2019, angry at the ongoing "Hispanic invasion" in Texas, a white supremacist man drove more than a thousand kilometers to El Paso in West Texas and shot 23 people dead at a Walmart store. It was the largest domestic terrorist attack against Latinos in modern American history.

◆ After the 9/11 incident, Muslim immigrants became a key target of US surveillance and exclusion. Shortly after 9/11, more than 1,200 people, mostly Arabs and Muslims, were arrested and detained by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Many were held for months without charges and denied access to lawyers and family. Most ended up deported for minor immigration violations. More than 80,000 adult males from 25 Muslim countries were required by the US government to be fingerprinted and photographed, among whom 13,000 migrants went into deportation proceedings and 2,870 were detained. The USA Patriot Act, enacted after 9/11, greatly expanded government powers, allowing the US government to arbitrarily surveil and deport foreign nationals suspected of being involved in terrorism, and Muslims have become the main target group. The 9/11 incident had a strong impact on American society and allowed Islamophobia to penetrate deep into American politics. In 2017, the US government enacted a Muslim ban, requiring that citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen be barred from entering the US for at least 90 days.

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