Today’s essay on #immigration comes from Deirdre M. Moloney, historian and author of National Insecurities: Immigrants and U.S. Deportation Policy Since 1882 (University of North Carolina Press, 2012).
The Muslim Ban of 1910
Anti-Muslim sentiment and policies in the United States have intensified since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, culminating in President Donald Trump’s two successive 2017 Executive Orders, each subjected to injunctions by federal judges.
This presidential election, like others since 9/11, was characterized by anti-Muslim rhetoric, much of it virulent. Trump first stoked the “birther” controversy over President Obama’s birthplace and religious identity in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, and those embers continued to burn in this race. Then, in November 2015, when two people sympathetic to radical Islamic groups murdered 14 people in San Bernardino, California, Trump advocated that all Muslims be barred from entering the United States. In 2016, on the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly insulted the religious beliefs and cultural practices of Muslims, most egregiously in his response to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim parents of an American soldier, Humayun Khan, who died in combat in Iraq. Trump’s extreme statements, along with his invectives against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, have justifiably provoked outrage.
Many argue that President Trump’s two recent Executive Orders barring immigrants and others from several predominantly Muslim countries are unprecedented. However, the history of federal immigration regulation in the United States illustrates that non-U.S. citizens were often denied constitutional protections. In fact, anti-Muslim immigration policies were first implemented in the early twentieth century.
The Religious History of Immigration Policy
A significant American controversy over Muslim polygamy in 1910 highlights the historical and current limits of religious toleration of immigrants and others outside the mainstream Judeo-Christian tradition.
Historians have written extensively about how race and ethnicity affected U.S. immigration policy, as well as on anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism. Yet relatively few scholars have focused on how immigrants outside the mainstream Judeo-Christian tradition were formally regulated by the U.S. federal government based on their religious beliefs or affiliations. A significant American controversy over Muslim polygamy in 1910 highlights the historical and current limits of religious toleration of immigrants and others outside the mainstream Judeo-Christian tradition, including Muslims. That prejudice led to efforts to exclude, expel, or deport Muslims from the United States, both in the early twentieth century and today.
But this anti-Muslim strain in American politics is not new. Certain immigrants, including Mormons, Hindus, and Muslims faced barriers in their effort to settle in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries because they were perceived as adhering to belief systems that were un-American. Though those religiously based cases were small relative to those immigrants facing exclusion or deportation based on their poverty or on medical grounds, they suggest that religious bias has long been a significant factor in early federal immigration policies. Adherents of those traditions and beliefs came into contact with immigration and other officials, who sometimes did not understand non-Christian traditions, their institutions, beliefs, and practices.
Islam, Polygamy, and the Case of Turkey
As early as 1910, Muslim immigrants arriving in the United States faced exclusion at the country’s ports as a result of their religious beliefs. Islam was considered incompatible with American values, based in significant part on immigration officials’ perceptions of Muslims as polygamists. That year, 43 Muslims from the Ottoman Empire, soon to become the Turkish Republic, were barred from the United States over a six-month period, based on their belief in a religion that allowed polygamy or on grounds that they were unable to be economically self-sufficient and would be “Likely to Become a Public Charge.” In its enforcement of that policy, the immigration bureau had determined that simply adhering to the tenets of Islam, rather than the actual practice of polygamy, served as sufficient grounds for deportation from the United States. Continue Reading Deirdre M. Moloney: The Muslim Ban of 1910