“But immigration policy is not just about economics; it’s also about rights, said James Hollifield, a professor and director of the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University. The U.S. has imported workers for years, often without giving them legal status, and that’s coming home to roost.
“We’ve fudged that because it’s a fairly difficult political and legal question,” he told the audience on Friday, adding that people were not a commodity like shirts.
America has a history of embracing nativism after major waves of immigration. Hollifield cited a 1930 note from then-President Herbert Hoover: “The Italians are predominantly murderers and bootleggers [and you and your Italian supporters] should go back to where you belong.”
“It’s back to the future,” Hollifield said about the sentiment coming out of Washington today. “Back to America first, back to protectionism, back to nativism — that’s where we were in the 1920s.”