Background on Discrimination Against Immigrants

Despite being a “melting pot” and a land of opportunity, immigrants are not always well-treated when they come to the U.S. Throughout history, the most recent immigrants to this country have almost always confronted some sort of discrimination – often they have had to take the hardest, worst paid jobs, and have difficulty assimilating entirely into society.

In the U.S., during the 1800s and early 20th Century, both Jews and Italian immigrants were subject to extreme prejudice, racism, and, in many cases, violence. During this time, both groups were seen as non-Anglo and non-white. In fact, Italian Americans were the second most likely ethnic group to be lynched.

Ethnic minorities can fall victim to anti-immigrant bias that includes a recurrent preoccupation with “nativism” (i.e., policies favoring people born in the United States), resentment when so-called “immigrants” succeed (often related to a fear of losing jobs to newcomers), and disdain or anger when they act against the established norm (e.g. when they don’t know or refuse to learn the language). In the second cause, negative stereotypes of certain ethnic groups or people of a certain nationality can fuel antagonism.

People from Latin America are increasingly becoming targets of bias-motivated crimes. Attacks on Latinos have a particularly long history in California and throughout the Southwest where, during recurring periods of strong anti-immigrant sentiment, both new immigrants and long-time U.S. citizens of Mexican descent were blamed for social and economic problems and harassed and deported en masse.

Bias against Asian Pacific Americans is also long-standing. The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 barred Chinese laborers from entering this country. Along with the dread that these workers would take away jobs was the feeling that members of this group would not assimilate into American society. The act was not repealed until 1943.

Since September 11th

Recently, people of Arab descent are experiencing an upsurge in hate crime, largely as a result of Middle East crises and September 11th. Often they are blamed for incidents to which they have no connection. The hate crimes following September 11th, which included murder and beatings, were directed at Arabs solely because they shared or were perceived as sharing the national background of the hijackers responsible for attacking the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


EH Net Encyclopedia

FAIR – Federation for American Immigration Reform