The similarity was so striking, it made Alan Kraut laugh.
“It’s like an echo from the past,” the American University history professor said after hearing the latest description of undocumented immigrants from a top White House official.
Chief of staff John Kelly told NPR this week that the majority of people who illegally cross into the US are uneducated and don’t have the skills they need to assimilate.
“This is almost a verbatim quotation of what critics of immigration said in the early 20th century,” said Kraut, “often about the Italians and the Poles.”
The professor, who’s writing a book about the long history of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States, was among a number of scholars who noted that Kelly’s assertion had a familiar ring.
Maria Cristina Garcia, a professor of American studies at Cornell University, said a few parallel quotes from the 1890s to 1930s come to mind.
“Comparable statements can be found throughout U.S. history,” Garcia wrote in an email to CNN, “but some of the most interesting come from the turn of the 20th century, when many Americans were calling for restrictive immigration quotas (or outright bars) on people they considered ‘undesirable’: paupers, political radicals, the illiterate, the physically and mental infirm, and people from certain regions of the world.”
Here’s a look at what Kelly said – and some past critiques of immigrant groups:
“The vast majority of the people that move illegally into United States are not bad people. They’re not criminals. They’re not MS-13. Some of them are not. But they’re also not people that would easily assimilate into the United States, into our modern society. They’re overwhelmingly rural people in the countries they come from – 4th, 5th, 6th grade educations are kind of the norm. They don’t speak English; obviously that’s a big thing. They don’t speak English. They don’t integrate well. They don’t have skills. They’re not bad people. They’re coming here for a reason. And I sympathize with the reason. But the laws are the laws.”
- White House chief of staff John Kelly on undocumented immigrants
“The character of immigration has changed and the newcomers are imbued with lawless, restless sentiments of anarchy and collectivism. They arrive to find their hopes too high, the land almost gone and themselves driven to drown into the cities and struggle for a living. Then anarchy becomes rife among them.”
- Rep. Albert Johnson, one of the architects of the act that placed national origins quotas on immigration
“I would build a wall of steel, a wall as high as Heaven, against the admission of a single one of those Southern Europeans who never thought the thoughts or spoke the language of a democracy in their lives.”
- Georgia Gov. Clifford Walker at a Ku Klux Klan rally
“Observe immigrants not as they come travel-wan up the gang-plank, nor as they issue toil-begrimed from pit’s mouth or mill gate, but in their gatherings, washed, combed, and in their Sunday best. You are struck by the fact that from ten to twenty per cent, are hirsute, low-browed, big-faced persons of obviously low mentality. Not that they suggest evil. They simply look out of place in black clothes and stiff collar, since clearly they belong in skins, in wattled huts at the close of the Great Ice Age. These oxlike men are descendants of those who always stayed behind.”
- Edward Alsworth Ross, “The Old World in the New”
“While the people who for 250 years have been migrating to America have continued to furnish large numbers of immigrants to the United States, other races of totally different race origin, with whom the English-speaking people have never hitherto been assimilated or brought in contact, have suddenly begun to immigrate to the United States in large numbers. Russians, Hungarians, Poles, Bohemians, Italians, Greeks, and even Asiatics, whose immigration to America was almost unknown twenty years ago, have during the last twenty years poured in in steadily increasing numbers, until now they nearly equal the immigration of those races kindred in blood or speech, or both, by whom the United States has hitherto been built up and the American people formed. This momentous fact is the one which confronts us today, and if continued, it carries with it future consequences far deeper than any other event of our times. It involves, in a word, nothing less than the possibility of a great and perilous change in the very fabric of our race.”
- Henry Cabot Lodge speaking before Congress
“Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation. … Few of their children in the Country learn English. … In short unless the stream of their importation could be turned from this to other colonies, as you very judiciously propose, they will soon so outnumber us, that all the advantages we have will not in My Opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our Government will become precarious.”
- Benjamin Franklin on German immigrants