GOP frontrunner Donald Trump’s call for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” has certainly caught the attention of his political opponents. Trump’s call has been met by a chorus of outrage and hand wringing on both sides of the political aisle. The White House has gone as far as to say it “disqualifies him from serving as president.”
But is the idea as novel as many would like you to believe?
The truth is that there have been a number of instances in which the United States has curtailed or suspended the immigration of people from certain regions or nations, both during times of war and times of peace. In several circumstances, these laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court, confirming the power of the Federal Government to regulate immigration based on the national interest.
Alien and Sedition Acts
The Alien and Sedition Acts were signed into law by President John Adams in 1798 on the heels of the Quasi-War with France. The acts allowed the president to imprison or deport aliens considered “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States” at any time and any male citizen of a hostile nation during times of war. The Alien and Sedition Acts would later be used to justify FDR’s actions during WWII.
Chinese Exclusion Laws
Passed into law in 1882 by President Chester A. Arthur, this law prohibited the immigration of Chinese laborers.
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a vital test for the power of the Federal Government to restrict immigration. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1889 case of Chae Chan Ping v. United States. In the opinion of the court, Justice Stephen Johnson Field wrote, “The power of the government to exclude foreigners from the country whenever, in its judgment, the public interests require such exclusion, has been asserted in repeated instances, and never denied by the executive or legislative departments.”
The act was repealed by congress in 1943.
Immigration Act Of 1917
Also known as the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, the Immigration Act of 1917 was passed by congress, who overrode a veto by President Woodrow Wilson, in 1917. In addition to barring, “homosexuals”, “idiots”, “feeble-minded persons”, “criminals”, “epileptics”, “insane persons”, alcoholics, “professional beggars”, all persons “mentally or physically defective”, polygamists, and anarchists, this act barred immigration from Southeast Asia, India, and the Middle East.
Presidential Proclamations 2525, 2526, and 2527
These three proclamations were signed by president Franklin D. Roosevelt shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Citing the Alien and Sedition Acts as precedence, these proclamations restricted the entry and naturalization of Japanese, Germans, and Italians respectively.