Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post wrote Thursday that President Donald Trump’s enforcement of immigration laws is racist because the law that made entering the U.S. without documents a crime was itself a compromise devised by a racist.

“Who’s behind the law making undocumented immigrants criminals? This ‘unrepentant white supremacist,’” reads the headline on Isaac Stanley-Becker’s piece.

“The provision of federal law criminalizing unlawful entry into the United States – which some Democratic presidential candidates now want to undo – was crafted by an avowed white supremacist who opposed the education of black Americans and favored lynching, which he justified by saying ‘to hell with the Constitution,’” Stanley-Becker wrote.

The law, Section 1325 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code, which makes it a misdemeanor to enter the country without authorization, was mentioned in the first of the two Democrat presidential candidate debates on Wednesday night when Julian Castro, a secretary of housing and urban development during the Obama administration, challenged his fellow candidates to urge its repeal.

“The measure’s little-known history did not arise on Wednesday night in Miami, where the first cohort of Democrats vying to compete against President Trump took the stage. No one mentioned Sen. Coleman Livingston Blease. But the legacy of the criminal lawyer and neo-Confederate politician from South Carolina hangs over the 2020 election.”

According to Stanley-Becker, “the statute, adopted in 1929, is the basis for Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy, which his administration used to justify separating families at the border.” All the Democrats oppose Trump’s policy, which amounts to following the law as written, but calls for actually repealing the law as opposed to simply ignoring it “became one of the starkest dividing lines in a crowded field,” Stanley-Becker wrote.

We’re then told this is part of Castro’s “People First Immigration” plan, that some rivals for the nomination, including Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, have backed the idea, and others, such as Beto O’Rourke, have not.

But that Section 1325 got mentioned at all “indicates its significance in American political history,” according to Kelly Lytle Hernandez, a professor at UCLA who has written a book “that exposes the explicit racial motivations for the statute,” Stanley-Becker wrote.

Hernandez gave President Trump credit for Section 1325 being brought up. “’One of the things that this president has gifted us is the opportunity to finally talk about what immigration control and immigration law is in the United States,’” Hernandez is quoted as saying. “’There is no immigration reform without grappling with the hold that Jim Crow has on our immigration regime.’”

The U.S. was just beginning to grapple with immigration law during the 1880s, when laws were passed to exclude Chinese in particular and other workers in a broader sense to keep them from challenging for jobs Americans sought.

Stanley-Becker uses contemporary terms – white supremacist instead of racist; populist rather than centrist – to tie the attitudes and policies to Trump. Blease “entered politics as a protégé of Benjamin Tillman, the white supremacist governor and senator from South Carolina who would go on to denounce his former discipline for his extreme populism,” Stanley-Becker writes in one passage. “’He’s a past master in the arts of a demagogue,’” he quotes Talmage as saying at one point.

Then, “Casting himself as an ally of poor whites, including textile workers in upper South Carolina, Blease became a state legislator in 1890 and the governor in 1911. He was a southern Democrat, in favor of segregation, before party realignment in the second half of the 20th century.”

We haven’t always chosen to enforce this law, Stanley-Becker wrote. In the decades that followed, “law enforcement often pursued other priorities, deciding that prosecuting a stream of misdemeanor cases was not worth the time or resources,” he wrote.

Supporters of enforcing border laws “argue that it is necessary to deter unlawful entry,” he wrote, quoting another professor from California. “But the evidence is not conclusive on that point … while the costs have been significant.”  

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