Betraying their heritage: Trump’s immigration functionaries fail to understand the lessons of the Italian-Amer

Not the only group to have forgotten their roots:

The men behind the draconian immigration policies of the Trump administration skillfully mimic the president’s invective and ahistorical logic. Matthew Albence, the acting director of ICE, once compared the crowded and filthy family detention centers to “summer camp.” Ken Cuccinelli, second in command at the Department of Homeland Security, sarcastically reworded Emma Lazarus’s famous poem in an attempt to justify Trump’s harsh new public-charge rule: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet.”

Along with the engineer of Trump’s foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, these men share something else: They are the grandsons and great-grandsons of Italian immigrants who arrived here around the turn of the century. Indeed, hearing the surnames of these architects of indifference is like listening to a night at the opera: Pompeo, Cuccinelli, and Albence (who replaced the not-tough-enough Ron Vitiello).

What an extraordinary irony. The men implementing one of the cruelest immigration policies of the last 100 years are just two generations removed from men who were similarly victimized by the Anglo-Saxon elite.

A 1903 political cartoon from Judge, a Republican magazine, sums up yesterday’s nativism in a way that looks remarkably familiar. The cartoon, titled “The Unrestricted Dumping Ground,” pictures poor Uncle Sam standing on a dock, his arms wrapped around an American flag, while the “rats” of Europe swim to the shore. They have giant rat bodies with faces of swarthy, dark-haired men who could be confused today for Mexican and Central Americans.

The rats wear headbands marked “Mafia,” “Anarchist,” “Socialist” — all labels associated with the millions of Italian migrants. A ghostly image of the late President William McKinley, assassinated by the son of an immigrant, haunts Uncle Sam. The message is clear: Immigrants from the slums of Europe are dangerous and must be stopped from entering our borders.
The Unrestricted Dumping Ground

The cartoon played into another nativist prejudice, that the blood of Italian Americans was “polluting” the finer American stock. People wanted the immigrants out, and the Anglo-Saxon elite worked hard to deliver that goal. A group of Harvard sociologists pressed for a literacy test closing the doors to any immigrant who couldn’t read or write.

Southern Italians — who made up about 85% of the Italian-American immigrant population — were by many formal standards severely ill-prepared for life in the United States. Coming from an impoverished land, they were mostly illiterate, and Italy’s illiteracy rate was higher than elsewhere in Europe. Yet America’s public schools educated these children — and some of their progeny even grew up to be secretary of state.

Today’s anti-immigrant rhetoric asserts that the early immigrants came here “legally.” But with the exception of the Chinese Exclusion Act, there were no immigration laws then. The cross-Atlantic journey was harrowing, but if you arrived on America’s shores and weren’t sick, you were let in. Not exactly warmly embraced, but given the chance to establish a life in the United States.

The Anglo-Saxon elite, however, were determined to put an end to this dangerous influx of people, who were crowding America’s schools and streets, and unable to stand on their own two feet. In 1924, when the immigrant population was nearly 15% of the American population, Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act. The law imposed large-scale quotas that effectively ended Italian immigration. An expert Congressional witness, and the man largely responsible for getting the legislation passed, was Harry Laughlin, an avowed proponent of eugenic sterilization.

Today, the immigrant population hovers around this same percentage. Enter the grandson of Bernardino Albence Sr., Matthew, who ordered immigration officers to act every time they encounter an immigrant in the country illegally.

Enter the great-grandson of the illiterate Domenick Luigi Cuccinelli, Ken, who expects his plan to fast-track the deportation of asylum-seekers — denying victims of horrendous violence essential access to counsel — to reach full gear this month.

Is this the tragic ending to the American immigrant success story — the grandchildren of determined peasants turning their backs on another generation of masses yearning to breathe free?

Source: Betraying their heritage: Trump’s immigration functionaries fail to understand the lessons of the Italian-Amer