TIP SHEET: Suspicion of Muslims has historic antecedents

United States citizens have been anxious about immigration issues periodically through American history, says a Vanderbilt University historian who can compare current concerns that some have about Muslims with past eras of hostility.

“Like it or not, President Trump’s aggressive nativism is not a deviation from American history, but flows from some of its main currents and gives them additional life,” says Paul Kramer, associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University.

Previous eras where Americans were hostile to people considered outsiders include:

  • The 1850s and 1860s, when many Protestants disliked Irish Catholic domestic workers;
  • The 1860s, when white workers were unwelcoming of Chinese immigrants working on railroad construction;
  • The 1890s through the 1920s, when believers in eugenics were alarmed at the prospect of race-mixing; and
  • The 1950s, when some Americans, including many immigrants, were suspected of being Communists.

Kramer is working on a book about intersections between immigration policy and U.S. foreign relations. He can talk about how the current situation fits into the history of U.S. immigration restriction and refugee policies.