Chapter 3

Treatment of Non-Citizens after September 11 in Historical Context

By J. C. Salyer

The official US response to the 9/11 attacks followed a disturbing historical pattern, in which the freedoms of non-citizens, a minority group with no vote, have been sacrificed at moments of national emergency, in the interest of preserving citizens’ security. In this chapter, cultural anthropologist and lawyer J. C. Salyer examines two historical precedents for the post-9/11 reaction, the Red Scare and Palmer Raids of the 1910s and ‘20s and the Japanese internment during the Second World War. He points out that these anti-immigrant backlashes did not materialize suddenly but were prefigured by years of news reportage and political oratory raising fears that these immigrant groups posed a threat to essential American values. In this matter, the past, to paraphrase William Faulkner, is not even past: no U.S. court of law has ever rejected the Federal government’s authority to detain non-citizens so arbitrarily in spite of repeated denunciations of abuse of that authority.

Study Questions

  1. How was America’s “love/hate” attitude toward immigrant newcomers expressed by labor unionists, businessmen and politicians in the years preceding the Red Scare?
  2. What part was played by leading scientists in the creation of ideas justifying the restriction of immigration during the first two decades of the twentieth century?

Critical Thinking

  1. On p.65, Salyer states, “Notwithstanding the significant reform to US immigration policy in 1965, we are still dealing with the legacy of the immigration controls imposed in the 1920s.” Agree/disagree with that assessment, and briefly explain why.