August 1, 2013

Dana Milbank [“A fruitless attempt,” Washington Sketch, July 25] quoted Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) as calling Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) an “outlier” for his extreme language on immigration, including likening contemporary immigrants to the less fit among a litter of puppies. Mr. King’s rhetoric may make him an outlier today, but it places him squarely in the mainstream of restrictionist tradition.

During the congressional debates that led to the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, which cut immigration and restricted it mostly to northern Europeans, politicians routinely asserted that Anglo-Saxons were being displaced by “inferior breeds.” Some rejected the “melting pot” metaphor, claiming that the United States had become more like a “kennel,” with House Majority Whip Harold Knutson (R-Minn.) complaining that the new immigrants were “mongrelizing” society.

Rep. Fred S. Purnell (R-Ind.) went so far as to ridicule the very idea of Americanization, which sought to instruct the newcomers in civics and history. In language that anticipates Mr. King’s bird-dog analogy, Purnell claimed, “We cannot make a purebred from a mongrel by teaching him tricks.”

Of course, Purnell was wrong. The immigrants of his era helped engender the United States’ “Greatest Generation.” One suspects that today’s immigrants will prove Mr. King wrong, too.   

Martin Ford, Laurel

The writer is the associate director of the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees. The views here are his own.