U.S. and World Politics

Eugenics and the Origins of U.S. Racist Immigration Policy

By Bonnie Weinstein

In a July 5, 2018 article by Brendan O’Connor titled “The Eugenicist Doctor and the Vast Fortune Behind Trumps Immigration Regime1” that appeared in, he describes the deeply racist origins of U.S. immigration policy and it’s current form, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE). This article summarizes the important ideas in O’Connor’s very informative essay.

According to Wikipedia:

“Eugenics…is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of a human population. …Frederick Osborn’s 1937 journal article ‘Development of a Eugenic Philosophy’ framed it as a social philosophy—that is, a philosophy with implications for social order. …Osborn advocated for higher rates of sexual reproduction among people with desired traits (positive eugenics), or reduced rates of sexual reproduction and sterilization of people with less-desired or undesired traits (negative eugenics.)”

This is the basic underlying philosophy of racism—that white people are genetically superior to people of color. It is the foundation of U.S. racist immigration policy and the fundamental driver of Manifest Destiny—the God-given right of white people to conquer and rule people of color—the historical foundation of the U.S. itself.

It has been used to justify everything from the near extinction of the native inhabitants of the Americas to the enslavement of Africans, the internment of Japanese Americans and today, to justify police murders and mass incarceration of people of color and the separation and deportation of immigrant families of color seeking a better life.

The corporate money behind
U.S. racism

In his article, O’Connor referrs to Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE who recently gave a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies defending U.S. immigration policy:

“‘A lot of people want to attack ICE. I see it every day. They want to call ICE racists, they want to call us Nazis,’ he said. However: ‘We’re simply enforcing the laws on the books. …‘If you think ICE is racist—is Congress racist because they enacted these laws? Think about that for a minute. The men and women of ICE deserve thanks from this country.’”

O’Conner goes on:

“While the Center for Immigration Studies bills itself as an independent, non-partisan research organization, it is in fact a key node in a small network of think tanks and nonprofits, founded and directed by a man whose private correspondence contains praise for anti-Semites, fascists, and race scientists of various ideological backgrounds…financed largely by one of the oldest and wealthiest families in America. That man is John Tanton, an aging ophthalmologist from Michigan; his benefactor was Cordelia Scaife May, heir to the Scaife family fortune, a branch of the Mellon family. …The institutions they created together show more clearly than most how capitalism and white supremacy are mutually constitutive; how the ruling class uses racial resentment to reinforce its rule; and how the spoils of imperialism are redeployed toward maintaining the internal colonies, racial hierarchies, and economic order of our age.”

The Mellon family fortune, O’Connor points out, was built on oil, steel and war:

“Andrew Mellon, a banker, served as Treasury secretary to Presidents Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, dedicating himself to rolling back (or working around) the gains of the early 20th century Progressive movement… Andrew Mellon’s private fortune and that of his family leaped from the hundreds-of-millions to over a billion…”

These are the financial roots of the current immigration policy. But there’s more says O’Connor:

“In practice…enforcement criminalizes more and more people living in the United States simply for being here, increasing the number of people categorized as undocumented without necessarily providing a mechanism to remove those people from the country. Therein lies an opportunity not only for cruelty and sadism but also profit. …Since the 2016 election, according to a report from the Center for Popular Democracy, Wall Street behemoths JPMorgan Chase and Co., Wells Fargo, and BlackRock have all increased their shares in the nation’s two largest prison companies, CoreCivic and GEO Group, financing the growth of a $5 billion industry with gargantuan loans: the two companies are now carrying a total of $1.94 billion and $1.18 billion in debt, respectively. CoreCivic’s most recent annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission lays out the logic of carceral capitalism in brutal terms. As the February filing explains, the company’s growth is contingent upon obtaining new contracts from the government for prisons and detention centers, which in turn depends on the culture and politics of incarceration. ‘The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts,’ the report reads, ‘or through the decriminalization of [immigration].’ Last year, CoreCivic and GEO Group made $3.2 billion from government contracts; according to SEC filings, $985 million came from ICE contracts alone.”

The bottom line

O’Conner continues:

“There is deep and horrible irony in Mellon family money, which powered American imperialism in Central and South America and which grew as a result of that imperial expansion, now being spent to denigrate and punish the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men and women whose countries the Mellons helped to colonize, who now come to the United States seeking respite from their nations’ ruin. For people like Tanton and Scaife May…the point is not to purge the United States of immigrants wholly but to ensure the continued immiseration and suffering of the poor and the dispossessed—the most destitute of whom, it is no accident, are mostly people of color. …Capitalism in crisis invites the reaction that racism readily provides: criminalization of the structurally oppressed, subject to heavily militarized control and containment and scapegoating by the culture industries. …The border itself is the most powerful of these mechanisms—or, more specifically, it is from the idea of the border that other mechanisms of social control derive their power. (Race, after all, is itself a kind of border.) It is the border that allows capitalism to work at all; capitalism needs borders, even if capital itself does not adhere to them.”

And finally, in reference to Trump’s and Israel’s “walls” O’Conner concludes:

“The wall is white supremacy; the wall is the rule of the wealthy few over the impoverished many; the wall is a quarantine. It separates the United States from Mexico, Europe from Africa, and Israel from Palestine. The wall simply is the border made real, natural, and impermeable. But it is politics that made borders—and walls, and all the separations and segregations of this world—and politics that can unmake them. There is no immigration crisis; there is only a political crisis, wherein the white supremacist plutocracy scrambles to maintain its barbaric dominance over the world it has created however and wherever it can—thus billionaires; thus the Tanton network; thus concentration camps full of children, haunted by the ghosts of capitalists living and dead.”

There is much more information in this very long article by O’Conner that is well worth reading. The roots of U.S. racism reaches deep into the very beginning of Manifest Destiny—the foundation of world capitalism that is inextricably linked to white supremacy.

To end racism we must end capitalism and establish a socialist world. There is no other way.