Cartoon from Puck, August 9, 1899 by J. S. Pughe. Uncle Sam sees hyphenated voters and asks, "Why should I let these freaks cast whole ballots when they are only half Americans?"

Xenophobia in the United States is the fear or hatred of any cultural group in the United States which is perceived as being foreign or strange or un-American. It expresses a conflict between an ingroup and an outgroup and may manifest in suspicion by the one of the other's activities, and beliefs and goals. It includes a desire to eliminate their presence, and fear of losing national, ethnic, or racial identity and is often closely linked to racism and discrimination.[1]

This has resulted in discriminatory laws, such as the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, restrictions on immigration policies and other actions including violence.

Know-Nothing Party, 1854-1856

The Know Nothing party was a nativist political party in the mid-1850s. It carried many state and local elections in 1854-1855, but failed to pass major laws and suddenly collapsed.[2][3]

Know Nothing agitators proclaimed that a "Romanist" conspiracy headed by the Pope in Rome was in control of by Catholic immigrants. The goal was to subvert civil and religious liberty and destroy Protestantism. In response it was urgent to politically organize native-born Protestants. The Know Nothing movement emphasized that Irish Catholic priests and bishops would control a large bloc of voters in the Democratic Party.[4] Henry Winter Davis, an active Know-Nothing, was elected on the American Party ticket to Congress from Maryland. He told Congress in late 1856 that the un-American Irish Catholic immigrants were to blame for the recent election of Democrat James Buchanan as president, stating:[5]

The recent election has developed in an aggravated form every evil against which the American party protested. Foreign allies have decided the government of the country -- men naturalized in thousands on the eve of the election. Again in the fierce struggle for supremacy, men have forgotten the ban which the Republic puts on the intrusion of religious influence on the political arena. These influences have brought vast multitudes of foreign-born citizens to the polls, ignorant of American interests, without American feelings, influenced by foreign sympathies, to vote on American affairs; and those votes have, in point of fact, accomplished the present result.

In the South, the party did not emphasize anti-Catholicism but instead attacked corrupt Democratic politicians and filled the vacuum caused by the collapse of the Whig Party. The ideology and influence lasted only one or two years before it disintegrated due to weak and inexperienced elected officials who were unable to pass legislation, and a deep split over the issue of slavery.[2]

Asian targets

Further information: Stereotypes of East Asians in the United States and Yellow Peril

Asian xenophobia in the United States has at least 100 years of history.


See also: Anti-Chinese sentiment in the United States

In the 1870s and 1880s in the Western states, ethnic Whites especially Irish Americans targeted violence against Chinese workers, driving them out of smaller towns. They relocated into districts of a few larger cities called "Chinatowns."[6] Denis Kearney, an immigrant from Ireland, led a mass movement in San Francisco in the 1870s that incited racist attacks on the Chinese there and threatened public officials and railroad owners.[7] The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first of many nativist acts of Congress which attempted to limit the flow of immigrants into the U.S.. The Chinese responded to it by filing false claims of American birth, enabling thousands of them to immigrate to California.[8] The exclusion of the Chinese caused the western railroads to begin importing Mexican railroad workers in greater numbers ("traqueros").[9] In 1943 when China was an ally against Japan, the restrictions were repealed and Chinese could become citizens.[10]


Main article: Anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States

Attacks on the Japanese in the Western U.S., echoing the dreaded Yellow Peril became increasingly xenophobic after the unexpected Japanese triumph over the supposedly powerful Russian Empire in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. In October, 1906, the San Francisco Board of Education passed a regulation whereby children of Japanese descent would be required to attend racially segregated and separate schools. At the time, Japanese immigrants made up 1% of the state's population; many of them had come under the treaty in 1894 which had assured free immigration from Japan. In 1907, nativists rioted up and down the West Coast demanding exclusion of Japanese immigrants and imposition of segregated schools for Caucasian and Japanese students.

The California Alien Land Law of 1913 was specifically created to prevent land ownership among Japanese citizens who were residing in the state of California. In 1918 courts ruled that American-born children had the right to own land. California proceeded to strengthen its Alien land law in 1920 and 1923 and other states followed.[11]

According to Gary Y. Okihiro, the Japanese government subsidized Japanese writers in America especially Kiyoshi Kawakami and Yamato Ichihashi to refute the hostile stereotypes and establish a favorable image of Japanese in the American mind. Thus Kawakami's books especially Asia at the Door (1914) and The Real Japanese Question (1921) tried to refute the false accusations. The publicists confronted the main allegations regarding lack of assimilation, and boasted of the positive Japanese contributions to American economy and society, especially in Hawaii and California.[12]

During World War II, the United States forcibly relocated and interned at least 120,000 people of Japanese descent in 75 identified incarceration sites after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the United States subsequent declaration of war on Japan.[13][14] Most lived on the Pacific Coast, in internment camps in the western interior of the country. Approximately two-thirds of the inmates were United States citizens.[15] These actions were initiated by president Franklin D. Roosevelt via an executive order shortly after Imperial Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.[16]

Editorial cartoon warning against unrestricted immigration Los Angeles Times Nov 14 1920 by E W Gale

Emergency Quota Act

The Emergency Quota Act, also known as the Emergency Immigration Act of 1921, the Immigration Restriction Act of 1921, the Per Centum Law, and the Johnson Quota Act (ch. 8, 42 Stat. 5 of May 19, 1921), was formulated mainly in response to the large influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans and restricted their immigration to the United States. Although intended as temporary legislation, it "proved, in the long run, the most important turning-point in American immigration policy"[17] because it added two new features to American immigration law: numerical limits on immigration and the use of a quota system for establishing those limits, which came to be known as the National Origins Formula.

The Emergency Quota Act restricted the number of immigrants admitted from any country annually to 3% of the number of residents from that country living in the United States as of the 1910 Census.[18] That meant that people from Northern and Western Europe had a higher quota and were more likely to be admitted to the US than those from Eastern or Southern Europe or from non-European countries.

The act was revised by the Immigration Act of 1924.

Trump administration

Children sitting within a wire mesh compartment in the Ursula detention facility in McAllen, Texas, June 2018

Immigration policy, including illegal immigration to the United States, was a signature issue of President Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and his proposed reforms and remarks about this issue generated much publicity.[19][20] Trump has repeatedly said that illegal immigrants are criminals.[21][22] Critics have argued that there is an increasing amount of evidence that immigration does not correlate with higher crime rates.[22]

A hallmark promise of his campaign was the Trump wall, a much expanded barrier on the United States–Mexico border and to force Mexico to pay for the wall. Trump has also expressed support for a variety of "limits on legal immigration and guest-worker visas",[20][23] including a pause on granting green cards, which Trump says will lower immigration levels to historical averages.[24]

As president, Trump imposed a travel ban that prohibited issuing visas to citizens of seven largely-Muslim countries expanded to thirteen in 2020. In response to legal challenges he revised the ban twice, with his third version being upheld by the Supreme Court in June 2018.[25]

He attempted to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but a legal injunction has allowed the policy to continue while the matter is the subject of legal challenge. He imposed a "zero tolerance" policy to require the arrest of anyone caught illegally crossing the border, which resulted in separating children from their families.[26]

On January 30, 2018, Trump outlined his administration's four pillars for immigration reform: (1) a path to citizenship for DREAMers; (2) increased border security funding; (3) ending the diversity visa lottery; and (4) restrictions on family-based immigration.[27]

Trump's position was strongly supported by conservative voters. Studies found the higher voters' xenophobia was, the higher was their support for political violence.[28][29]

Current status

A network of more than 300 US-based civil rights and human rights organizations stated in a 2010 report that "Discrimination permeates all aspects of life in the United States, and it extends to all communities of color."[30] Discrimination against racial, ethnic, and religious minorities is widely acknowledged, especially in the case of Indians, Muslims, Sikhs as well as other ethnic groups.

Members of every major American ethnic and religious minority group have perceived discrimination in their dealings with members of other minority racial and religious groups. Philosopher Cornel West has stated that "racism is an integral element within the very fabric of American culture and society. It is embedded in the country's first collective definition, enunciated in its subsequent laws, and imbued in its dominant way of life."[31]

A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center suggested that 76% of black and Asian respondents had experienced some form of discrimination, at least from time to time.[32] Studies from PNAS and Nature have found that during traffic stops, officers spoke to black men in a less respectful tone than they did to white men and that black drivers are more likely to be pulled over and searched by police than white drivers.[33] Black people are also reportedly overrepresented as criminals in the media.[34] In 2020 the COVID-19 epidemic was often blamed on China, leading to attacks on Chinese Americans.[35] This represents a continuation of xenophobic attacks on Chinese Americans for 150 years.[36]

See also


  1. ^ "International Migration, Racism, Discrimination and Xenophobia" (PDF). International Labour Office; International Organization for Migration; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. August 2001. p. 2. Archived (PDF) from the original on 31 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b Boissoneault, Lorraine. "How the 19th-Century Know Nothing Party Reshaped American Politics". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 13 January 2020.
  3. ^ Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade: 1800-1860 (1938) pp 380-436. online
  4. ^ Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and slavery: the northern Know Nothings and the politics of the 1850s (Oxford UP, 1992) pp ix-xiv.
  5. ^ Quoted in James Fairfax McLaughlin, The life and times of John Kelly, tribune of the people (1885) pp 72-73 online
  6. ^ Stanford M. Lyman, "Conflict and the web of group affiliation in San Francisco's Chinatown, 1850-1910." Pacific Historical Review (1974): 473-499.
  7. ^ John Soennichsen (2011). The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. ABC-CLIO. pp. 51–57. ISBN 9780313379475.
  8. ^ Erika Lee, At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration during the Exclusion Era, 1882–1943 (2003)
  9. ^ Jeffrey Marcos Garcilazo, Traqueros: Mexican Railroad Workers in the United States, 1870-1930 (2016) excerpt
  10. ^ Erika Lee, America for Americans (2019) p. 226.
  11. ^ Ferguson, Edwin E. 1947. "The California Alien Land Law and the Fourteenth Amendment." California Law Review 35 (1): 61.
  12. ^ Gary Y. Okihiro, The Columbia guide to Asian American history (Columbia University Press, 2001), p. 207.
  13. ^ Weik, Taylor (October 11, 2022). "'Proof I was there': every Japanese American incarcerated in second world war finally named". The Guardian.
  14. ^ The official WRA record from 1946 states it was 120,000 people. See War Relocation Authority (1946). The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Study. p. 8.. Japanese Americans that were 1/16th or less were excluded from being sent to the camps but above that was considered a threat to the United States. This number does not include people held in other camps such as those which were run by the DoJ or the Army. Other sources may give numbers which are slightly more or less than 120,000.
  15. ^ "Japanese American internment | Definition, Camps, Locations, Conditions, & Facts". 17 May 2023.
  16. ^ "Manzanar National Historic Site". National Park Service.
  17. ^ John Higham, Strangers in the Land (1963), 311
  18. ^ Divine, Robert A. (2007) America, Past and Present, 8th ed., 736
  19. ^ Rebecca Hamlin, "Trump’s Immigration Legacy." The Forum 19#1 (2021).
  20. ^ a b "Campaign 2015: The Candidates & the World: Donald Trump on Immigration". Council on Foreign Relations. Archived from the original on February 5, 2017. Retrieved May 15, 2016.
  21. ^ Rogers, Katie (2018-06-22). "Trump Highlights Immigrant Crime to Defend His Border Policy. Statistics Don't Back Him Up". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 22, 2018. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  22. ^ a b Maciag, Mike (2017-03-02). "The Mythical Link Between Immigrants and High Crime Rates". Archived from the original on June 25, 2018. Retrieved 2018-06-24.
  23. ^ Sahil Kapur, "Reality Check: 4 Reasons Trump's Immigration Plans Are Impractical" Archived March 17, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Bloomberg Politics (August 8, 2015).
  24. ^ "Trump says would raise visa fees to pay for Mexican border wall" Archived May 18, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Reuters (August 16, 2015).
  25. ^ Everett Marko, David (2019). "Nevertheless, They Persist: American and European Muslim Immigrants in the Era of Trump". Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs. 39 (2): 246–258. doi:10.1080/13602004.2019.1620006. S2CID 195563923.
  26. ^ Mallet-García, Marie L.; García-Bedolla, Lisa (2021). "Immigration Policy and Belonging: Ramifications for DACA Recipients' Sense of Belonging". American Behavioral Scientist. 65 (9): 1165–1179. doi:10.1177/0002764221996777. S2CID 233697192.
  27. ^ Kerr, Ashley (8 February 2018). "President Trump's Four Pillars for Immigration Reform". The National Law Review. ISSN 2161-3362. Archived from the original on September 6, 2018. Retrieved 6 September 2018.
  28. ^ Piazza, James; Van Doren, Natalia (2023). "It's About Hate: Approval of Donald Trump, Racism, Xenophobia and Support for Political Violence". American Politics Research. 51 (3): 299–314. doi:10.1177/1532673X221131561. S2CID 252774439.
  29. ^ Onwumechili, Chuka (2022). "Donald Trump's America: Communicating the Seeds of Racism, Xenophobia, & Persistent Conflict". Howard Journal of Communications. 33 (2): 115–118. doi:10.1080/10646175.2022.2054300. S2CID 248421157.
  30. ^ "Factbox: U.S. report to U.N. Human Rights Council". Reuters. 5 November 2010.
  31. ^ West, Cornel (2002). Prophesy Deliverance!: An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity. p. 116.
  32. ^ "Views on Race in America 2019 (Section titled 'Majorities of blacks, Hispanics and Asians say they have experienced discrimination because of their race or ethnicity')". Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project. 9 April 2019. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  33. ^ Amina Khan (16 July 2021). "Police officers treat Black and white men differently. You can hear it in their tone of voice". Microsoft News, Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 8 May 2022. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  34. ^ "Despite skewed media image, Black men are more likely to be victimized than other groups". MSN News, USA Today. 4 October 2021. Archived from the original on 9 October 2021. Retrieved 8 May 2022.
  35. ^ Gover, Angela R.; Harper, Shannon B.; Langton, Lynn (2020). "Anti-Asian Hate Crime During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Reproduction of Inequality". American Journal of Criminal Justice. 45 (4): 647–667. doi:10.1007/s12103-020-09545-1. ISSN 1066-2316. PMC 7364747. PMID 32837171.
  36. ^ Huang, Junjian; Liu, Raymond (2020). "Xenophobia in America in the Age of Coronavirus and Beyond". Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology. 31 (7): 1187–1188. doi:10.1016/j.jvir.2020.04.020. PMC 7188638. PMID 32522506.

Further reading

Historiography and memory