In his major foreign policy speech earlier this week, Donald Trump explained how he would expand the “ideological” vetting of immigrants who want to come to the United States. “The time is overdue to develop a new screening test for the threats we face today,” he said. “I call it extreme vetting.” In particular, Trump proposed, “We must also screen out any who have hostile attitudes towards our country or its principles—or who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law. Those who do not believe in our Constitution, or who support bigotry and hatred, will not be admitted for immigration into the country.”
As with practically all of Trump’s policy statements, the over-the-top commentary came swiftly. Over at the Washington Post an opinionator opined (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing) that Trump’s ideas were crazier than crazy. I knew it wouldn’t take long before somebody called them un-American, and MSNBC nicely obliged; a commentator commented that “this is the single most un-American thing I have ever heard in my life.”
If all those pundits had bothered to do just a couple of minutes of googling before reacting, they would have discovered that immigrant vetting, and even extreme immigrant vetting, has a very long tradition in American history. Since before the founding even, U.S. policies about whom the country chooses to welcome and reject have changed in response to changing conditions. As early as 1645, the Massachusetts Bay Colony prohibited the entry of poor or indigent persons. By the early 20th century, the country was filtering out people who had “undesirable” traits, such as epileptics, alcoholics and polygamists.