“Donald Trump is a product of ‘chain migration.’”
By Stuart Anderson
National Foundation for American Policy
Donald Trump’s disparaging remarks about immigrants from Haiti, Africa and elsewhere should remind us of an earlier era when the countries of other immigrants were viewed unfavorably, immigrants like Donald Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump.
“Friedrich Trump was not leaving home so much as fleeing three centuries of barbaric European history,” writes Gwenda Blair, author of the well-researched book The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President. “He was born and raised in the village of Kallstadt, in the region of southwestern Germany called the Pfalz, or the Palatinate in English. Today, the Pfalz, a lush, pleasant, affluent place, shows little sign of its nightmarish past. But in Friedrich Trump’s time, memories were fresh, and young people with poor prospects tried to escape as soon as they could.”
The region was ravaged by wars and misrule that propelled Germans like Friedrich Trump to flee to America. “Unfortunately, its proximity to the Rhine meant that the rest of Europe also had easy access to Kallstadt – with dreadful results,” according to Blair. “Over the centuries the Pfalz was invaded, sometimes more than once, by Spain, Austria, Prussia, Russia and France.”
Donald Trump and fellow opponents of family immigration like to call it “extended-family chain migration.” But that is simply a political slogan designed to justify efforts to eliminate the ability of U.S. citizens to sponsor their parents, siblings or adult children for immigration. There are no “extended family” categories and no one in America considers their mother or 21-year-old daughter an “extended family member.” Those opposing family immigration, including the Trump administration itself, also openly oppose the entry of more high-skilled immigrants and temporary visa holders, despite the use of the term “merit-based.”
As discussed in an earlier article, family immigration has been an important part of American history. Simply put, historically, what critics call “chain migration” is nothing more than immigrants who succeed later helping out their family members.
In fact, Columbia University historian Mae M. Ngai notes, “Donald Trump is a product of ‘chain migration.’”
The 16-year-old Friedrich Trump, who spoke little English, would not have hopped on a ship and came to America without a family member already in place to help him. In 1885, when Friedrich immigrated, he joined his sister Katherine, who “had immigrated to New York a year earlier,” according to Gwenda Blair.
After building up his finances, Friedrich went back to Germany and fell in love with Elizabeth Christ, who eventually became Donald Trump’s grandmother. Elizabeth Christ Trump immigrated to America with Friedrich and one of their children was Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s father. Ironically, Blair points out, Donald Trump’s grandmother did not assimilate well to America and she and her husband returned to Germany but could not stay because Friedrich Trump had not performed compulsory military service.
The same pattern of an earlier family member helping another close relative can be seen with Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, who many people may be surprised to learn was an immigrant. Mary Anne MacLeod’s sister was married and lived in Queens. That allowed Mary Anne to immigrate to America from Scotland in 1930 as an 18-year-old with few skills with the help of her sister, who she lived with upon arrival, according to Blair. In 1936, Mary Anne attended a party with her sister and met Fred Trump. The couple married and had children, including a son named Donald Trump.
When Friedrich Trump first came to America, earlier anti-German feeling had subsided and the man who occupied the White House, Grover Cleveland, did not oppose immigration. China was the country that most riled opponents of immigration at the time and it resulted in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.
Grover Cleveland became president in 1885 and signed the Geary Act in 1892, which made it much easier to deport Chinese immigrants. But Cleveland was also heavily criticized in California for not following through on deporting large numbers of Chinese laborers, according to Lucy E. Salyer, author of Laws Harsh as Tigers.
On March 9, 1897, Grover Cleveland vetoed a broad immigration bill that would have excluded any immigrant to the U.S. who could not read and write. In his veto message, he called the legislation “a radical departure from our national policy” on immigration.
“We have encouraged those coming from foreign countries to cast their lot with us and join in the development of our vast domain, securing in return a share in the blessings of American citizenship,” declared Cleveland. “A century’s stupendous growth, largely due to the assimilation and thrift of millions of sturdy and patriotic adopted citizens, attests the success of this generous and free-handed policy which, while guarding the people’s interests, exacts from our immigrants only physical and moral soundness and a willingness and ability to work.”
President Cleveland warned the threat to the American people came not from immigrants without education, but from a skillful communicator: “In my opinion, it is infinitely more safe to admit a hundred thousand immigrants who, though unable to read and write, seek among us only a home and opportunity to work than to admit one of those unruly agitators . . . who can not only read and write, but delights in arousing by inflammatory speech the illiterate and peacefully inclined to discontent and tumult.”
During World War I, German immigrants and German-Americans like the Trumps became a focus of hostility. “The fury that broke upon the German-Americans in 1915 represented the most spectacular reversal of judgment in the history of American nativism,” wrote John Higham in Strangers in the Land. In what sounds strikingly similar to Donald Trump’s claim that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the attacks of 9/11, Higham writes, “By August there was common talk that German-Americans were rejoicing over the death of American citizens on torpedoed ships.”
Donald Trump should be sensitive to how entire groups can be maligned, since to escape anti-German prejudice his own father, Fred Trump, “would quietly promote the notion that the family was actually Swedish,” reports Gwenda Blair. She notes, “Given his own family history, one might expect Trump to endorse America’s history of embracing immigrants.”
Analyzing Donald Trump’s recent remarks about immigrants, the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty noted, “By his standard, the ancestors of most Americans, including his own, might well have been excluded. Hardship is traditionally what drives people to uproot and seek out opportunities elsewhere.”
Legislation for Dreamers, young immigrants brought to America by their parents, is currently being held hostage by a president, his advisers and a number of legislators who show little respect for America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants – even if their parents or grandparents benefited from that tradition.