Thousands rallied in Boston’s Copley Square in January 2017 to protest chairman Trump’s executive order banning the entry of foreign-born nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries. Courtesy of beam Giles.

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Although Boston is often explained as an immigrant-friendly city, newcomers to the an ar have periodically confronted resentment, hostility, and sometimes violence indigenous native-born residents. Boston was once at the forefront of nativist politics movements, and also some the its citizens and officials became key architects of immigration restriction and deportation policies. This anti-immigrant, or nativist, sentiments had numerous sources. They were sustained by financial competition end jobs, housing, and also public services, but also by religious, cultural, and also political biases. Those beliefs were frequently intertwined through racist views of immigrant that experienced them together debased, immoral, and also criminal. Such principles helped shape national immigration debates and laws that would significantly change the racial/ethnic make-up of Boston and the nation.

Responses to the Irish

Although Boston’s Protestant bulk had long distrusted outsiders, the uptick in ireland Catholic migration in the 1830s amplified fears of a Catholic “invasion” that endangered to subvert American democracy in donate of “Popery.” While neighborhood preachers and also editors inflamed anti-Catholic emotion from the press and pulpit, working-class Protestants clashed v Irish immigrant in the street. In 1834, an angry crowd of good news workmen surrounding the Ursuline Convent in Charlestown and burned it to the ground. 3 years later, a dispute in between a native-born volunteer fire agency and an irish funeral procession in the North end escalated into a revolt in which several Irish citizens were beaten and also their houses looted and also burned.


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This Harper’s newspaper cartoon by wilhelm Allen Rogers says that brothers authorities were emptying the negative houses the Ireland and dumping ireland “paupers” in Boston and also other us cities. From: Harper’s Weekly, April 28, 1883.


The surge of ireland immigration spurred through the an excellent Famine the the 1840s and also 1850s heightened nativist feeling and also led to prevalent discrimination and anti-immigrant political organizing. Together labor competition grew, the ireland were to exclude, from certain jobs and also workingmen’s organizations. Anti-Irish sentiment additionally fueled the development of the recognize Nothings, a secret society so named since its members promised to save silent about its presence (if asked, they pledged to respond, “I recognize nothing”). Arranged nationally together the American Party, the know Nothings were the strongest in Massachusetts whereby they controlled nearly all chosen state offices by 1854. During this time, nativists disbanded irish American militia units, barred and deported irish paupers, forced the King James variation of the holy bible to be check out in public schools (which was attack to Catholics), and also established a state proficiency requirement for foreign-born voters. Subsequent federal laws governing immigrant restriction and deportation were modeled ~ above the Massachusetts system.

Nativist fervor cooled throughout the Civil war years, but the economic downturn that the 1870s stirred a brand-new wave of anti-immigrant sentiment–this time towards the Chinese. Fears that the Chinese would undercut American labor provided rise come a violent anti-Chinese motion in the western states, i m sorry soon emerged in Boston ~ Chinese immigrant workers arrived in 1875. Although liberal abolitionists and also churches safeguarded the Chinese, numerous native-born and also Irish Bostonians fear the short wages, overcrowded life conditions, and also the gambling and also opium use that were obvious in Chinatown. Farming hostility caused passage that the Chinese exemption Act in 1882, a federal law that barred many Chinese native entering the country. Despite this legislation, the hostilities continued as Chinese-owned laundries and other enterprise were frequently harassed, and also police raids were typical in Chinatown. The many dramatic case developed in 1903 when dozens the police cordoned turn off the neighborhood and also rousted hundreds from their homes and also businesses there is no a warrant. Trying to find those who can have gone into illegally, police arrested 234 people, 50 that whom were deported. The raid spread fear in Chinatown, and the Chinese populace fell over the next decade.

Second tide Immigrants and also the press for Restriction


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The Boston-based immigration Restriction organization was a an essential promoter that the 1917 legislation requiring immigrant to happen a proficiency test before entering. This 1916 cartoon depicts the literacy bill as a wall surface built to keep out undesirable immigrants. Courtesy the the Library that Congress.


As Boston got a new influx of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe in the so late 19th century, Boston nativists looked to an ext comprehensive immigrant restriction as a solution. The objections to this newcomers were comparable to earlier complaints around the Irish, yet increasingly, nativists provided scientific theories favor social Darwinism and also eugenics to support their claims. Viewing culture as a hierarchy of races, nativists relied on flawed scientific concepts that saw brand-new immigrants as inferior and also unassimilable. Establishments like the immigrant Restriction League, started in Boston by three significant Harvard alumni in 1894, provided such ideas to promote restrictive legislation. In 1917, the organization was instrumental in acquiring Congress to pass a proficiency requirement for immigrants entering the country.

Xenophobia ongoing to thrive as the united state entered civilization War I, and German immigrant became an especially suspect. German-American institutions were raided, and also Karl Muck, the German-born conductor the the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO), was widely condemned ~ the BSO refused to play the Star-Spangled Banner at a concert in 1917. Although he was a Swiss citizen, Muck was later on arrested, interned, and deported, together were several other German and Austrian-born members that the BSO.

Italian immigrants likewise became a target of government repression during and after the war. Feather to ring up a militant anarchist team that lugged out a series of bombings, the us Justice department led a campaign of raids and also deportations that violated due procedure and terrorized the local Italian community. In 1920, the arrest of 2 anarchist shoe workers, Nicola Sacco and also Bartolomeo Vanzetti, that were accused that robbing and killing 2 payroll security in southern Braintree, set off an international political controversy. With much less than compelling evidence, the 2 were found guilty and also executed in 1927. Return anarchists made up a tiny percent of the immigrant community, the relentless surveillance and raids the Italian organizations and also neighborhoods and also the result stigma that violence and also criminality impacted all Italians to part degree.

The anti-immigrant fervor that the 1910s and 1920s culminated in the i of brand-new legislation restricting immigration. Happen in 1921 and 1924, the regulations reduced total immigration by placing an annual cap ~ above the variety of entrants and also established a national quota mechanism that greatly favored those native northern and western Europe. Through 1929, 83 percent that visas checked out migrants from that region; southern and eastern Europeans got only 15 percent, when a just 2 percent to be allocated come those indigenous the remainder of the world. Oriental immigrants, who were ineligible for us citizenship under an previously law, were efficiently barred.

Although immigration decreased for several decades thereafter, nativism regular burst forth in Boston. During world War II, pendant of dad Charles Coughlin, a Detroit priest who broadcast an anti-Semitic and also pro-fascist radio show, created a group referred to as the Christian Front. Made up mostly of young ireland American Catholics, the Boston former vandalized synagogues and also attacked and also beat Jews top top the highways of Roxbury and Dorchester. Tensions in between Irish and Jewish citizens in these communities were longstanding, but recent research suggests that German and British agents also helped foment the violence.

The Era of worldwide Immigration


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In 1982, Cambodian refugees in Fields corner moved the end of their Westerville Street apartment after recurring harassment and also vandalism (note broken auto window). Courtesy the the Boston Globe.


In the postwar era, the percentage of foreign-born in Boston continued to shrink and organized forms of nativism to be rare. However after i of the 1965 immigrant Act, which ended discriminatory quotas and increased an international immigration, anti-immigrant sentiments became much more prevalent. And also given that many brand-new immigrants were people of color, racism played a significant role in the resurgent nativism. An especially in the wake up of the Vietnam war, lingering resentments over the conflict and growing financial dislocations fueled bitter resentments toward Southeast oriental refugees that were being resettled in the Boston area. In the 1980s, three eastern refugees were eliminated by white assailants and also dozens much more faced harassment, assaults, vandalism and arson. Other newcomers were also victims of gyeongju violence throughout these years.

Physical and verbal assaults on Latinos increased in areas like Lynn and Chelsea, if a white-Latino lytic erupted in adjacent Lawrence in 1984. The growing number of undocumented immigrants settling in the metro region in the 1990s stirred opposition amongst some local occupants who felt the newcomers were unfairly acquisition jobs and also benefitting native tax-funded services. After i of a commonwealth welfare reform bill in 1996, both undocumented and also legal resident immigrants lost access to public services such as cash assistance, food stamps, and also Medicaid. In really hopes of reduce illegal immigration, an additional federal plot passed that exact same year significantly increased the variety of detentions, deportations, and family separations.

As these restrictive steps made life more an overwhelming for countless immigrants, the tensions and violence the the 1980s additionally produced local efforts to protect and also assist newcomers. Oriental American teams organized to support brand-new immigrants across the metro area, and also in 1987, the Massachusetts Immigrant and also Refugee Advocacy Coalition was established to advocate for immigrant rights and also integration. In the city of Boston, the Mayor’s Office for brand-new Bostonians opened its doors in 1998, providing a variety of services consisting of legal advice, interpreter services, and resource guides because that newcomers in lot of languages.

After the terrorist attack on the people Trade facility in 2001, public fears of Muslims escalated, fueling random attacks on those believed to be Muslim or middle Eastern. Muslim students to be interrogated, mosques and also Muslim establishments were investigated, and also government round-ups that the foreign born shook immigrant communities. In the years since 9/11, plenty of efforts at immigrant reform have failed in Congress, if detentions and also deportations ongoing to rise. On the other hand, interfaith motions for society justice, immigrant advocacy organizations, and multicultural programs funded by local and state governments have worked to reach the end to newcomers and also mitigate conflict.

With the election of chairman Donald trump card in 2016, a brand-new level that fear and uncertainty gripped Boston’s immigrant communities. Trump’s take trip ban on those native Muslim countries, his statements relenten immigrants as “criminals,” the separation that parents and also children in ~ the border, and also a stepping up of raids and deportations left countless fearful and confused. With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, immigrant were disproportionately impacted and their communities suffered significantly greater levels that illness and death. President’s Trump’s recurring statements blaming the virus top top China additionally contributed to a rise in anti-Asian violence in Boston and throughout the country. Such attacks were not just a byproduct that the pandemic however grow out of a long background of nativism and also racism, in i m sorry Boston has actually played a significant part.

Works Cited

Burrage, Melissa. The knife Muck Scandal: classic Music and also Xenophobia in civilization War i America. Rochester, NY: college of Rochester Press, 2019.

Gallagher, Charles R., S.J. The Nazis that Copley Square: A background of the Christian Front. Cambridge, MA: Harvard university Press, forthcoming 2019.

Hirota, Hidetaka. Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and also the beginnings of American immigration Policy. New York: Oxford university Press, 2017.

Johnson, Marilynn S. The brand-new Bostonians: just how Immigrants have Transformed the subway Area since the 1960s. Amherst: college of Massachusetts Press, 2015.

Norwood, Stephen H. “Marauding Youth and the Christian Front: Antisemitic Violence in Boston and new York During civilization War II, American Jewish History, Vol. 91:2 (June 2003): 233-67.

Song, Elaine. “To Live in Peace: Responding to Anti-Asian Violence in Boston.” Boston: eastern American source Workshop 1987.

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Wong, K. Scott. “‘The Eagle seeks a Helpless Quarry’: Chinatown, the Police, and the Press; The 1903 Boston Chinatown Raid Revisited.” Amerasia Journal 22, no. 3 (1996): 81–103.