Professor Mae Ngai: Immigration-Dimness In The Columbia University History Department

A few days ago, Steve Sailer called our attention to an op-ed (The Dark History of Defining ‘Family’, July 19, 2017) in The New York Times by one Mae Ngai [Email her] who holds a named chair in the History Department at Columbia University. Professor Ngai’s op-ed includes this key passage:

[E]fforts to define and manipulate the definition of “family” in immigration matters are not new. For more than 100 years the government has done so, often reflecting political exigency and racial bias rather than the real needs and desires of families.

Although the United States purports to promote family unification in its immigration policy, it has usually defined “family” as narrowly as possible, limited to the nuclear family of two heterosexual parents and their children. (Only recently have we recognized same-sex spouses.) But the nuclear family is not the normative family unit in much of the world — or for many in the United States, for that matter. In addition, the government has used an arbitrary distinction between citizens and permanent residents to make the rules narrower still. Those definitions have effectively served only one purpose: to constrain the volume of immigration.

Emphasis added. (And to which an obvious rejoinder would be, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”)

That passage is key because it illuminates where Ngai is coming from, as does this further excerpt:

What would a more family-friendly immigration policy look like? First, we should loosen the numerical restrictions on immigration to allow for a greater number of relatives to immigrate. Proposals to eliminate various family preferences often assume a zero-sum calculation — adult siblings are deemed dispensable so more visas can go to spouses — but why can’t we increase the overall number of relatives eligible for immigration?

Second, we should expand the definition of family to include grandparents, aunts and uncles and other close relations. In many cultures, extended families provide support for their members by pooling resources, whether income or cross-generational care. They generate close emotional and practical ties beyond the nuclear family unit. “Tio” and “tia” may want to immigrate to pursue a business opportunity, which might in turn provide resources for nieces and nephews and other family members in both the United States and the home country. “Nai-nai” may wish to join her grandchildren in America after becoming widowed. Those are reasonable interests and wishes that we should accommodate.

It’s not clear from her web page at Columbia whether Ngai is, herself, an immigrant. But she obviously thinks that American immigration policy should center on the desires of immigration-aspiring foreigners. So I sent her the following email:

Hello, Professor Ngai.

At one point in your op-ed linked above, you wrote “These rules struck many as arbitrary and needlessly cruel.” Presumably, that’s your own opinion, too.

So I remind you of this passage in the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble: “… to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” In other words, the country exists to benefit us citizens, not to rescue humanity elsewhere from their woes.

Over the years, immigration has generally been unpopular with us native-born citizens, for good reason: Not only did most citizens throughout American history not benefit from the influx—for many it was enormously harmful.

For example, in his book Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery, economic historian and Nobel-winner Robert Fogel wrote (p. 356) that the flood of immigrants arriving in northern cities from 1841 to 1851 put “heavy downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on rents” so that American wageworkers in these cities “suffered one of the most severe and protracted economic and social catastrophes of American history.”

The mass-immigration waves of the 1800s and early 1900s also led to burgeoning urban slums and resulting public-health crises, along with corrupt political machines. These have echoes today, surely even in the frenetic growth of small American cities (such as Bozeman, Montana, where I live), reflecting citizens’ desire to escape our increasingly dysfunctional big cities, most of which have been inundated with recent immigrants.

Then here’s something lifted from the Amazon precis of your 2014 book, Impossible Subjects:

This book traces the origins of the “illegal alien” in American law and society, explaining why and how illegal migration became the central problem in U.S. immigration policy.

This is incorrect. Illegal immigration isn’t the central problem; instead it’s an epiphenomenon that’s enabled by the actual central problem.

As the late columnist Sam Francis wrote, “If the only problem with illegal immigration is that it’s illegal, if you’re not willing to say mass immigration by itself is a problem, then why should we have any laws against it at all?”

In short, the problem is immigration, period. If it was ever needed during American history, it surely isn’t now. (As for any responsibility to take in refugees, the numbers should be drastically fewer to reflect the enormous incidence of fraud among the refugee [and asylee] influxes.)

I was alerted to your NYT piece by a blog post from Steve Sailer in which he effectively dispatches your article: NYT: It’s Racist to Not Let Immigrate Cousin Abdul’s Father-In-Law’s Nephew’s Four Wives/Cousins and Their 23 Inbred Special Needs Children

By happenstance, he’d written on the same subject in more detail the day your article was published, so this magisterial piece by him isn’t a response to yours: ISSUE OF THE CENTURY: The Zeroth Amendment But it is necessary reading.


Paul Nachman (retired PhD physicist)

Shortly after I sent the note to Ngai, her autoreply arrived: “Thank you for writing. I am on sabbatical leave from January 1 to Dec. 31, 2017. I will be checking email sporadically so there may be a delay in my response.”

So who knows if there will be any direct payoff in sending Ngai that email. One can only hope that, to quote Thomas Sowell, it will spur her “to have some second thoughts, or perhaps first thoughts.”

Regardless, I’m posting my communication to Ngai here as encouragement to others: Always push back on the pernicious “nation of immigrants”-style blather exemplified by her piece.

For that purpose, you might like to download a transcribed excerpt from the Robert Fogel book quoted above, archived here [PDF] at (As defense against the reflexive shrieking you may provoke about Fogel’s racism, xenophobia, et al., read in advance these five paragraphs from Wikipedia’s entry on Fogel.)

And remember: In our death-struggle to save Western civilization, plagiarism is encouraged!