Commentary: Immigration debates have been a part of U.S. history

After spending the night as tourists at Mount Rainier, six members of the U.S. House Immigration and Naturalization Committee convened in the Federal Courthouse in downtown Tacoma for an important hearing.

The date was July 28, 1920 — 90 years ago Wednesday. Holding the gavel was U.S. Rep. Albert Johnson, who was nicknamed "The Man from Hoquiam."

"The inquiry … has centered largely upon the encroachments of the Japanese in business and agricultural lines and its effect upon Americans engaged in similar occupations," wrote The News Tribune that day.

Johnson was a powerful player in one of the hottest issues of his time: immigration. Specifically, Johnson was charged with resolving whether the U.S. should be open to immigrants not from England and Northern Europe.

The answer for Johnson was clear: Asians and Eastern Europeans were disloyal and not desirable. It wasn't only Johnson's belief, it was the centerpiece of his professional and political careers.

The Republican, who represented the 3rd District from 1913 until 1933, was a racist who used anti-Japanese and anti-labor rhetoric first to sell newspapers and then to win election. In addition to chairing the key committee on the issue, Johnson was an officer of the Eugenics Research Association. It promoted the psuedo-science that some races and ethnic groups were genetically inferior.

He was nationally prominent as the primary author of the Immigration Act of 1924, which used race and nationality to set quotas.

Johnson was brought to town in 1898 by S.A. Perkins to edit his Tacoma News, an ancestor of The News Tribune. One editorial theme in the paper was objections to Japanese immigration.

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