Sen. John McClellan: (D) or (R)?

The true story of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 is almost unbelievable. I don’t know of a single statement regarding the effects of the act made its congressional proponents that proved to be true. Either they did not know, or could not frankly admit, what they were doing.

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal carried a column by NPR News correspondent Tom Gjelten on “The curious history of chain migration” (behind the Journal’s subscription paywall). Although he doesn’t put it this way, Gjelten makes the case that the proponents of the provision authorizing chain migration didn’t know what they were doing. Gjtelten limits the scope of his column to the chain migration provision, but the point applies to the Immigration and Naturalization Act as a whole.

In the third paragraph of Gjelten’s column as it appeared in the hard copy of the Journal yesterday, Gjelten wrote:

Before 1965, immigrant visas were allocated primarily on the basis of national origin, with tens of thousands set aside for people from northern and western Europe. Countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East were allocated as few as 100 visas each per year. The discriminatory policy was justified, in the words of Republican Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, on the grounds that it rewarded “those countries that contributed most to the formation of this nation.”

With the implication that McClellan was a racist, Gjelten went out of his way to label him a Republican. Why would he do that?

It’s not just wrong, it’s stupid. If you know anything about American politics, you know that the South was solidly Democratic at the time the Immigration and Naturalization Act was debated and adopted. McClellan was a lifelong Democrat. Indeed, among other things, he was a signer of the Southern Manifesto of 1956 attacking Brown v. Board of Education along with most of the rest of his Democratic colleagues representing states of the former Confederacy.

The Journal has corrected Gjelten’s column online. It now appears with the notation: “Sen. John McClellan of Arkansas, a Democrat, was incorrectly labeled a Republican in an earlier version of this article.”