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Salmonella May Have Caused Massive Aztec Epidemic, Study Finds

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Salmonella May Have Caused Massive Aztec Epidemic, Study Finds

A skull discovered at a sacred Aztec temple. A new study analyzed DNA extracted from the teeth of people who died in a 16th century epidemic that destroyed the Aztec empire, and found a type of salmonella may have caused the epidemic.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

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Alexandre Meneghini/AP

In 1545, people in the Mexican highlands starting dying in enormous numbers. People infected with the disease bled and vomited before they died. Many had red spots on their skin.

It was one of the most devastating epidemics in human history. The 1545 outbreak, and a second wave in 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 17 million people and contributed to the destruction of the Aztec Empire.

But identifying the pathogen responsible for the carnage has been difficult for scientists because infectious diseases leave behind very little archaeological evidence.

“There have been different schools of thought on what this disease was. Could it have been plague? Could it have been typhoid fever? Could it have been a litany of other diseases?” says Kirsten Bos, a molecular paleopathologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and an author of a new study published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study analyzes DNA from the teeth of 10 people who died during the epidemic and pinpoints a possible culprit: a type of salmonella that causes a deadly fever.

A new algorithm allowed Bos and her team to identify fragments of ancient salmonella DNA with extreme specificity.

“It was an analytical technique that was really the game-changer for us,” Bos explains. While scientists have been able to extract ancient DNA from bones and other tissue, until recently it was impossible to compare that extracted DNA to a wide variety of potential matches.

But a new computer program called MALT allowed them to do just that. “The major advancement was this algorithm,” Bos says. “It offers a method of analyzing many, many, many small DNA fragments that we get, and actually identifying, by species name, the bacteria that are represented.”

Bos and her team used MALT to match up the DNA fragments extracted from teeth of epidemic victims with a database of known pathogens. The program didn’t entire save them from mind-numbing work — at one point PhD student and study author Ashild Vagene had to go through the results of the program by hand.

In the end, they found evidence of the deadly Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C bacteria.

The study does not pinpoint the source of the bacteria, which is an area of great interest for biologists and archaeologists alike. The authors note that many epidemics of the period are believed to originate with European invaders who arrived in the region in the early part of the 16th century, but the new research doesn’t present biological evidence for or against that.

A previous study suggested the pathogen responsible for the epidemic originated in Mexico, and that the epidemic was exacerbated by drought. And, Bos notes, “the Europeans who were observing the symptoms didn’t know what it was, and Europeans got it as well,” which suggests it wasn’t a disease endemic to Europe.

But even if Europeans did not introduce the pathogen, they may still be responsible for its profound deadliness among indigenous people. “We know that Europeans very much changed the landscape once they entered the new world,” Bos says. “They introduced new livestock, [and] there was lots of social disruption among the indigenous population which would have increased their susceptibility to infectious disease.”

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Salmonella May Have Caused Massive Aztec Epidemic, Study Finds

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Salmonella May Have Caused Massive Aztec Epidemic, Study Finds

A skull discovered at a sacred Aztec temple. A new study analyzed DNA extracted from the teeth of people who died in a 16th century epidemic that destroyed the Aztec empire, and found a type of salmonella may have caused the epidemic.

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Alexandre Meneghini/AP

In 1545, people in the Mexican highlands starting dying in enormous numbers. People infected with the disease bled and vomited before they died. Many had red spots on their skin.

It was one of the most devastating epidemics in human history. The 1545 outbreak, and a second wave in 1576, killed an estimated 7 million to 17 million people and contributed to the destruction of the Aztec Empire.

But identifying the pathogen responsible for the carnage has been difficult for scientists because infectious diseases leave behind very little archaeological evidence.

“There have been different schools of thought on what this disease was. Could it have been plague? Could it have been typhoid fever? Could it have been a litany of other diseases?” says Kirsten Bos, a molecular paleopathologist at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and an author of a new study published Monday in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study analyzes DNA from the teeth of 10 people who died during the epidemic and pinpoints a possible culprit: a type of salmonella that causes a deadly fever.

A new algorithm allowed Bos and her team to identify fragments of ancient salmonella DNA with extreme specificity.

“It was an analytical technique that was really the game-changer for us,” Bos explains. While scientists have been able to extract ancient DNA from bones and other tissue, until recently it was impossible to compare that extracted DNA to a wide variety of potential matches.

But a new computer program called MALT allowed them to do just that. “The major advancement was this algorithm,” Bos says. “It offers a method of analyzing many, many, many small DNA fragments that we get, and actually identifying, by species name, the bacteria that are represented.”

Bos and her team used MALT to match up the DNA fragments extracted from teeth of epidemic victims with a database of known pathogens. The program didn’t entire save them from mind-numbing work — at one point PhD student and study author Ashild Vagene had to go through the results of the program by hand.

In the end, they found evidence of the deadly Salmonella enterica Paratyphi C bacteria.

The study does not pinpoint the source of the bacteria, which is an area of great interest for biologists and archaeologists alike. The authors note that many epidemics of the period are believed to originate with European invaders who arrived in the region in the early part of the 16th century, but the new research doesn’t present biological evidence for or against that.

A previous study suggested the pathogen responsible for the epidemic originated in Mexico, and that the epidemic was exacerbated by drought. And, Bos notes, “the Europeans who were observing the symptoms didn’t know what it was, and Europeans got it as well,” which suggests it wasn’t a disease endemic to Europe.

But even if Europeans did not introduce the pathogen, they may still be responsible for its profound deadliness among indigenous people. “We know that Europeans very much changed the landscape once they entered the new world,” Bos says. “They introduced new livestock, [and] there was lots of social disruption among the indigenous population which would have increased their susceptibility to infectious disease.”

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Unsealed Documents Show The Las Vegas Shooter's Girlfriend Acted Swiftly

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Unsealed Documents Show The Las Vegas Shooter's Girlfriend Acted Swiftly

Newly-released court documents suggest the Las Vegas shooter’s girlfriend, Marilou Danley, acted quickly after the shooting to conceal her relationship with Paddock.

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Newly released court documents show the Las Vegas shooter’s girlfriend deleted her Facebook account before police announced the identity of the gunman behind the deadliest mass shooting in modern history.

Marilou Danley, who was in the Philippines visiting family when Stephen Paddock killed 58 people and injured another 557 in the attack, started making changes to her Facebook account about 2 1/2 hours after the first volley of bullets rained down on people attending a music festival on the Las Vegas strip. The first calls rolled in at 10:08 p.m., according to police.

At 12:30 a.m., Danley’s Facebook account was set to private.

At 2:46 a.m. — about two hours and 15 minutes later — her account was deleted entirely.

But it wasn’t until an nearly an hour after that — 3:30 a.m. — that police released Paddock’s name to the public.

As the New York Postreports, the documents suggest Danley acted quickly after the shooting to conceal her relationship with Paddock.

Danley, who also lived with Paddock, has been adamant that she knew nothing about his plans to conduct the attack.

Several hundred pages, including more than a dozen search warrants and affidavits, were unsealed Friday by a U.S. judge in Nevada in response to a lawsuit filed by several media outlets, despite requests from law enforcement agencies that they remain sealed.

The documents lay out what investigators had learned about Paddock in the days following the shooting. But they do not provide a motive for what prompted the 64-year-old professional gambler to murder and terrorize concertgoers from 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel before killing himself.

One affidavit includes email exchanges between centralpark1@live.com, a Microsoft account that FBI authorities believe belonged to Paddock, and centralpark4804@gmail.com. (It is unclear if the FBI knows who is responsible for the latter account.) The messages were sent on July 6, 2017,

The affidavit reads:

“…[centralpark1@live.com] sent an email to centralpark4804@gmail.com which read, ‘try an ar before u buy. we have huge selection. located in the las vegas area,’ Later the day, an email was received back from centralpark4804@gmail.com to [centralpark1@live.com] that read, ‘we have a wide variety of optics and ammunition to try.’ And lastly, [centralpark1@live.com sent an email to centralpark4804@gmail.com that read, ‘for a thrill try out bumpfire ar’s with a 100 round magazine.’ Investigators believe these communications may have been related to the eventual attack that occurred at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.”

The exchanges took place nearly three months before the onslaught. And CNN reports that “investigators at the time of the filing had been unable to determine if Paddock was sending emails between two accounts both belonging to himself, or was communicating with someone else.”

In addition to the two email addresses, the FBI requested and were granted warrants to search Paddock and Danley’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Paddock’s Amazon account is also under investigation, as well as a locked phone that was found in his room at the Mandalay Bay.

The FBI has said repeatedly that Paddock acted alone. Danley has not been charged with a crime. She has been questioned by investigators several times.

The New York Post reports, “a Nevada judge is due to hear arguments Tuesday about whether Las Vegas police search warrant documents should remain sealed.”

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Tunisia Celebrations And Protests Mark 7 Years Since Revolution

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Tunisia Celebrations And Protests Mark 7 Years Since Revolution

Sunday marks the seven-year anniversary of the ousting of Tunisia’s dictator. While Tunisians are celebrating the event, vast economic problems still persist throughout the country.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Tunisia, where, seven years ago today, Tunisians forced the country’s dictator from power and began a transition to democracy. That was followed by uprisings in Egypt, Libya and Syria. It became known as the Arab Spring. Today, some people are celebrating, others are protesting. NPR’s Ruth Sherlock is here to tell us more. She’s in the capital, Tunis. There have been some clashes but mainly peaceful demonstrations.

Ruth, welcome.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Thank you.

MARTIN: So what have people been doing to mark the anniversary?

SHERLOCK: Well, several thousand people gathered here on Habib Bourguiba, which is the main avenue in downtown, and it’s also where the mass protests happened in 2011. And of all the countries that protested in the Arab Spring, Tunisia has fared the best. As you mentioned, it’s a stable – semi-stable democracy. So some people felt they had a lot to celebrate. There was lots of music.

In one area, supporters of the more religiously conservative Ennahda party chanted and sang songs from the revolutionary days. And then in another area, these liberal supporters watched a belly dancer and dancers – kind of modern pop music. I asked Fadila Kaeish (ph), a supporter from the more conservative Ennahda party, what is the main thing that’s changed in her life since the uprising began?

FADILA KAEISH: (Speaking Arabic).

SHERLOCK: So she tells me here that the best thing that survived from that revolution is freedom of expression. This country was ruled by a dictator before, and people felt afraid to speak freely. It was also a secular regime, and they often oppressed observant Muslims. Women found it difficult sometimes to wear headscarves in public. All of that has now gone, and she says that that is something really to celebrate.

And that was the same sentiment – I spoke to young people, old people, religious or not – everybody had the same opinion that this freedom of expression is the best thing. There’s still some police harassment but it’s generally much, much better.

MARTIN: And yet I understand it – I understand that there have been protests this week about austerity measures and the economy. What did people tell you about that?

SHERLOCK: Well, that’s the other side of this anniversary event. There were also people who came here because they’re furious. They’re angry at a terrible economic situation. People are furious because there’s been a new budget that’s passed this year that’s increased the cost of basic goods. And the government is struggling to pay off an international monetary fund loan.

So it’s imposed austerity measures. It won’t expand the public sector. And that just means there’s a lot of people without jobs. I asked Amel Berrejab, who trained as an English teacher, why she’d come to demonstrate.

AMEL BERREJAB: No, today, we are not here to celebrate, just to protest, just to pressure the government to give us our right to choose recruitment, which is employment. I’m now, for example, a graduate since 2007. So 10 years, yes, since my graduation. I’ve got more than six years experience teaching in private school, in colleges and universities. I also taught in the U.S. as part of the Fulbright program. But in my country, I’m jobless.

SHERLOCK: So you hear this kind of frustration and this lack of hope. We spoke to a lot of people who said their friends are all leaving this country, either legally, if they can, or illegally if they can’t, and trying to find jobs elsewhere. That’s how bad it’s become.

MARTIN: Is there a sense that it’s getting worse?

SHERLOCK: Yes. There’s been protests this past week. There’s a group that’s been created that’s called What Are We Waiting For. It’s a youth activist group, but it’s had a big impact. It sparked these massive protests all over the country. The government was unnerved. It’s responded by arresting some 800 people according to U.N. figures. These people, who are protesting, want the government to repeal the 2018 budget – the one I mentioned that’s raised prices for basic goods.

MARTIN: That’s Ruth Sherlock. She’s in Tunisia, where they are observing the anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution which set off the Arab Spring. Ruth, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Plane Skids Off Runway In Turkey Onto Cliff Edge, No Injuries Reported

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Plane Skids Off Runway In Turkey Onto Cliff Edge, No Injuries Reported

A Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 passenger plane is seen stuck in mud on an embankment, a day after skidding off the airstrip, after landing at Trabzon’s airport on the Black Sea coast on Jan. 14.

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Chaos and panic broke out aboard a Turkish plane that skidded off the runway, slid down the edge of a cliff and stopped just short of plunging into the Black Sea.

But despite the terrifying landing Saturday night, everyone on board, including 162 passengers and crew, safely evacuated the Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 flying from Ankara to the coastal Turkish airport in Trabzon.

[embedded content]
HaaretzYouTube

Footage taken inside the plane moments after the accident appears to show panicked passengers trying to get out, while crew members offer instructions. A baby can be heard wailing in the background.

[embedded content]
Les Photos de JCB TV & Aviation VideosYouTube

The BBC says passenger Fatma Gordu described a chaotic scene.

“We tilted to the side, the front was down while the plane’s rear was up. There was panic; people shouting, screaming,” Gordu said.

In a statement, Pegasus Airlines explained the plane “had a runway excursion incident” as it landed, without delving into what caused the aircraft to careen off the tarmac and end up, clinging nose first down the cliff.

The Independentreports the only thing that prevented the Boeing 737-800 from plummeting into the water was that its wheels got stuck in the mud.

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Plane Skids Off Runway In Turkey Onto Cliff Edge, No Injuries Reported

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Plane Skids Off Runway In Turkey Onto Cliff Edge, No Injuries Reported

A Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737 passenger plane is seen stuck in mud on an embankment, a day after skidding off the airstrip, after landing at Trabzon’s airport on the Black Sea coast on Jan. 14.

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Chaos and panic broke out aboard a Turkish plane that skidded off the runway, slid down the edge of a cliff and stopped just short of plunging into the Black Sea.

But despite the terrifying landing Saturday night, everyone on board, including 162 passengers and crew, safely evacuated the Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 flying from Ankara to the coastal Turkish airport in Trabzon.

[embedded content]
HaaretzYouTube

Footage taken inside the plane moments after the accident appears to show panicked passengers trying to get out, while crew members offer instructions. A baby can be heard wailing in the background.

[embedded content]
Les Photos de JCB TV & Aviation VideosYouTube

The BBC says passenger Fatma Gordu described a chaotic scene.

“We tilted to the side, the front was down while the plane’s rear was up. There was panic; people shouting, screaming,” Gordu said.

In a statement, Pegasus Airlines explained the plane “had a runway excursion incident” as it landed, without delving into what caused the aircraft to careen off the tarmac and end up, clinging nose first down the cliff.

The Independentreports the only thing that prevented the Boeing 737-800 from plummeting into the water was that its wheels got stuck in the mud.

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Former U.S. Sen. John Tunney, Inspiration For Redford's 'The Candidate,' Dies At 83

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Former U.S. Sen. John Tunney, Inspiration For Redford's 'The Candidate,' Dies At 83

Former Democratic Sen. John Tunney greets supporters at a 1976 Jimmy Carter campaign stop in Pomona, Calif. Tunney died Friday, at age 83.

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John Tunney, the former U.S. senator who looked briefly like the future of the Democratic Party and whose rise inspired the Robert Redford film, The Candidate, has died, his brother confirmed to NPR on Saturday.

Tunney was 83 when he died of prostate cancer Friday in Santa Monica, Calif.

The son of a former boxing heavyweight champion, Tunney became one of the youngest senators elected in the past century when he defeated Republican incumbent George Murphy in 1970 at age 36.

The young Democrat had to “quiet some of his idealism” and move toward the center to beat Murphy, according to the AP.

A poster for Michael Ritchie's 1972 satirical comedy-drama, 'The Candidate', starring Robert Redford.

Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images

Just two years after that victory, The Candidate was released to critical and commercial success. Director Michael Ritchie had worked on Tunney’s campaign, and Robert Redford’s “Bill McCay” was based on the fast-rising senator.

[embedded content]
YouTube

Tunney drew comparison to the Kennedy brothers, and found himself more popular than even then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1974, according to The New York Times.

But a Republican wave was bubbling. And within two years, he was faced with that issue, along with the fact that many liberal Democrats were frustrated with him for being too slow to turn against the Vietnam War.

“Conservativism came sweeping in like a mudslide,” the senator’s brother, Jay Tunney, told NPR.

Tunney lost his re-election bid in 1976 to Republican S.I. Hayakawa, the 70-year-old president of California State University.

Tunney had graduated from Yale Law School prior to entering politics, and he returned to practicing law after the defeat.

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A New Approach To Refugees: Pay Them To Go Home

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A New Approach To Refugees: Pay Them To Go Home

For refugees in Austria who choose to voluntarily go back to their countries of origin, a one-way trip to the Vienna International Airport marks the end of their journey in Europe.

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Hans Punz/AP

Our series, “Take A Number,” is exploring problems around the world — and the people who are trying to solve them — through the lens of a single number.

158,000. That’s roughly how many refugees are stuck in limbo in Europe right now.

Many of them got to Europe in late 2015, when the refugee crisis reached its peak, and have been waiting since then to see if they’ll be formally accepted into the European Union. To cut down on the wait time and economic impact of this massive influx, some countries and nonprofits in Europe have embraced a new idea — pay refugees to go back to the countries they left in the first place.

Mahmoud Abdelwahab is one of the people who has been waiting. He’s 25, and originally from Mosul, Iraq. In early 2016, he quit his job as a cook and came to Europe, ending up in Vienna.

“He saw people dying on the trip, like capsizing or falling from the boat into the sea,” Philipp Epaid says. Epaid is Abdelwahab’s counselor at Caritas, the nonprofit that provides refugee services to people in Austria who are returning home.

Abdelwahab filled out his application to stay in Austria almost two years ago. Since then, nothing.

All he could do — legally — was wait in a refugee camp. This is a big problem a lot of people waiting for asylum have: They aren’t allowed to get a job, which means Mahmoud couldn’t send money back to his family.

“He wants to work. He wants to learn the language, and if you have no chance to do this, you’re stuck and you get tired,” Epaid says.

Abdelwahab says he spent two years all alone, feeling like a failure. And that the odds of getting asylum are stacked against him.

He’s not wrong — the Austrian courts have been overwhelmed by applications. When the migrant crisis reached its peak back in 2015, the number of people wanting to stay in Austria tripled.

Instead of waiting longer, Mahmoud late last year made a tough decision. He decided to leave Austria and go back to Iraq.

“He saw other Iraqi people receiving the negative decision that they have to go back,” Epaid says. “And that’s why he decided for himself to back, before he got a negative.”

That decision — to voluntarily leave the country — is exactly what the Austrian government wants refugees to do. Last spring, Austria announced that it would give 1,000 euros to the first 1,000 refugees who signed up to leave on their own.

The program was successful, and the government extended the offer to more refugees. It’s an incentive that’s gaining traction across Europe.

“Either they choose the voluntary option or we have to discuss the forced option,” says Karl-Heinz Groendbock, the spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry. That’s the department that’s funding the voluntary program. “Whenever it comes to forced return, we’re talking about arresting people. It means we also have detention centers for people waiting for forced return.”

Groendbock says it’s a lot cheaper to give someone a one-way flight and 1,000 euros than using the country’s resources to deport them. And, he adds, when there are more applications, there will be more rejections. So, the government has wanted to encourage more refugees to return home — a decision thousands of refugees made in 2017.

But is paying them really in the best interest of refugees? Philipp Epaid, Abdelwahab’s counselor, is not sure. He says it’s really important that a refugee makes a life-changing decision like this one on his own.

But this program is exactly why Mahmoud Abdelwahab chose to return home to Iraq — voluntarily.

On a warm Thursday in October, he took a bus to the Vienna airport, ready to board a flight to Baghdad.

He’s taking the buyout, he says, to go home and use the money to buy a car and become a cab driver.

“Two years … [I] was here for nothing,” Mahmoud says as Epaid translates. “It didn’t make any sense to come here.”

NPR has reached out to Abdelwahab, but hasn’t heard from him since he flew home to Iraq.

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President Trump's Idea Of Good And Bad Immigrant Countries Has A Historical Precedent

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President Trump's Idea Of Good And Bad Immigrant Countries Has A Historical Precedent

United States Circa 1900: Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, New York.

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In a White House meeting with members of Congress this week, President Trump is said to have suggested that the United States accepts too many immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa and too few from countries like Norway.

Those comments, relayed to NPR by people in attendance at the meeting, set off an immediate firestorm, in part because Trump appeared to be favoring the revival of a discriminatory immigration policy abolished by the U.S. Congress more than 50 years ago.

From 1924 to 1965, the United States allocated immigrant visas on the basis of a candidate’s national origin. People coming from northern and western European countries were heavily favored over those from the countries Trump now derides. More than 50,000 immigrant visas were reserved for Germany each year. The United Kingdom had the next biggest share, with about 34,000.

Ireland, with 28,000 slots, and Norway, with 6,400, had the highest quotas as a share of their population. Each country in Asia, meanwhile, had a quota of just 100, while Africans wishing to move to America had to compete for one of just 1,200 visas set aside for the continent as a whole.

The blatantly discriminatory quota policy was enacted on the basis of recommendations from a congressional commission set up in 1907 to determine who precisely was coming to the United States, from which countries, and what capacities they were bringing with them. Under the leadership of Republican Sen. William Dillingham of Vermont, the commission prepared a 42-volume report distinguishing desirable ethnicities from those the commission considered less desirable.

“Dictionary of Races or Peoples”

In a “Dictionary of Races or Peoples,” the commission reported that Slavic people demonstrated “fanaticism in religion, carelessness as to the business virtues of punctuality and often honesty.” Southern Italians were found to be “excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative” but also “impracticable.” Foreshadowing President Trump’s own assessment, the commission concluded that Scandinavians represented “the purest type.”

The main sponsor of the 1924 law enacting the national origins quotas was Rep. Albert Johnson (R-Washington), chairman of the House Committee on Immigration. Among Johnson’s immigration advisers were John Trevor, the founder of the far-right American Coalition of Patriotic Societies, and Madison Grant, an amateur eugenicist whose writings gave racism a veneer of intellectual legitimacy. In his 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race, Grant separated the human species into Caucasoids, Mongoloids, and Negroids, and argued that Caucasoids and Negroids needed to be separated.

Former U.S. President Harry Truman.

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The national origin quota system remained in effect for more than 40 years, despite increasing opposition from moderates and liberals. Minor adjustments were made under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, passed over the vigorous objections of President Harry Truman.

In a fiery veto message, Truman argued that the national origin quota policy “discriminates, deliberately and intentionally, against many peoples of the world.” After Congress dismissed his criticism and overrode his veto, Truman ordered the establishment of a presidential Commission on Immigration and Naturalization.

In its report, the commission concluded that U.S. immigration policy marginalized “the non-white people of the world who constitute between two-thirds and three-fourths of the world’s population.” The report was titled Whom We Shall Welcome, referring to a speech President George Washington delivered to a group of Irish immigrants in 1783.

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger,” Washington famously said in that speech, “but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

That promise was broken by the enslavement of Africans brought to America in chains, but it set forth the ideal by which U.S. immigration policy was to be judged in the 1950s.

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy both challenged the visa quota system, but it was Lyndon B. Johnson who made its elimination a top priority.

We should not be asking, ‘In what country were you born?’

“A nation that was built by the immigrants of all lands can ask those who now seek admission, ‘What can you do for our country?’ ” Johnson said in his 1964 State of the Union speech. “But we should not be asking, ‘In what country were you born?’ ” His administration proposed a reform that would put all nationalities on a roughly equal basis, with immigrant visas awarded largely on the basis of whether the candidates had skills and education considered “especially advantageous” to U.S. interests.

The idea that some countries produced better immigrants than others had support, however, and Johnson’s immigration reform proposal ran into substantial opposition. The chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Michael Feighan (D-Ohio) refused even to hold hearings on the administration’s bill in 1964 and relented the following year only after coming under heavy pressure from Johnson himself. When he did hold hearings, he made sure supporters of the quota system were given ample opportunity to argue for its continuation.

Former U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

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Among those testifying in its favor was John Trevor, Jr., whose father had played a key role in the enactment of the quota system. Trevor argued that the quota system ensured that newcomers would “mirror” the existing U.S. population, ensuring social stability.

Other arguments previewed the rhetoric of Trump campaign rallies more than 50 years later. The president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Adele Sullivan, claimed that choosing immigrants without regard to ethnicity “could result in further unemployment, overladen taxes, to say nothing of a collapse of moral and spiritual values, if nonassimilable aliens of dissimilar background and culture are permitted gradually to overwhelm our country.”

Similarly, Sen. John McClellan (D-Arkansas) asked whether opening the United States to immigrants from Africa would lead to “still more ghettos and thus more and more acts of violence and riots?”

Sen. John McClellan (D-Ark.), July 13, 1967.

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John Rous/AP

A fellow Democrat, Spessard Holland of Florida, in a speech on the Senate floor, asked, “Why, for the first time, are the emerging nations of Africa to be placed on the same basis as are our mother countries—Britain, Germany, the Scandinavian nations, France, and the other nations from which most Americans have come?” he asked.

In fact, the 1960 census showed that Americans of African slave descent outnumbered Scandinavian Americans by a margin of two-and-a-half to one. There were more African-Americans in the United States than there were Americans whose origins lay in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland combined.

Support for Johnson’s immigration reform, however, gained momentum after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had pushed for the abolition of national-origin quotas during the 1950s as a U.S. senator, tied the promotion of immigration reform to the civil-rights movement, then at its peak.

“We have removed all elements of second-class citizenship from our laws by the Civil Rights Act,” he said. “We must in 1965 remove all elements in our immigration law which suggest there are second-class people.”

Phenomenon of “chain migration”

With a huge Democratic majority elected the year before, the immigration reform finally passed both houses of Congress in September 1965. Conservatives, led by Ohio’s Michael Feighan, however, had insisted on a key change in the legislation, giving immigrant candidates with relatives already in the United States priority over those with “advantageous” skills and education, as the Johnson administration had originally proposed.

That change, which eventually led to the phenomenon of “chain migration” denounced by Trump, was seen as a way to preserve the existing ethnic profile of the U.S. population and discourage the immigration of Asians and Africans, who had fewer family ties in the country.

The key reform, however, was achieved. The new law did away entirely with immigration quotas based on national origin.

“This system violated the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man,” President Johnson declared as he signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. “It has been un-American in the highest sense. Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.”

For some, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 legislation, in October 2015, was an occasion for celebration. Muzaffar Chishti, an immigrant from India and a senior lawyer at the Migration Policy Institute, observed at the time that the law sent a message to the rest of the world that, “America is not just a place for certain privileged nationalities. We are truly the first universal nation,” he said. “That may have been the promise of the founding fathers, but it took a long time to realize it.”

In the years since 1965, America has become a truly multicultural nation. With a U.S. president once again saying that immigrants from some countries are superior to immigrants from other countries, the question is whether America will keep its founders’ promise in the years ahead.

Tom Gjelten’s book on how the 1965 Immigration Act changed the United States is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story.

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President Trump's Idea Of Good And Bad Immigrant Countries Has A Historical Precedent

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President Trump's Idea Of Good And Bad Immigrant Countries Has A Historical Precedent

United States Circa 1900: Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, New York.

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In a White House meeting with members of Congress this week, President Trump is said to have suggested that the United States accepts too many immigrants from “shithole countries” in Africa and too few from countries like Norway.

Those comments, relayed to NPR by people in attendance at the meeting, set off an immediate firestorm, in part because Trump appeared to be favoring the revival of a discriminatory immigration policy abolished by the U.S. Congress more than 50 years ago.

From 1924 to 1965, the United States allocated immigrant visas on the basis of a candidate’s national origin. People coming from northern and western European countries were heavily favored over those from the countries Trump now derides. More than 50,000 immigrant visas were reserved for Germany each year. The United Kingdom had the next biggest share, with about 34,000.

Ireland, with 28,000 slots, and Norway, with 6,400, had the highest quotas as a share of their population. Each country in Asia, meanwhile, had a quota of just 100, while Africans wishing to move to America had to compete for one of just 1,200 visas set aside for the continent as a whole.

The blatantly discriminatory quota policy was enacted on the basis of recommendations from a congressional commission set up in 1907 to determine who precisely was coming to the United States, from which countries, and what capacities they were bringing with them. Under the leadership of Republican Sen. William Dillingham of Vermont, the commission prepared a 42-volume report distinguishing desirable ethnicities from those the commission considered less desirable.

“Dictionary of Races or Peoples”

In a “Dictionary of Races or Peoples,” the commission reported that Slavic people demonstrated “fanaticism in religion, carelessness as to the business virtues of punctuality and often honesty.” Southern Italians were found to be “excitable, impulsive, highly imaginative” but also “impracticable.” Foreshadowing President Trump’s own assessment, the commission concluded that Scandinavians represented “the purest type.”

The main sponsor of the 1924 law enacting the national origins quotas was Rep. Albert Johnson (R-Washington), chairman of the House Committee on Immigration. Among Johnson’s immigration advisers were John Trevor, the founder of the far-right American Coalition of Patriotic Societies, and Madison Grant, an amateur eugenicist whose writings gave racism a veneer of intellectual legitimacy. In his 1916 book The Passing of the Great Race, Grant separated the human species into Caucasoids, Mongoloids, and Negroids, and argued that Caucasoids and Negroids needed to be separated.

Former U.S. President Harry Truman.

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The national origin quota system remained in effect for more than 40 years, despite increasing opposition from moderates and liberals. Minor adjustments were made under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, passed over the vigorous objections of President Harry Truman.

In a fiery veto message, Truman argued that the national origin quota policy “discriminates, deliberately and intentionally, against many peoples of the world.” After Congress dismissed his criticism and overrode his veto, Truman ordered the establishment of a presidential Commission on Immigration and Naturalization.

In its report, the commission concluded that U.S. immigration policy marginalized “the non-white people of the world who constitute between two-thirds and three-fourths of the world’s population.” The report was titled Whom We Shall Welcome, referring to a speech President George Washington delivered to a group of Irish immigrants in 1783.

“The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger,” Washington famously said in that speech, “but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions, whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”

That promise was broken by the enslavement of Africans brought to America in chains, but it set forth the ideal by which U.S. immigration policy was to be judged in the 1950s.

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy both challenged the visa quota system, but it was Lyndon B. Johnson who made its elimination a top priority.

We should not be asking, ‘In what country were you born?’

“A nation that was built by the immigrants of all lands can ask those who now seek admission, ‘What can you do for our country?’ ” Johnson said in his 1964 State of the Union speech. “But we should not be asking, ‘In what country were you born?’ ” His administration proposed a reform that would put all nationalities on a roughly equal basis, with immigrant visas awarded largely on the basis of whether the candidates had skills and education considered “especially advantageous” to U.S. interests.

The idea that some countries produced better immigrants than others had support, however, and Johnson’s immigration reform proposal ran into substantial opposition. The chairman of the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Michael Feighan (D-Ohio) refused even to hold hearings on the administration’s bill in 1964 and relented the following year only after coming under heavy pressure from Johnson himself. When he did hold hearings, he made sure supporters of the quota system were given ample opportunity to argue for its continuation.

Former U.S. President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

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Among those testifying in its favor was John Trevor, Jr., whose father had played a key role in the enactment of the quota system. Trevor argued that the quota system ensured that newcomers would “mirror” the existing U.S. population, ensuring social stability.

Other arguments previewed the rhetoric of Trump campaign rallies more than 50 years later. The president general of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Adele Sullivan, claimed that choosing immigrants without regard to ethnicity “could result in further unemployment, overladen taxes, to say nothing of a collapse of moral and spiritual values, if nonassimilable aliens of dissimilar background and culture are permitted gradually to overwhelm our country.”

Similarly, Sen. John McClellan (D-Arkansas) asked whether opening the United States to immigrants from Africa would lead to “still more ghettos and thus more and more acts of violence and riots?”

Sen. John McClellan (D-Ark.), July 13, 1967.

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A fellow Democrat, Spessard Holland of Florida, in a speech on the Senate floor, asked, “Why, for the first time, are the emerging nations of Africa to be placed on the same basis as are our mother countries—Britain, Germany, the Scandinavian nations, France, and the other nations from which most Americans have come?” he asked.

In fact, the 1960 census showed that Americans of African slave descent outnumbered Scandinavian Americans by a margin of two-and-a-half to one. There were more African-Americans in the United States than there were Americans whose origins lay in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Switzerland combined.

Support for Johnson’s immigration reform, however, gained momentum after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had pushed for the abolition of national-origin quotas during the 1950s as a U.S. senator, tied the promotion of immigration reform to the civil-rights movement, then at its peak.

“We have removed all elements of second-class citizenship from our laws by the Civil Rights Act,” he said. “We must in 1965 remove all elements in our immigration law which suggest there are second-class people.”

Phenomenon of “chain migration”

With a huge Democratic majority elected the year before, the immigration reform finally passed both houses of Congress in September 1965. Conservatives, led by Ohio’s Michael Feighan, however, had insisted on a key change in the legislation, giving immigrant candidates with relatives already in the United States priority over those with “advantageous” skills and education, as the Johnson administration had originally proposed.

That change, which eventually led to the phenomenon of “chain migration” denounced by Trump, was seen as a way to preserve the existing ethnic profile of the U.S. population and discourage the immigration of Asians and Africans, who had fewer family ties in the country.

The key reform, however, was achieved. The new law did away entirely with immigration quotas based on national origin.

“This system violated the basic principle of American democracy, the principle that values and rewards each man on the basis of his merit as a man,” President Johnson declared as he signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. “It has been un-American in the highest sense. Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.”

For some, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 legislation, in October 2015, was an occasion for celebration. Muzaffar Chishti, an immigrant from India and a senior lawyer at the Migration Policy Institute, observed at the time that the law sent a message to the rest of the world that, “America is not just a place for certain privileged nationalities. We are truly the first universal nation,” he said. “That may have been the promise of the founding fathers, but it took a long time to realize it.”

In the years since 1965, America has become a truly multicultural nation. With a U.S. president once again saying that immigrants from some countries are superior to immigrants from other countries, the question is whether America will keep its founders’ promise in the years ahead.

Tom Gjelten’s book on how the 1965 Immigration Act changed the United States is A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story.

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