In this long-awaited book, Professor of History at the University of Iowa and leading disability historian Douglas Baynton combines a cultural and intellectual history of various terms associated with disability with poignant examples of immigrants' experiences with immigration officials upon entering the United States to forge a brief yet powerful and far-reaching analysis of the importance of disability in immigration history. Defectives in the Land is divided into four chapters with a short introduction and conclusion. That this is a history of terms related to disability becomes evident at the outset. Each of the chapters uses a single word related to disability as its title: Defective, Handicapped, Dependent, and Ugly.

As its title indicates, Defectives in the Land explores disability and immigration "in the age of eugenics," from about the time Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 through the passage of the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act in 1924. The book focuses on European immigration to the East Coast of the United States, primarily Ellis Island.

In the age of eugenics, immigration restriction was the most obvious and straightforward way for a multitude of actors to keep an equally diverse number of "defectives" out of the United States. In chapter 1, which engages with key historiographic debates among immigration historians, Baynton argues that historians, who have been largely concerned with race, have given relatively little attention to disability. He explains that historians have subdivided immigration law around the turn of the twentieth century into a selective phase that began in 1882 with the Chinese Exclusion Act and a restrictive phase that began in either 1917 or 1921 (depending on the historian). In the first phase, policymakers sought to "screen out undesirable individuals" (p. 17), including those with "defects." In the second phase, lawmakers sought to reduce the number of certain racial and ethnic groups and the total number of immigrants coming into the country. Baynton importantly asserts that selective immigration is treated transparently and straightforwardly – in other words disability and defect are taken for granted as legitimate reasons for exclusion – and its relevance to eugenics is overlooked; immigration restriction, on the other hand, was motivated by racism, nativism, and eugenics. Baynton shows that when viewed through a critical disability history lens, the history of immigration policy is much more complex than previous historians have argued. It was "simultaneously selective and restrictive" (p. 22). Assumptions about the status of potential immigrants was equally complicated. For example, accusations of an inability to work rarely took seriously the lived experiences or pronouncements of immigrants themselves, and were often based upon cultural assumptions about normatively attractive and productive bodies within an urbanizing, industrializing, capitalist context. After decades of failed attempts to restrict immigration based on "poor physique" and other physical markers, policymakers decided to link defect to race and devise the quota system enacted in the wake of World War I.

In chapter 2, Baynton takes an innovative approach to thinking about how language affected ideas about disability and its relationship to immigration. He argues that significant intellectual shifts, such as moving from affliction to handicap, as well as changing understandings of time brought about by increasing urbanization and industrialization, changed most Americans' worldviews from a more static view rooted in divine design, to "evolutionary time," in which nothing was fixed, but always changing, the future was always in question. Life became a competition or race. Words like "retarded" and "normal" took on a new meaning in the fast-paced setting of industrializing America, a place where "progress" was continually measured and commented upon at every turn. By the end of the 19th-century, "retarded" became a prescription for a type of person, "someone who was both uncompetitive economically and a laggard in evolutionary development." (p. 62) The implication was that immigration policymakers needed to restrict the immigration of people with intellectual disabilities.

In chapter 3, Baynton explores the notion of dependence, noting that women and children considered disabled, as well as "disabled [male] adults" (p. 91), faced significant challenges from immigration officials when they attempted to enter the country. The notion among certain immigration officials that disabled people – or those perceived to be dependent – were "likely to become a public charge" (p. 104) led them to take actions against immigrants, despite in some cases clear evidence of a disabled immigrant's potential for self-support, or the presence of family eager to support them. The resulting examinations, evaluations, trials, and other means of intervention wreaked havoc in new immigrants' lives. This chapter, which is more deeply rooted in documents produced by immigration officials, showcases the lived experiences of people with disabilities, revealing the complex and often tragic outcome of immigration restriction.

In chapter 4, "Ugly" (p. 102), Baynton begins with a brief meditation on disgust and contagion and the role that they played in the aversion to disability expressed by various social commentators. He then moves into a brief discussion of the importance of visuality (of seeing), first impressions, and the performativity of every day life in the nation's burgeoning cities. It was within this context that some eugenicists equated "beauty" with genetic worth and "ugliness" with unfitness. The mounting sense of disgust provoked by anomalous bodies made its way into immigration inspection, where officials based decisions, at least in some cases, on an often brief visual scanning of incoming migrants. Officials noted that they could detect deficient intelligence, mental defect, and sexual anomalies at a glance, greatly enhancing their power to decide the fate of new arrivals.

In the book's brief conclusion, Baynton anticipates some of the questions that could be posed by readers. He mentions that the precise number of immigrants turned away because of disability is difficult to measure. He states, however, that it was significant. Additionally, by the second decade of the twentieth century shipping companies faced with potential fines and fees for returning rejected immigrants to their homelands implemented their own rigid screening systems – further obscuring the number of rejected "defectives." Laws concerning disabled migrants remained in effect until 1990, when the United States Congress took steps to eliminate most of the restrictions. Even in the twenty-first century, however, disabled people could be denied entry into the United States if immigration officials thought they might become a public charge or pose a "threat to the property, safety, or welfare of the alien or others" (p. 137). The fight for equity in all areas of life remains an ongoing struggle.

The care and rigor with which Baynton approaches disability and immigration history is commendable. The skill with which he weaves intellectual, social, and cultural history is unmatched. Baynton has been a leader in the area of disability and immigration for years. This short book – much of which gathers previously published articles and chapters – will no doubt be critical reading in most disability studies and disability history programs and classes. The book also brings together disability history and immigration history in ways that relate more broadly to the history of the United States. Defectives in the Land should be consulted by all historians interested in immigration and those professors teaching the second half of the United States history survey to undergraduates. Despite its many strengths, this book will no doubt provoke numerous questions among experts in both disability history and immigration history: How deeply are race, gender, class, and disability imbricated not only in the lives of new immigrants, but also in government officials and other professionals evaluations and expectations of them? What was happening on the west coast of the United States, at Angel Island, for example? Or along the Mexican, or Canadian border? What was life like for those disabled Europeans who never had a chance to get on the boat? And what happened to those who were turned away and sent back home? What precisely is the relationship between disability and immigration in the decades between the 1920s and the 1990s? Do these relationships change as the demographics of immigrants shift over time and eugenics no longer occupies a central place among government officials and experts? In short, how might expanding this research in every way, geographically, temporally, and thematically benefit any future work done in this area?

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