From late 1921 until 1965, US immigration restrictions meant Anglo Australians who were used to crossing borders with ease were instead detained and expelled like hardened criminals

Lurking behind the debates about offshore processing lies a little-known historical irony: white Australians were once locked up in immigration centres that bore a striking resemblance to the Manus Island and Nauru detention centres, which were recently harshly criticised by the UN human rights committee. And unsurprisingly, they were far from happy about it.

Back in 1921, the United States introduced immigration restrictions based on national quotas. The quotas were tightened in 1924, and again in 1929, and remained in place until 1965.

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