Immigration, Redux

Posted on February 11, 2017


It is time to visit immigration-land once again, especially to correct many absurd and patently wrong assumptions about this hot button issue.

The first immigrants to North America were, of course, the ancestors of the American Indians who arrived maybe fifteen or twenty thousand years ago.

The second wave of immigrants were your ancestors and mine, Spanish conquistadors, English merchant-adventurers, gold hunters of all stripes, dissenters (Puritans for example), French priests, ministers, government bureaucrats (they have always been around) who trickled into North America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and then came over in serious numbers in the eighteenth century.

No one had passports, green cards or tourist visas. They weren’t invented yet.

No one asked the Indians if they could come from Europe. They just came.

Relations between native Americans and the newly arrived Europeans, often starving after their first winter trying to sponge off the Indians, deteriorated over the next century. The old adage about immigration among modern Indians is that “if you want to know the perils of open borders, just look at what happened to us…”

A large proportion of new immigrants signed a contract to work for six or seven years in the farms and plantations of the colonies for the price of the passage to the New World. I always caution snotty Georgians or Virginians who claim their ancestry back to the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries to be very careful; more than likely their ancestors were indentured servants, jailbirds, prostitutes, the lowest of the low in English society. Very few “Sirs” and “Lords” among them.

In fact, much of early Georgia in the 1730s was populated by emptying the jails of England.

By the nineteenth century, the population of the original thirteen colonies, now the United States, grew rapidly. The push factors were conditions in other parts of the world, especially demographics and politics. The population explosion across Europe led to increased pressure to emigrate to the United States, with wide open spaces and lands beckoning with new opportunities. Think the Statue of Liberty, finished in the early 1880s.

The pull factor was the United States itself, a land where anyone with energy and desire could make a new and prosperous life. For example, pogroms or discrimination against Jews in much of Europe drew them to the United States in the latter half of the nineteenth century, to the land of the free and the brave. Better this than the old lands, like Russia, of desperation and persecution. The same factors are at work today, although the specific circumstances are different.

Open immigration ended in the nineteenth century. Various immigration laws barred, for example, Chinese and Asian immigrants to keep America from being overrun by the “yellow peril.” In the early twentieth century, waves of immigrants, especially from Central and Southern Europe, rose to over a million a year, and various immigration acts followed to restrict the flow and regulate it in some fashion that reflected U. S. values.

Basically, some Americans wanted to keep America’s population as it then existed, predominately of European origins. Others wanted immigration from across the world to preserve the unique characteristics of a richly diverse American culture. And those two divergent views still influence decisions today.

For those who espouse and/or think that open borders is truly American, you might consider who the Immigration Act of 1917 barred: “homosexuals”, “idiots”, “feeble-minded persons”, “criminals”, “epileptics”, “insane persons”, alcoholics, “professional beggars”, all persons “mentally or physically defective”, polygamists, anarchists and all immigrants over the age of sixteen who were illiterate.

In the 1920s the quota system was inaugurated and it lasted until the 1960s. It limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States in 1890. Chinese, Japanese, Arabs and Indians were prohibited specifically.

Now the issue of immigration is an immense tangle of interests that no politician seems able to resolve, even politicians sometimes with the best and even noblest aspirations. We can’t seem to agree on an overarching idea to write a bill with specifics that not only respects traditional American values but also reflects that one of America’s great strengths is in its diversity of all races and people

Immigrants have made this country what it is. The first Puritans were immigrants. African slaves were immigrants, albeit unwilling immigrants. President Trump’s grandfather was an immigrant. Immigrants bring energy, they are looking to better their lives, they are willing to work hard, they infuse our society with optimism, with desire, with creativity.

The job of the federal government is to create or, better, revise the framework to encourage the continued flow of desirable immigrants into our country. Ensure that those coming in truly believe in our way of life.

If you prefer Sharia law rather than American laws, then stay in Iran. We are not the global good uncle welcoming all. We all have front doors on our homes and apartments. We need to make sure our nation’s front door is secure also.

 Published as “Immigration Policy Must Entail Some Restrictions” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Feb. 5, 2017


Posted in: History, immigration