Immigrant attitudes

Adam Griffin
 Staff Writer

The Statue of Liberty stands as a tall symbol in New York’s harbor. The words from her iron frame echo across the world: “Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp,” cries she with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Immigration has been an important part of America since before its founding. The phrase “we are a nation of immigrants” is often repeated in the media and by politicians, but what does that really mean? Have Americans always been welcoming to immigrants?

The first part of that answer involves the fact that no humans originated on the American continent. And other than Native Americans, no European was born here until Virginia Dare in 1587. Therefore, this nation is entirely composed of immigrants.

From the earliest days, however, people debated how homogenous society needed to be and how many foreign cultures should be allowed into the new American nation. Some argued that it needed to be only Christians, while others argued for total religious toleration. Almost as soon as the new constitutional government was underway, the issue of immigration became a hot topic of government power.

In 1798, President John Adams and the Federalists-controlled Fifth Congress made the first national push against immigrants and foreigners with four bills known to history as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These bills were aimed at immigrants, most of whom supported the Jeffersonian Republicans, and were created as a war measure against the French during the Quasi-War (1798-1800).

One bill increased the time of residency required for an immigrant to become a citizen, while the others allowed the president to jail or deport both foreign citizens and foreign immigrants during times of war. These acts, alongside the Sedition Act, became wildly unpopular Jeffersonians resisted them, such that Adams lost the next election and the laws elapsed.

These anti-immigration forces were defeated after just a few years; however, in the years between 1820 and 1860, the U.S. experienced unprecedented immigration from many Europeans countries, especially Ireland and Germany, that led to a serious conservative backlash of nativism. This nativism took a distinctive anti-Catholic stance and formed as the political entity known as the Know Nothing Party.

The tension between these Protestants and Catholic immigrants created fissures in society, which subsequently led to large political rallies that, in some cases, turned into riots. Certainly, this nativism took a back seat to the Civil War, with many immigrants joining the Democratic Party and Northern Protestants joining the Republican Party. Yet, the tensions boiled beneath the surface and would escalate in future periods.

With the Great Famine in Ireland (1845-1852) and the invention of steam powered ships replacing the old sailing ships, a greater influx of immigrants came to American shores in the post-Civil War years — this time, more Irish Catholic than previously. In the early 1900s, immigrants began flooding the shores from all across the world, including Italy, the united Sweden-Norway and central Europe.

Years earlier, the Supreme Court had made immigration a responsibility of the federal government to handle and manage — to protect and make accommodations for new immigrants. In the face of all these new immigrants, though, Congress began passing restrictions on the amount of immigrants who could relocate into America from certain nations and even produced a literacy test to prevent the massive influx of uneducated immigrants who were populating the nation.

Nativism arose again under the term “New Immigration” when many native-born Americans began to fear the ability of these new immigrants to assimilate into American culture and thereby change the basic social fabric of the country. It was during this time that the phrase “melting-pot” became challenged by the idea of America as a “dumping ground.”

In the wake of World War II, with the economy booming, America became a haven for a war-torn world; it was during this time that immigration truly became enshrined as an American value for the world.

The problem and debate over immigration in the U.S. has been ongoing since the founding of our republic, and with the current debate over Mexican immigration, anchor babies and border security swirling around the 2016 presidential election, it is likely to continue into the future.

For most of our history, the U.S. was not a welfare state, and churches, as well as charities, handled the lion’s share of caring for the nation’s poor and newest citizens. Yet, much of the outcry against illegal immigration in modern times is a result of taxpayers feeling unfairly treated when their hard-earned money goes to aiding individuals — who have no right to be here — through government programs that provide benefits to illegal immigrants.

This complaint is coupled by heightened governmental regulations and standards for U.S. workers that make under the table immigrant workers more affordable for businesses, especially small businesses that are already struggling to compete.

Given these problems and the policies of foreign countries that push people to immigrate here either illegally or legally, it becomes incumbent on citizens to push our politicians to simplify legal immigration into this country, so that those who want to become Americans can do so in an orderly fashion.

The condition of human rights in other countries does not wait for the land of the free and the home of the brave to make it easier to live up to the nation’s creed — if we do not build an efficient system and stand up for the tired, the poor and the huddled masses that are yearning to leave their oppressive homes for greater opportunity, then none will.

Simply put, it is imperative that we repair our broken immigration system and make it easier to come into this country legally.

Categories: Columns, Opinions

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