Immigration Facts and Fantasies
Before you get browbeaten over the horrific and unprecedented threat represented by today's immigrants by your favorite Lou Dobbs fan (who may be a good friend, neighbor, or relative), read this fascinating article from The Washington Post, which sums up a few of the historical realities about immigration. They're quite a bit different from the pleasant myths many second- and third-generation Americans choose to believe. A few examples:
Contrary to the boasts of many proud Americans that "my relatives didn't break the law when they came to this country, they played by the rules and waited in line," the fact is that for most of American history there were no real "rules" about immigration:
Until 1918, the United States did not require passports; the term "illegal immigrant" had no meaning. New arrivals were required only to prove their identity and find a relative or friend who could vouch for them.
Customs agents kept an eye out for lunatics and the infirm (and after 1905, for anarchists). Ninety-eight percent of the immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island were admitted to the United States, and 78 percent spent less than eight hours on the island. (The Mexico-United States border then was unguarded and freely crossed in either direction.)
Contrary to the claims of many Latino-bashers that "immigrants were once expected to know English," historian Nancy Foner points out: "Eventually they introduced a literacy test . . . but it was in the immigrant's own language, not English."
And contrary to the complaints that today's immigrants come here just to make a buck rather than being motivated by zeal for American citizenship like past immigrants:
. . . perhaps half of the Italian immigrants returned to Italy, often with cash to buy a farm or own a business. Greeks, too, returned in large numbers. "People complain about Mexicans coming for economic reasons, but they don't realize how many earlier immigrants just sojourned here," said Richard Wright, a geography professor at Dartmouth College. "The rates of return are staggering."
There's much more interesting stuff in the article. But the key take-away is simple: Don't take the self-serving historical fantasies of the anti-immigrant rabble-rousers at face value. They're mostly based on nothing more than thinly-veiled xenophobia, economic anxiety, and an attitude of, "Our families are safely inside, now it's time to shut the gates."
Tag: immigration, Lou Dobbs