There are few hotter topics in America today than immigration. However, just as throughout America’s history, immigrants play an enormous role in the day-to-day life of this nation.
Spend a few days in New York City and you’ll quickly discover that the city simply couldn’t function without a continuous flow of immigrants. They are everywhere and doing everything, much of it what native Americans refuse to do. They drive cabs, they wait tables, they labor in hot kitchens from fast food to haute cuisine. They are nannies, maids, laundresses, dish washers, gardeners, painters, and so much more.
Despite of all the arguments against immigration most American businessmen openly admit that consumer goods and services would be far more costly without them. Much of America’s food crops would simply rot in the fields and orchards if it weren’t for the immigrant labor force that brings in the crop. And it is not enough to argue that if welfare were slashed all those “lazy ass moochers” would be forced into the farms and fields. If every able bodied person in America were forced to pick peaches we still may not have enough people to meet our labor demands.
There is no denying it, America needs immigrants. Even in the military immigrants are relied on to keep the ranks filled. It is currently estimated that over 29,000 foreigners arewearing the uniform of one of our service branches and about 8,000 more enlist each year. On July 4th, 2012, President Obama, in a White House ceremony, bestowed American citizenship on 25 foreigners currently serving our nation. Since September 11, 2001, more than 75,000 foreigners, serving in uniform, have become U.S. citizens.
America has had a long and difficult history of dealing with those who risk it all to come here. For most of our early history we had no official policy regarding immigration but that doesn’t mean the welcome mat was out. You need look no farther than the “Irish needn’t apply” signs of the 1840s for evidence. We’ve been mostly a white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant society (WASP) and the more one differed from that the less welcoming immigrants would find America and Americans.
In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act was enacted and became the nation’s first major official immigration policy. It was rooted in racism and economic fear and aimed specifically at curbing the flow of Chinese labor coming here to help build the railroads and infrastructure.
By the turn of the 20th Century America was awash in immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe and the same xenophobic fears and anti-immigrant rantings that exist today were heard then. This gave rise to the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 that established strict quotas on immigration from various nations with severe limits placed on nations that were not typically WASP. It remained the law until passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. In between the two laws, and since, many other adjustments and/or tweaks have taken place but no policy has effectively gained control over the ever-growing numbers of people wanting to emigrate to America.
The simple reality is that America is a political and economic magnet attracting people from the world over and no law or high wall is going to stop it. When our economy is in the tank, it slows down. If there is political strife, it slows down. But as long as we are wealthier and freer than someplace else there will be those who will risk everything to come here. If you insist on a negative view you could say that we are a victim of our own success and as long as we espouse those things that set us apart from so many other places, the world’s poor and trampled masses will continue to take their chances.
I’d rather see it as something more positive. As long as we continue being America we will continue to attract the best and brightest of the world’s populations to help further enrich our lives and culture. Each year tens of thousands of foreign students graduate from American universities and then must leave taking their talents with them. One thing we could do is to, along with their diploma, hand them a green card and an offer of citizenship.
Give this some consideration the next time you’re enjoying a pizza or a plate of enchiladas. Give it some thought the next time you read about an American educated young person becoming the next Bill Gates but locating their new Microsoft in Bombay rather than Buffalo. It’s all food for thought.