Today, we are “protecting” ourselves… against being flooded by immigrants from the middle east. This is fantastic. … We do not need to be protected against immigrants from these countries–on the contrary we want to stretch out a helping hand, to save those who have managed to flee….
Who wrote it?
Believe it or not, we Americans have had an ongoing “conversation” about immigration since the 1700s. Did you know that only white people could become naturalized US citizens from 1790 until 1952?! Read on for more about the tweets.
In the late 1800s, we started to see large numbers of immigrants from eastern Europe, Ireland, etc. The Americans who were already here, and financially secure, looked down on the folks who were arriving poor, poorly educated, and with odd social customs. You can gut-check this is by thinking back on the stereotypes of from your childhood. Where do you think Pollack jokes originated? How about the unflattering images of the Irish dockworker or the Russian peddler?
About that Tweet Storm
I fudged the truth a bit: That did not appear on Twitter and I changed two words. During debate about the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, then president Harry S. Truman had this to say:
Today, we are “protecting” ourselves as we were in 1924, against being flooded by immigrants from Eastern Europe. This is fantastic. … We do not need to be protected against immigrants from these countries–on the contrary we want to stretch out a helping hand, to save those who have managed to flee into Western Europe, to succor those who are brave enough to escape from barbarism, to welcome and restore them against the day when their countries will, as we hope, be free again….These are only a few examples of the absurdity, the cruelty of carrying over into this year of 1952 the isolationist limitations of our 1924 law.
In no other realm of our national life are we so hampered and stultified by the dead hand of the past, as we are in this field of immigration.
The act did pass and it set immigration quotas based on the 1920 US census. In other words, if your ancestors were already US citizens then you were more able to immigrate. If you did not already have people living here who looked like you then… tough noogies.
Remarkably, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 eliminated the race requirement for US citizenship. Immigrants had had to be white since passage of our Naturalization Act of 1790.
Another Gut Check
Ask yourself this question: On the whole, has immigration worked well or poorly for the United States?
We can easily get carried away by the passions of the day. We can easily get distracted by studies and numbers and statistics. The answer, however, is staring us in our faces. Since we live in a country of immigrants, and since our country has grown and flourished for centuries, immigration must be working for us.
The Core Argument
What are we really arguing about, if immigration has obviously benefited the United States?
At our cores, we are each most passionately protective of ourselves and our families. We are supposed to be that way; it keeps us alive. We follow religions and form ethical frameworks to counterbalance our selfish inclinations because we recognize that we have larger responsibilities. The immigration issue strikes close to home and gets personal in a hurry. People get scared when they face questions like these and the answers do not seem to be in their favor:
- If I let immigrants move into town, will I still have a job so that I can buy food for my family?
- If I let immigrants move into town, will my daughter be led astray?
We are caught between two imperatives: the need to care for our families and the duty to care for those less fortunate than ourselves. It is important to remember that there are no easy, right answers to this situation. How each person responds depends on his situation that day, so we see some people adamantly on the side of caring for others by allowing more immigration, while others are just as forcefully on the side of caring for themselves and arguing for a US-first position. Both are “right.” They are simply at different places on the wide spectrum of priorities, which ranges from completely selfish to completely selfless.
Why did I write this blog post? In the hopes that you will take away these thoughts:
- Arguing about immigration is normal for us.
- On balance, immigrants have built our country up rather than torn it down.
- We are all “right.” We just have different priorities.
Our challenge, as citizens of these United States of America, is to find a balance which respects everyone.
Here are a few references to get you started on further reading:
- Wikipedia History of laws concerning immigration and naturalization in the United States
- Wikipedia Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952
- Witnessing Whiteness, by Shelly Tochluk, chapter 3, “Uncovering a Hidden History”