On the matter of immigration many of those who support the concepts of “free choice migration,” “open borders,” or “free market labor,” defend their position with the argument that from earliest times immigration was wide open and all comers were welcome, and that is what made America great. This is absolutely untrue. It was never like that, and has never in the history of the country been close to what has been happening since 1965- the immigration problem is a recent one stemming from misguided progressives and free market labor conservatives.
The first immigrants were from Europe, mostly Britain, the Netherlands, and France, settling in the Northern Atlantic coastal areas (During the same period all parties were battling for a share of the Caribbean islands, and the Spanish and Portuguese where concentrating on Central and South America, though there were minor colonies in what would eventually be the United States). During the 1600’s approximately 175,000 English migrated to America. Many of these were recruited to establish colonies for agriculture and to exploit natural resources.
Over the next 200 hundred years about 500,000 British and other Europeans, migrated to expand the colonies; of these at least half were indentured servants, people who were provided passage, room and board, and usually training in return for a long period of working for the colonist. It was during this period that most of the African slaves were brought to America. This was not open migration, it was migration with a specific purpose and consisted of volunteer farmers, merchants, craftsmen, entrepreneurs, indentured labor, and forced labor.
Immigration had little need for control because it was controlled naturally by the arduous and expensive crossing of the ocean. People who came here as religious pilgrims/refugees, were a problem in their home countries where their emerging churches caused conflict with the establishment; colonization got the problem out of the homeland and helped to develop the colonial production needed to provide a robust merchant trade; a win-win for the home government.
This continued to be the situation through the American Revolution, with the added immigration of mercenary French and Hessian (German) soldiers, some of whom stayed on as residents. The restriction of immigration as a consequence of difficulty and cost began to fail with the formation of the United States, since there was considerable political and social upheaval in Europe and ocean crossing had become much faster, safer, and less expensive. The Constitution was ratified in 1787, and the first immigration law of the United States was passed just three years later in 1790 in which only free white persons could be naturalized. From 1787 to 1820 immigration was less than 8000 per year. The next change was after the civil war when blacks were granted citizenship.
In 1875 the first comprehensive immigration law was passed, replacing the 1790 act. The purpose was to control both the number and nature of immigrants, so that they would not displace American workers, would not be enemies of the U.S., would give up allegiance to all other countries, would learn to read and write English, would not carry communicable disease, could assimilate into the American culture, and were capable of being self-sustaining. Fifteen years later, in 1890 Ellis Island in New York became the primary immigration screening and processing point of entry for European immigrants.
In 1854 the Gadsden Purchase added the southern portions of territory to what are now the states of Arizona and New Mexico. In the purchase it was agreed with Mexico that existing Mexican and Spanish land titles would be recognized and those Mexican citizens who wished to remain Mexican could sell their holdings and relocate to Mexico; those who chose to stay automatically became U.S. Citizens. The total population in the Arizona portion of the Gadsden Purchase was less than 500 people, most Mexican citizens, but also many friendly Indians. There were also Mexican Citizens at La Mesilla but they numbered no more than 500, some of these elected to move south and remain Mexican, others accepted U.S. Citizenship.
From 1836 to 1914 30 million Europeans immigrated to the U.S; almost 400,000 per year. The country had vast tracts of western land to populate, so the Europeans were welcomed with open arms. In 1921 the Emergency Quota Act limited the number of immigrants. The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted southern and eastern Europeans from immigrating and was designed to stop the large influx of Italians, Poles, Slavs, and Jews who had been coming in large numbers and settling in ethnic groups since the end of the 1800’s. There was great concern with the amount of time it took for these immigrants to learn English and become acculturated into the American social and economic structure.
Immigration dropped significantly during the years of the Great Depression, and more people actually emigrated from the U.S. than entered the country. During this time almost half a million were repatriated to Mexico, many voluntarily but about half were deported.
The Hart-Cellar act of 1965 for the first time abolished quotas by national origin. This changed the ethnic proportions of the country – prior to the act Europeans made up 60% of immigrants, and following the act only 15% were of European origin. In the five years following Hart-Cellar, immigration doubled, then double again in the following twenty years. Bush I signed the 1990 immigration act increasing immigrants by an additional 40%. Clinton commissioned a panel of experts to make recommendations on immigration – they recommended cutting legal immigration by 60%; the recommendation was ignored.
Today the United States allows more legal immigration than any other country, 317% more than the next highest. We are bringing in over 1 million new immigrants per year. We now have 38 million first generation legal immigrants in the country. In addition to that it is estimated that approximately 12 million illegal aliens are also in the country.
Our current immigration policy verges on the insane. At a time when we have more than 15 million Americans out of work we should not be bringing a million people a year into the country, and we should certainly not be tolerating the 12 million illegal aliens that are in the country, along with granting citizenship the anchor babies, and contemplating giving children of illegals a competitive advantage over children of citizens with the so-called dream act. The success of America was not is based on efficient functioning of enterprise and effective laws and institutions, but also on metering immigration to meet our needs, and assuring that those who are allowed into our country value our ideals and way of life. Prior to 1965 we had rational immigration policy that was anything but open borders, and demanded that immigrants were to become Americans in every aspect.
We do indeed need comprehensive immigration reform, but not the kind the open borders/amnesty crowd is pushing. We need to repeal the acts from 1965 to present and do two things: 1) reduce allowed immigration to do actual sustainable demand, and 2) let only people who will support our American values and way of life into the country. We need to do that as soon as we stop illegal immigration and repatriate 12 million illegals back to their homeland.