It’s the 17th century, you are a lower class Englishman with very little food, money, or hope looking to the new world for a newfound purpose. It’s the 19th century, you are a Chinese immigrant working for pennies a day digging a railroad that will span the continental United States, the country you will soon be banned from. It’s the 20th century, you are a Jewish refugee fleeing the oppressive and tyrannical Nazi regime and poverty-stricken Europe. It’s the 21st century, you are a Hispanic father of four seeking work and the American dream, you are a Syrian mother who is fleeing her war-torn nation with her three small children, you are a Haitian college student looking to change the world with what she learns at American universities.
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch once said “Let us not act out of fear and misunderstanding, but out of the values of inclusion, diversity, and regard for all who make our country great” Immigration has been consistently under attack by the current administration, and the word “problematic” seems to be thrown around quite often to describe its current state. Any who deny the vital role immigration has played in the conception and growth of our country are simply ignorant of the facts. One should look no further than our Constitution, though it was written by James Madison many would say that several of the key themes and ideas found in the document were from the mind of future Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, the author of The Constitutions companion The Federalist. Hamilton was born in the Bahamas and immigrated to the United States when he was just 19 to pursue a career in law, one revolution later and he was regarded as one of the most important men in America. Hamilton’s “humble beginnings” story is one that would be constantly repeated by thousands of immigrants throughout our history, Andrew Carnegie, Mother Jones, and Joseph Pulitzer are just a few successful American immigrants who rose to prominence in their respective time periods. But, it is not just the Politician Hamilton or the Steel Tycoon Carnegie who helped build America, it was the lower and middle-class immigrants whose long hours toiling in factories, mines, mills, tunnels, and sweatshops often for little to no pay, who pushed The United States into the industrial age and began building the massive feats of infrastructure we can still view today. Immigration despite being of paramount importance to the United States, has been opposed since the beginning, with the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by President John Adams, the emergence of the Know-Nothing Party and the rise of the Nativist movement of the 1830’s, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1872, not to mention countless attempts to limit the amount or diversity of immigrants entering the country. We must strive to shed light on America’s rich and extensive history of immigration in order to show Americans that it is not something to be feared, but is an essential part of a powerful, modern, and diverse nation and should be accepted and encouraged, not demolished and rebuked.
Today the United States has a legitimate chance at a bipartisan solution to the immigration debate, Republicans and Democrats alike have reached across the aisle to agree on a bill that improves both border security and once again grants DACA recipients the citizenship they deserve. The immigration debate is far from over, but the passing of this bill would improve the lives of many law-abiding immigrants living in fear that any day they could be deported from the country they call home. We as Americans owe our immigrants the rights and respect they deserve, and we should look to our heritage with gratitude, for without our immigrant forefathers we would likely not have an America to call home.
Photo Credits: LM Otero