May 01, 2007 in Current Events
In the ongoing debate on illegal immigration, the simple truth is that the primary motivator of much anti-immigrant sentiment is plain bigotry and scapegoating. And despite America’s history as a land of immigrants, the “great melting pot,” it has almost always been this way. In a CNN commentary piece, Ruben Navaratte Jr. elaborates:
‘In the late 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin fretted over Pennsylvania becoming “a colony of aliens” thanks to German immigrants. In the mid-1800’s, concerned that immigrants from the Far East wouldn’t assimilate, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to keep out … guess who. And in the early 1900’s, Congress targeted Italians, Jews and Greeks by creating quotas that limited immigration by country of origin.
In each of those cases, those who tried to shut the door didn’t care a whit that the people they were keeping out were coming legally. All they cared about was that the immigrants on the other side of that door were foreigners with weird languages, strange religions, and peculiar customs.
Not much has changed. Much of what’s driving the current debate is the same fear of foreigners and the changes they bring.’
This paper from the National Immigration Forum, Cycles of Nativism in U.S. History offers a brief history of anti-immigrant movements — from the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to waves of anti-Catholic sentiment in the 19th century and the English-only legislation of today.
The consensus among those who have studied the history of immigration is that many nativist movements spring up during times of political or economic turmoil, causing some to seek scapegoats at which to vent their frustration. A focus on illegal immigration — namely the sudden emergence of the topic on the national stage within the past year — can serve as a convenient distraction from other, more pressing, political issues. Such as an unpopular war.