Congress is slowly moving toward a compromise consensus on immigration reform. Regrettably, the congressional negotiators have ignored the history of U.S. immigration policy — and likely their family histories as well — in moving toward an agreement. The legislation on the table would do some good things — increasing the number of visas available for investors and prospective entrepreneurs, for example — but some of this at the expense of others who want to come here for all of the traditional reasons that attracted our forebears: escaping persecution, poverty and lives lived without a chance to raise themselves up by their bootstraps.
From the 1880s until the 1920s, America’s doors were largely open to almost anyone who wanted to enter the country and had the wherewithal to come here. In those four decades, more than 25 million immigrants entered the United States and provided the bedrock from which the country took off and prospered from the 1940s on, while also providing a large portion of the manpower that fought America’s wars.
In the mid-1920s, what had been an open door that advantaged America immensely abruptly became an impenetrable wall. The immigration legislation of that era was designed to keep out the very people that formed that bedrock of vibrancy, diversity and prosperity: Italians, Eastern Europeans and Jews. In addition to imposing strict ceilings on annual immigration, specific country quotas were also added in order to keep out “undesirables.” These were then invoked throughout the 1930s and World War II to severely restrict the number of Holocaust and other Nazi victims (12 million plus) from entering the U.S. In that 15-year time period, the number of immigrants dropped to around 500,000 total. Fewer than half of those were escapees from Nazi Europe.
While such arbitrary caps no longer mean certain death for those kept out, they are still in place and will continue to be under the congressional compromise as it currently stands.
This is wrong. It is also counterintuitive and counterproductive for a nation with our earlier history of open immigration, a policy that contributed mightily to making this country great.
Instead of closing our doors, we need to take heed the words of Emma Lazarus embossed on our Statute of Liberty and welcome the world’s "…tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
The people who self-select as pathfinders willing to take a risk and come to a new and strange land seeking freedom and opportunity are precisely the people we want and need — the ones upon whom this land of immigrants was built.
Congress must not forget that we are all immigrants of relatively recent vintage. The fact that we are here through no action of our own does not confer upon us the right to foreclose the same opportunities that our parents and grandparents were given.
Page 2 of 2 -
Rants is a series of political and social observations written by part-time Canandaigua resident and Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann. Email him at email@example.com