Dear future president of the United States,
As you know, this nation faces a great conflict on the issue of immigration. This conflict is nothing new to our country, as it began decades ago, and will likely continue to bring distress to our nation for a number of years to come. We must prioritize finding a solution of some kind, as this crisis poses a greater threat to our country than many other problems we face as a nation.
Ever since the dawn of our nation, we have had a fear of foreigners and immigrants. In the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin himself railed against the increasing numbers of arrivals from Germany, whom he said were “...the most ignorant Stupid Sort of their own Nation…and as few of the English understand the German Language, and so cannot address them either from the Press or Pulpit, ’tis almost impossible to remove any prejudices they once entertain…”. He was afraid that their lack of knowledge of the English language would prevent them from understanding the ideals of the early republic. This is not dissimilar to how many Americans feel today-that the tongues of foreign immigrants-such as Spanish, Chinese, and others-will alienate them from the democratic process and undermine the “strength of the republic”. The Germans, however, integrated fully into American life, even though they maintained a strong presence of German-only societies, newspapers, and periodicals-just like many immigrants today. Clearly, not knowing the primary language of our nation is not a barrier towards upward mobility and success.
Another Founding Father also voiced his xenophobia, with eerie parallels towards the present moment. In the 1790s, John Jay ranted about how the new nation must “erect a wall of brass around the country for the exclusion of Catholics”. He was not the only one to feel this way. As a steady stream of Roman Catholic immigrants, primarily from Ireland, streamed into the USA during the early-to-mid-19th century, the Protestant establishment began to fear that the “Papists” were going to take over America and be more loyal to the Pope than to the President. This distrust of Catholics boiled over in 1844 with a series of nativist riots in Philadelphia, my own hometown, where several major Catholic churches were burned down by Protestant mobs and over twenty people were killed. Even though prejudice against Roman Catholic Irish began to die down after the Civil War, there was still a lingering hatred, such as in the cartoon “The American River Ganges” by Thomas Nast, which features bishops, stylized as crocodiles, attacking Anglo-Saxon public school children.
Even worse was the treatment of immigrants from Asia. Starting with the 1849 California Gold Rush, numerous Chinese immigrants and workers streamed into the country, with many staying to work. In fact, much of the dangerous labour required to build the Transcontinental Railway was done by Chinese workers. However, white, native-born workers distrusted the Chinese and attacked them constantly, especially since they were hired by companies because they were willing to work for lower wages than their white compatriots. This lead to violent attacks upon Chinese people in San Francisco and a massacre of perhaps up to forty or fifty of them in Rock Springs, Wyoming. The final nail in the coffin was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited any Chinese workers whatsoever from immigrating to the United States. The loathing and distrust towards Asian immigrants would spill over towards the Japanese, who were segregated into separate classrooms in San Francisco until the Japanese government forced President Theodore Roosevelt to intervene, and were later rounded up into internment camps, along with quite a large of number of Germans and Italians, during the Second World War.
So, the example of history has shown us that we should move beyond the provincial fearfulness of xenophobia and accept immigrants of all types. While complete, unrestricted immigration usually leads to violent backlash and quotas, like the one instituted in 1924, a moderate stream of immigration is healthy and beneficial both to the economy and to the populace of the United States of America. Without the “new blood” of streams of immigrants, our country would not be the success that it is today. We are all immigrants in some way or another; to keep new arrivals out would be foolishness. To let everyone in, of course, would simply be overwhelming the average government’s limited capacities; but to allow most in would benefit the country. I beseech of you, future president of our great land, to let those who want to come in, come in! And if they do not find it to their liking, they can leave; since many immigrants of the past have done just that, oftentimes on their own volition.
Anthony Mark McDonnell