Over the past two years, we’ve seen a lot of actions by the Trump Administration and its supporters seeking to ban various groups from immigrating, attacks on refugees, numerous bigoted statements, and a host of attempts to demonize various ethnic or religious groups who meet their definition of “undesirable.” The definitions they’ll use are often rather fuzzy, but if you use “not white” or “not Christian,” you’d be on the money.
This is nothing new in American history. Any look back would show you any number of efforts to slur, attack (literally), or bar various immigrant groups. There were even political parties formed along those lines, often with great success, in addition to various groups whose goal was to maintain “purity of race” or “purity of America.” No, it wasn’t in the distant past, either. It’s been a pernicious strain in the American psyche, and it has once again arisen.
Let me tell you some stories. There were a young man who belonged to a persecuted religious group, living in a country that was on the verge of another civil war. He decided to escape to another land. There was a young widow with an infant daughter who was experiencing grinding poverty with no hope a better life. She agreed to marry a man in another country she had only corresponded with, bringing her daughter with her. Another young man left his country to escape famine, religious discrimination, and oppression. Another realized that he was never going to able to support his family in their country, so he packed them up and left in the hopes of being able to make a living in a new country. People who were refugees, poor, belonged to oppressed religious groups, lacked desirable skills, doing “chain migration,” not always fluent in English or even speaking it at all, and facing prejudice and hardships when they got here. Some even joined criminal gangs. All of them the sort of people Trump and his supporters consider “undesirable.”
Those are just a few of my ancestors. Over the generations, we’ve become doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, teachers, scientists, business people, and a host of other solid members of society. We’ve served in the military in almost every war this country has fought. But our back story? It wasn’t anything like that. My ancestors weren’t “the cream of the crop” when they decided to come here. The truth is that “the cream of the crop,” the “desirables” that are getting talked about today, weren’t the people who left their homes to come here, and the same is true today. They have it good where they are, so why would they pack up and move to a different country to start over?
But, at least all of my ancestors came here legally, just like you’ll hear from any Trump supporter, right? Well, not quite. There’s a difference between “wasn’t illegal” and “legal.” “Legally” assumes there were laws relating to their immigration, quotas regarding their countries of origin, a process that had to be completed before leaving their country, and that your ancestors went through that to come here. Given that “immigration laws” really didn’t happen here until the late 19’th century, most of our ancestors came here when it wasn’t … illegal. That is, they showed up at the port, and walked in. Quite a few of the early laws were to prevent more people like them from coming here, because they were illiterate, probably diseased, didn’t speak English, were likely criminals, looked “different”, worshiped in a way that wasn’t “American,” and were “taking jobs from Americans.”
So you want “secure borders?” You think building a wall will prevent people from coming in? You whine about open borders? Well, maybe you have a point. You see, we had open borders for most of this country’s history. The “unwashed scum of the world” came to our shores without any barriers. That’s why you’re here now, and you somehow think you’re a “real American.” So yes, there was a downside to having open borders.