There are some 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. A bipartisan effort by the White House and key U.S. Senators has been working on a plan to cope with this circumstance. Their plan is simple. Instead of basing policy on reuniting families, the proposed new emphasis will be on providing a skilled and needed labor force for the U.S. economy.
A quick look into the past offers an insight into the changing attitudes of our “nation of immigrants” toward immigrants. In New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty welcomes immigrants to the U.S. On the base of the statue is a poem by Emma Lazarus that welcomes the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Despite this noble sentiment, restrictions on immigration are an unbroken part of the nation’s history. One of the earliest was a restriction on Chinese immigration on the West Coast. The reason was the negative impact of cheap “coolie labor” on native labor.
One of the most ambitious plans to deal with immigration was a clever design to keep immigration from changing the character of the nation. A quota system was set up allowing the number of immigrants to be in accord with the percentage of residents from that ethnic group in the U.S.
These and other ambitious plans, however, have not worked. The reason is clear from today’s headlines. There are 12 million illegal aliens in the U.S. Our borders are porous. Illegal immigrants have found their way into the U.S. by land, by water, by air.
Although ours is a “nation of immigrants,” newcomers have been smeared with derogatory names. The Italians were “wops” — With Out Papers.” The Jews were “kikes” or “sheenies.” The Hungarians were “honkies,” the Irish “micks.” Spaniards were “spics.”
In time, in America’s “melting pot” and its high percentage of ethnic intermarriage, they became Americans.