Immigration is a polarizing issue. On the one side you have the ‘Restrictionists’ led by Stephen Miller in the White House who wants to do everything to restrict and reduce legal and illegal immigration. On the other side you have those who want to create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, protect the 800,000 “Dreamers” and help with the humanitarian crisis on our southern border.
It’s kind of strange, and ironic, that we fight so much over immigration. America is a country of immigrants. It is fair to say that everyone here came from somewhere else, unless of course you are descended from an American Indian. President Trump who has advocated for a southern border wall, a ban on Muslims entering the country and other restrictions on legal and illegal immigrants is the son of an immigrant. Two of the three women he married are immigrants and four of his five children have an immigrant parent.
But the fight goes on, and there are no easy answers. Everyone agrees that there needs to be some rules and restrictions to immigration, but where you draw the line is the issue. How intense the immigration debate gets from decade to decade may depend on where we are on the curve in the chart below. When fewer Americans are born outside the U.S. the debate is less intense and vice versa – – when there are more Americans born outside the U.S. the debate heats up. Right now we are at a high point on the chart, where a significant number of Americans were born outside the U.S. So fireworks can be expected.
The issues involved in the debate do not seem to change over time. Some examples – – immigrants take our jobs and push down wages, immigrants are a burden to society in terms of social costs, and immigrants will never assimilate – all of these accusations have been raised before with previous waves of immigrants. In the early-mid 1800s we saw millions of Germans and Irish migrate here. The Irish were persecuted for their religion (Catholicism), the Germans for their tight communities and apparent unwillingness to learn English. Sound familiar? Today, Muslims and Hispanics suffer the same fate. It’s interesting that more Americans today claim German ancestry than any other group. Assimilation happens.
No matter how the immigration issue plays out, we remain a land of people who came from somewhere else. Very few countries are as diverse as America. When I host foreign visitors the question that stumps me every time is when they say, tonight lets go out to an “American” restaurant. That’s a tough one. We can do Italian, French, Thai, Chinese, Turkish, maybe even some Vietnamese noodle soup? But American, that takes some thought. We still are indeed a melting pot.