Although the first immigrants to American shores are tainted by their treatment of the natives they encountered, a persecution that endures into the 21st century, the causes of their migration--religious liberty, economic opportunity, escape from political turmoil and violence—remain the fundamental impetus for millions of immigrants. Those who sailed into Plymouth Bay, up the James River, who passed a welcoming copper-green statue in New York harbor and who today seek asylum along our southern border continue the journey toward freedom and opportunity and continue to assert that we are a nation of immigrants.
Yet, despite that inviting statue, New York and the rest of the United States weren’t always that accepting. Even New York’s revered Founding Father, John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States, co-author of the Federalist Papers with another New Yorker, Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies, said, “We should build a wall of brass around the country,” referring to “Catholic alien invaders.” Twenty-first century metallurgy has improved on Jay’s “brass” for Trump’s “big, beautiful wall” and the latter’s sentiments might be even more extreme. After all, Jay only wanted to keep Catholics out, while Trump’s got a much broader list of unwanted peoples.
But let’s not just pick on New York. “Few of their children learn English…The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages…Unless the stream of their importation could be turned, they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious,” said Benjamin Franklin about German immigration to Pennsylvania.
The Founding Fathers don’t have a monopoly on xenophobia. Famous early twentieth century novelist, playwright and poet John Dos Passos railed against U.S. immigration policy saying “The people of this country are too tolerant. There’s no other country in the world where they’d allow it…After all, we built up this country and then we allow a lot of foreigners, the scum of Europe, the offscourings of Polish ghettos to come and ruin it for us.”
As the “Red Scare” after World War I took hold in America, Congress agreed with Dos Passos during a 1920 hearing: "They are coming in such numbers…it simply amounts to unrestricted and indiscriminate dumping into this country of people of every character and description. If there were in existence a ship that could hold three million human beings, then three million Jews of Poland would board to escape to America.”
Southern Europeans didn’t fare much better. Representative Grant Hudson in 1924 said of them, “Now what do we find in all our large cities? Entire sections containing a population incapable of understanding our institutions, with no comprehension of our national ideals, and for the most part incapable of speaking English…America’s first duty is to those already within her own shores.” Sound familiar?
In Maryland, where 15% of the population is foreign-born, the fear among our immigrant neighbors persists. Undocumented immigrants, during listening sessions with religious organizations, report that they are afraid to report crimes, especially cases of domestic violence, are afraid to visit health care facilities and physicians, particularly when their children fall ill, leading to a public health crisis.
Related Policy or Information
People should be allowed to seek safe places to live
Many people come to the US to escape violence from crime, gangs and even government oppression.
People should be allowed to improve the lives of their family
People come to the US to improve their family's living situation, like many or our own forebears did.
People should try to come to America legally
Most immigrants try legal process, but few are allowed in, and their circumstances may be dangerous if they have to wait.
We should hold people accountable when they break our laws
Agreed, but illegal entry is a misdemeanor, not a crime of violence justifying arrest, splitting up families, and indefinite detention while waiting for a hearing.
We want our communities to be safe
Yes, and immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than American citizens; very few could be called criminals.
We want to keep drugs from coming into our country
Yes, illegal importation of drugs should result in arrest and prosecution. Very few immigrants try to bring in drugs.
We want to keep terrorists out
Yes, and a process of screening is and should be included in our immigration process at points of entry. No terrorists have been caught trying to get though our Southern border.
Immigrants who come here illegally shouldn’t get free healthcare here
Agreed. And they don’t. Undocumented immigrants are not entitled to Medicaid or free health service, except under the law that prohibits hospitals from turning away those who need emergency care. [This is based on the same principle as the biblical story of the good Samaritan; we should care for our neighbors.]
We shouldn’t just have open borders that let everyone in
True. Our borders should be restricted and patrolled to keep out drugs and criminals. But we can go too far by locking up families indefinitely, separating family members, and treating desperate immigrants like criminals for wanting to escape poverty and violence.
People who were brought to this country as children should not be penalized for the actions of their parents.
Agreed. For many who know no other home than America growing up, we should provide a way for them to become full members of our community as citizens.
There should be some limits on how immigration laws are enforced in order to allow immigrants to get needed healthcare, support justice in the courts and have their children educated,
We should ensure that our schools, hospitals and courthouses are safe and secure, with access to all, including our immigrant neighbors by establishing policies and procedures that limit civil immigration activities on their premises.
We want our communities to be safe.
Since law enforcement relies on trust between police and the communities they serve, it is important that immigrant communities (most of whom are legally here) do not see the police as a threat. Therefore, local police should not be deputized to enforce federal immigration law.