Immigration nation


On July 4th, people from the Atlantic to the Pacific take time off from work, host cookouts, relax. They wave flags and watch fireworks displays, or maybe light their own. They contemplate America, and what it means to be an American.

It's a time to think about what we got right since 1776: the idea that a king was unnecessary, that people can rule themselves, that all people should be free, that the most perfect relationship between one human and another is that of equality - these are all very American ideas. Of course, it's taken time to incorporate them - and a civil war, a civil rights movement, a women's rights movement - and we are still very much a work in progress. But "progress" is the key word.

Unfortunately, it's impossible to overlook, even for the day, all the injustices still wrought in America, especially over immigration. Perhaps that is because this topic cuts to the very chase of what the day celebrates, the meaning of "American."

Who could be more anti-American than those who seek to keep at least 11 million people, undocumented immigrants, away from the fruits of equality that were fought for by generations of Americans - most of whom came from immigrant stock?

This country has always been, and will always continue to be, a nation of immigrants. The first to arrive came from Asia, across what was then the Bering land bridge, thousands of years ago. The first Europeans - the most illegal immigrants of all - were the British, French, and Spanish settlers. After the U.S. was established, the idea of a "city on the hill" where people from all nations could come in search of a better life came to be. And people came. They were oppressed and usually bitterly poor, but they worked hard and eventually came to be accepted.

It's not entirely coincidence that the McCarthy period, one of the darkest times for liberty and democracy of the 20th century, overlapped with the period during which the fewest immigrants arrived at our borders.

Racist laws in the early 20th century established nationality quotas on immigration, banning Asians and Africans, effectively shutting the borders. During the time of the civil rights movement, when America started to more fully embrace its promise, immigration restrictions were eased. The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act removed restrictions on Asian and African immigration, allowing equal numbers to come from each country, as well as providing for family reunification.

This is exactly what the American idea demands: it's even inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Since then our nation - and what we mean when we use the pronoun "our" - has changed dramatically. It has become far less European. Latinos became the fastest growing part of our population - only recently edged out by Asians. Now, the majority of babies born in the U.S. are "non-white."

Each group that comes brings its own traditions, beliefs, understanding of the world, and many of these eventually become part of and enrich our national culture. For example, spaghetti, Guinness, tacos, café cubano, eggrolls and sushi are now all part of our multi-ethnic American cuisine.

There are those who want to try to stop this. They want to keep out the millions of people looking to come here, to work hard and make a better life for themselves - and, in the process, for the rest of us, both culturally and economically.

The vast majority of the millions of immigrants, documented or not, still believe in the idea that if you work hard - and fight - you can and should make it. Why else would they have come? The DREAMers - young people who have put in countless hours studying and graduating from high school and college - and their families, embody what it means to be an American.

To truly celebrate Independence Day, we should honor them. And fight for them, for ourselves.

Video: Immigraniada, by Gogol Bordello. With members from Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, Ecuador and elsewhere, the band could likely only have formed in America. Photo via SEIU.

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  • You neglect to mention the historical reality that the borders that now distinguish Canada, United States and Mexico in North America (as well as those designated borders that now identify countries in what is now Central and South America) were imposed by colonizers from Europe. To the indigenous people of the two continents, those borders were not traditional borders. They are modern creations that divided up indigenous peoples according to colonial and imperialist aspirations. Those borders are artificial to the indigenous peoples who have been on these continents for thousands of years and are yet another example of the continuous violation of our identity as indigenous peoples. I agree with you (from what I can make out of your analysis) that class does figure as a very significant factor in decisions made (particularly by the United States and Canada) in regards to who is deemed to be eligible to cross those colonial borders. However, when it is indigenous people who are denied free and peaceful movements over those colonial borders, we need to contemplate this matter more deeply and take into consideration the historical reality that it is also a violation of our rights and identities as peoples.

    Posted by Lena O, 07/07/2012 2:42am (4 years ago)

  • While much admirable thinking is in the article it still leaves some to be desired in the dialectics of immigration, racism and class exploitation, especially when it comes to Mexico. The monopoly capital/imperialist immigration policies from the turn of the century at first were racist, the anti asian and african laws, this was not applied to the meztizo, indigenous of the Western Hemisphere. The establishment of the quota system was a post WWI post soviet revolution period and was related to the higher working class conciousness of European immigrant workers. The relative openness to Mexican immigrants at this time and the Jim Crow like status the were subjected to and African Americans and Mexican Americans became larger parts of the US proletariat. As to Mexicans the lower de jure and defacto socio economic status has been the norm ever since then with the repatriation a temporary modification.
    The McCarthy era, or the onset of the Cold War domestic period was marked more by the escalation of the Bracero from a small war time program to a mass labor policy into the 1960's, the anti communist anti labor McCarran Walter Act and the mass deportations leading into Operation Wetback in 1954. Following this was a drop off in immigration.

    The 1965 act which did get rid of some of the old quoto system it also imposed Hemispherical quotas which severely impacted legal immigration from Mexico along with the ending of the Bracero program set the stage for the government/corporate establishment of a defacto undocumented worker system undergirded by mass neighborhood and factory dragnet raids of "voluntary departure" deportation".

    It is this system that remains highly profitable and politically advantageous to the 1% that is threatened by legalization provisions, even those of comprehensive immigration law reform which have severe enforcement and super exploitative temporary worker provisions.

    Although the generalizations and fair attitudes approach of the editorial are helpful, a more dialectical historical approach brings out the key features of class struggle to be dealt with in the equality struggles around immigration in the 21st Century.

    Posted by Rosalio Munoz, 07/05/2012 10:23am (4 years ago)

  • love the gogol bordello music video! and the editorial is not bad either ;-)

    Posted by Barbara R, 07/04/2012 1:40pm (4 years ago)

  • the world itself is a migrant planet!!

    Posted by migrantplanet, 07/04/2012 6:19am (4 years ago)

  • It is absolutely ridiculous and outright wrong to make comparisons with the evolutionary movements and growth of the First Nations people on this continent with modern immigration. The motives, the modes of travel, the business dealings, the methods and the overall psyche of modern immigration to this continent have entirely different dynamics to how the First Nations people evolved as nations and unique peoples on this continent. This article is yet another shallow and intellectually lazy analysis of the indigenous reality of this land and the expression of one who is incapable of facing the truth of his/her predator complex. And please do not forget, many of the "Latino" people to whom many people refer to as immigrants have indigenous roots in the continents of the Americas so many of them are not at all immigrants. I ask that you please reflect more thoroughly on this whole scenario.

    Posted by Lena O, 07/03/2012 9:59pm (4 years ago)

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