I just finished watching a two-part show on the History Channel called America: Promised Land. I found the show fascinating as it discussed the immigrant nature of the population and the trials and tribulations those immigrants had in coming to America. Given the current sentiments wrapped around immigration policy it was a very interesting show.
Reasons for immigration
Ninety-seven percent of the population in America comes from immigrant stock. The German, Dutch, Irish and Scottish lineage from which I came all at some point came to this country. They came for different reasons; opportunity, religious freedom, war, family ties and more brought people here. Most of my ancestors where here prior to the Civil War, and some came before the Revolutionary War. My wife’s Italian grandparents came in the early 1900’s, passing through Ellis Island. Many of the reasons stated on the show were similar. Opportunity to make a living; the opportunity to start a new life; fleeing war and famine; fleeing persecution; all the same reasons we see today.
Attempts to stop people
The history of excluding people goes back to 1790 when Congress established that white immigrants could apply for citizenship in two years. In 1798 that time period changed to 14 years of residency, thus allowing the country to ban “dangerous” aliens. We have been through periods where we banned Chinese limiting them to just 145 people a year allowed to emigrate from China, right after we had invited them to come build a railroad for us. In times of desperation around World War II we reached out to Mexico to invite workers to come and work the fields while US farmworkers went off to work in factories or fight in the war.
The current attempts to stop people are nothing new. We have a long history of opening the door and then slamming the door as we bend with the sentiment of the voting population. For the most part the nation has not suffered for the immigration. On the whole the uniqueness of the United States is due to this mixture of peoples and culture. We are going through a bout of xenophobia that will in all likelihood will reverse course in the next 5 years.
The TV show
I highly recommend investing four hours in watching America: Promised Land. You will find that all groups of immigrants have contributed something to this country. The stories are compelling. The bravery it took for many to come here with almost nothing is something many of us cannot imagine doing ourselves. I found myself proud of the US in diversity of our make-up. I challenge you to watch this show and not be amazed and proud.