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On a recent edition of "The Ed Show" on MSNBC, Michael Eric Dyson, filling in for host Ed Schultz, led a segment quoting an anti-immigrant screed.  The author he was quoting turned out to be founding father Ben Franklin.  Dyson's point was that anti-immigrant fervor is nothing new.  Indeed it goes back even further than that.

I have written in the past that the first thing the settlers in Jamestown and the Pilgrims in Massachusetts did on arriving was to put up a big sign "Beware of Dog!"  Nor is this sentiment exclusively American.  If you've ever wondered why Iceland is Iceland and Greenland is Greenland, it is because when the Norsemen settled in Iceland, they didn't want others to follow them- Go to Greenland doesn't that sound nicer than Iceland?

New York, well, New Netherlands (New Amsterdam) was set up not so much as a colony but as a franchise outpost, a commercial enterprise welcoming of anyone who would help it make money.  As such, it was more welcoming of others. But for the most part, we are a nation of immigrants more due to our geography than our ideology.  Thousands of miles of coastline are kind of hard to patrol.

More south of the border.

Throughout the 1800's Congress tried passing laws limiting immigration.  There was an exhibit I once saw with all sorts of posters from the time.  I don't remember where I saw it, and I've not found it on the Google.  And, of course, certain immigrants (white) have always been more acceptable than others.  Additionally, our definitions of white (not Irish, not Italian, not Jewish) has evolved over time.  Aasif Mandvi did a bit on "The Daily Show" about how he was an acceptable "brown" immigrant, because he was Indian brown as in a Doctor or computer tech brown immigrant as opposed to the Mexican mow-your-lawn brown.

The Left tries to get through to the Right by reminding them that they are descended from immigrants, as if they care.  They're the White, um, er Right (wing) kind of immigrants.  Much as many of them wrongly call the United States a Christian nation, they also claim that it was intended for White European Immigration only.  I'm looking at you Pat Buchanan.

Robert Reich, on "All-in With Chris Hayes" talked about how we welcome people who are refugees, who's lives would be in danger if we turned them away.  I refer him to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the MS St. Louis, a ship full of German Jews turned away during World War II.  But I agree with Reich, ideally we should not do that.  We should live up to the words on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

We need to think of these people not as coming here to leech off our society, but as running from something horrible.  Our "Beware of Dog" sign is useless because the dogs they are running from make Stephen King's "Cujo" look like "Lassie."  As for the children that have been coming here in droves of late, the conversation should stop at "They're children!"  Truly nothing more needs be said.  This whole right-wing trope about being afraid of disease is just a way of de-humanizing them.

When my grandmother ran through forests and stowed away on a boat in the 19teens, she wasn't sitting there wondering if she had all her paperwork in order.  That being said, when that boat arrived in New York Harbor there was a facility on Ellis Island.  They registered all the people who arrived, checked their health, quarantined some, sent some back, and processed most to live here.

That's what we need along the border.  Ellis Island type welcome and processing centers.  Some will be quarantined, some will be sent back, most will be processed through, legally to live here.  And far from leeching off of our society, nearly all peer-reviewed studies say that immigants are a net plus to the United States economy.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Benjamin Franklin's concerns over (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Susan from 29

    German immigration have been greatly exaggerated. He was prejudiced against various kinds of people at times, but strove to overcome his prejudices. In this case, he didn't want to keep Germans from coming, just to have them learn English and the civic virtues of the Colonies as quickly as possible.

    Letter to Peter Collinson

    I am not for refusing entirely to admit them into our Colonies: all that seems to be necessary is, to distribute them more equally, mix them with the English, establish English Schools where they are now too thick settled, and take some care to prevent the practice lately fallen into by some of the Ship Owners, of sweeping the German Goals [jails] to make up the number of their Passengers. I say I am not against the Admission of Germans in general, for they have their Virtues, their industry and frugality is exemplary; They are excellent husbandmen and contribute greatly to the improvement of a Country.

    Back off, man. I'm a logician.—GOPBustersā„¢

    by Mokurai on Thu Jul 17, 2014 at 12:16:22 PM PDT

  •   It would be interesting to know more about (0+ / 0-)

    the anti-immigrant laws in the 19th century. Maybe sometime you can diary your grandmother's story of running away through forests, stowing away on a boat and being documented at Ellis Island.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Thu Jul 17, 2014 at 12:41:15 PM PDT

  •  I wrote something four years ago (0+ / 0-)

    Here: Racist Anti-Immigration Policies in the 1920s.

    Before about 1920, the United States accepted almost every immigrant. There weren't very many rules. Ellis Island wouldn't take anybody who was mentally ill or mentally retarded, or anybody with tuberculosis or syphilis (or a few other diseases), and no Chinese (this was a big thing). But basically, if you could afford the boat ticket, you could come to America.

    So all those idiots who say, "My ancestors immigrated to America legally!" are talking about a time when pretty much anyone could get in. Everyone was allowed in.

    Yes, Ben Franklin wrote an anti-German essay. And in the 1850s, the Irish were hated (but they eventually melted into the melting pot). Then in the early 20th century, Congress felt a need to pass laws to limit immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe (because they had darker skin and tended to be Catholics, Jewish, or Orthodox).

    Hating immigrants (from Germany or Ireland or China or Italy) is an old tradition in the U.S.

    "Stupid just can't keep its mouth shut." -- SweetAuntFanny's grandmother.

    by Dbug on Fri Jul 18, 2014 at 12:14:23 AM PDT

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