Historic Lessons to Guide Our Immigration Debate

by Diane Dimond on July 4, 2016

America's Paralyzing Political Divide

America’s Paralyzing Political Divide

The political divide in this country has completely paralyzed us. Generally speaking, half of us think one way, the other half believes just the opposite. The never-ending conflicts — on a whole array of legal issues – continues with no end in sight.

Not even the U.S. Supreme Court could decide what this nation should do to get a grip on our immigration problems. The high court recently deadlocked 4-to-4 on the issue of whether President Obama’s executive order on immigration, which protected millions of undocumented people from being deported, is constitutional. Minus the late conservative Justice, Antonin Scalia, the best the high court could do was a tie, split just like the rest of us.

It’s time to look back to a less partisan time when questioning how to control the flow of immigrants into this country — legal and otherwise — was not met with an automatic cry of, “Racist!” Back to a time when community and political leaders were focused on what was best for America and its citizens. How about we take a lesson from the past?

In 1853, the abolitionist and author, Fredrick Douglas, spoke of the disruptive dislocation immigrants caused American workers especially those of color. “The old employments by which we have heretofore gained our livelihood, are gradually, and it may seem inevitably, passing into other hands,” he said during a speech in New York.

Fredrick Douglas Warned of Too Much Immigration

Fredrick Douglas Warned of Too Much Immigration Into America

“Every hour sees the black man elbowed out of employment by some newly arrived immigrant whose hunger and whose color are thought to give him a better title to the place,” Douglas said.

Francis Walker, an early president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote about immigration in June, 1896. “Charity begins at home; and while the people of the United States have gladly offered an asylum to millions upon millions of the distressed and unfortunate of other lands and climes, they have no right to carry their hospitality one step beyond the line where American institutions, the American rate of wages, the American standard of living, are brought into serious peril.”

I’m not sure but I don’t think anyone called Fredrick Douglas or Francis Walker racist for their opinions on immigration’s impact. Clearly they were patriots.

President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt Espoused “True Americanism”

In 1919, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith becomes an American and assimilates himself to us, he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else.” But Roosevelt was clear that immigrants had responsibilities upon entering our country.

“Any man who says he is an American, but something else also, isn’t an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language… and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

In his first message to Congress in December 1923 President Calvin Coolidge said, “American institutions rest solely on good citizenship. New arrivals should be limited to our capacity to absorb them into the ranks of good citizenship. America must be kept American. For this purpose, it is necessary to continue a policy of restricted immigration.”

Even back in the Roaring Twenties there were calls for keeping good track of who entered our country. “We should find additional safety in a law requiring the immediate registration of all aliens,” Coolidge told the nation in the first ever radio broadcast of a presidential address. “Those who do not want to be partakers of the American spirit ought not to settle in America.”

Give Us Your Tired Your Hungry ....

“Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor ….”

The point here is: When you process today’s fraught debate about immigration remember that it’s all bathed in politics. Republicans want to appear law-and-order tough. Democrats want to appear compassionate and to win over the someday votes of those here illegally. There’s no evidence that either side really wants an end to the immigration controversy that gives them guaranteed media time.

In looking back for definitive wisdom on the issue I could find no better quote than this one from 1915. Again, from President Theodore Roosevelt.

“There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism. The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”

Look around. We are engaged in a never ending squabble that decides nothing and overlooks what is truly best for the country. When do we get serious?

As it says on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free….” But I say bring them to our land in an orderly and legal fashion. And if they are dissatisfied with our rules they can choose to live somewhere else.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:17 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Judy Martin-Tafoya writes:

“I cannot express to you how much I enjoy your column every Saturday in the Albuquerque Journal, but today’s was my favorite. I will be cutting it out and highlighting the quotes that others made before our country became so messed up and partisan.

This is truly an eye opening article and it informed your readers just how far we have evolved into the ridiculous.”

Judy Martin-Tafoya

Reply

Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:18 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Silvio Dell’Angela writes:

“Diane

As the son of legal poor Italian immigrants we all always viewed ourselves as just Americans-nothing more.

Are you aware that New Mexico State University (NMSU) this fall will allow students coming over the border from Mexico to pay the same low tuition as New Mexico students while charging legal out of state college students 2-3 times more? Crazy.

This is attempted to be justified by the NMSU PhD sponsor as promoting “internationalism.””

Silvio Dell’Angela
Albuquerque

Reply

Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:18 pm

Noozhawk Reader AN50 writes:

“You are making the same catastrophic mistake all politicians make, lumping illegal and legal immigration together.”

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Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:20 pm

Dear AN50,

Not at all. I’m urging everyone to look to history and what are prescient founding fathers had in mind about immigrants coming into America. They were brilliant in so many ways. Maybe we should revisit their words? ~ DD

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Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:21 pm

AN50 replies,

“What I am saying is that most of the anti immigration angst is over illegal immigration not legal immigration. I don’t see a problem with the numbers, but rather the pandering to gate crashers, particularly the criminal ones. That is very different from having a limit on the number of legal immigrants.”

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Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:21 pm

ABQ Journal Reader Gregory Cook writes:

“How refreshing to see a journalist that is an independant thinker.
Your research was appreciated and informative.
Keep up the great work..I hope it was carried by many papers.
I saw in the Albuquerque Journal.”

Gregory Cook

Reply

Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:23 pm

Facebook Friend Drew Rutberg writes:

“Agreed. The left cries racist so loud and so often and in so many situations that don’t apply the word has lost all power and meaning. While we are at it badly stitching phobia on the end of words have lost all effect too.”

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Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Facebook Friend Eddie Emmons wrties:

“While true,most Trump supporters are racist…period…..hope you would never endorse a loser like that…..///I’ve read thousands of comments from Trump supporters…. they always give themselves away…..comments about Latinos,women,blacks,even “homosexuals”…it’s so obvious it’s not even funny…he’s despicable……….

Reply

Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:28 pm

DD replies to Eddie Emmons:

Your comments are way off the point of the column I wrote, Eddie. While I respect your right to vote for whoever you want I write about crime and justice issues. I don’t endorse political candidates and I don’t discuss who I vote for. Your back-and-forth here perfectly underscores my point. American citizens are so politically divided we can no longer have a discussion about important issues – like how many (and which) immigrants should we allow into our country. ~ DD

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Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:31 pm

Facebook Friend Dawn Dix replies to Eddie

“Why does this have to devolve into dems vs repubs? It’s Americans vs the rest right now…US first for a change. // We are all AMERICANS, and today is a special day // We just need to take a step back and take care of our own and analyze those coming in.”

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Diane Dimond July 4, 2016 at 8:32 pm

Facebook Friend Rich Bradley writes:

“People don’t even know the definition of racist: a person who believes that a particular race is superior to another. Wanting to protect your border, which is a nationalism issue, not a race issue, does not make people racist. But why let a little education and enlightenment ruin liberal crucifixions??”

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Michael Sommermeyer July 5, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Diane,

Nice, thoughtful piece on immigration. What I have wondered lately is how hard is it to become an American? I hear that we have upwards of 11 million who have come to this country illegally and why we should give them amnesty. However, I have not heard how they got here. Did they sneak in because it was easy? Or did they come here because it is so hard to immigrate? I think this sort of information would help me move beyond the rhetoric and ask why something hasn’t been done to fix the problem.

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Diane Dimond July 5, 2016 at 5:10 pm

Michael, That is a VERY good question! I’m wondering if our government has kept records and can even answer that. My first thought is: How do you keep track of information about those who entered illegally? I mean, if they snuck in then no one was questioning them and writing down their answers, right? But, as we know, many now considered to be in the U.S. illegally came in on Visas that expired. Maybe someone in Washington has a number on that group – and what does the record say about how many came in but failed to leave? Let me see what I can find out. Maybe another immigration column is in order! ~ DD

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