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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tearing Down the Immigration Wall

(The general theme of physical and psychological barriers to US immigration in a historical context continues.)

Listen up!  Is that low rumble in the distance the first indication of a structural crack in that formidable immigration wall?

In the history textbooks, the ordinary citizen will typically find the term “immigration” linked to the term “nativism” and not in a positive way.  In truth, the terms are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The phrase “nativism backlash” refers to citizens who are ardent opponents of immigration.  To these citizens, it’s about those already here, and preserving their way of life, rather than continuing America’s rich tradition of affording the same opportunities to new immigrants.  Perhaps, these citizens have forgotten where they came from and that they were once immigrants, too.

There’s another strange big word floating around out there in this realm: xenophobia.  Quite simply, xenophobia is the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.   When it comes to the laws of human nature and US immigration policy in particular, the terms nativism, nativism backlash and xenophobia are unfortunately all in the mix.

The Industrial Revolution portended the next great wave of immigration, from southern and eastern Europe, as contrasted with the earlier wave from Western Europe.  Ethnic groups like the Polish, Italians, Greeks and, increasingly, the Jews, were different than prior immigrants.  Not only were they unskilled, but they also looked different, spoke different languages and had vastly different cultures than the new “native” Americans, who had earlier pushed aside the true native American culture.  T.R. had marveled in his time at both the numbers and energy of the American immigrant factory worker, without whom there would have been no industrialization and upon whom the base of the new industrial economy rested.

But nativism backlash once again reared its ugly head, slamming the golden door shut.  First, in 1882 Congress suspended Chinese immigration for a period of 10 years.  The law also drastically restricted the rights of the Chinese already in the US, many of whom were employed in the construction of the newly completed trans-continental railroad.  By the 1920s, Congress passed a series of additional laws, limiting immigration to 3% and then 2% of each nationality residing in America.

“Closing the door” on immigration became a substantial contributing cause of the Great Depression.  Politicians at the time failed to see that the overall lack of demand was partly the result of shutting off the lucrative immigrant market for such things as housing and durable goods.  Unfortunately, as with many of the other contributing factors to the Great Depression, this was not identified and understood until later.

In the late 18th century, the #1 occupation in the US had been farming.  In the late 19th century, manufacturing grew to become first.  But by the late 20th century, the service industry had become the primary US occupation.  At the same time, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965.  This law ended the immigration-limiting European quota system of the 1920s, opening the floodgates of immigration to other countries, many from the so called “third world” which embodied people of color.

Some say the new law was designed to bring in more whites to the country.  In reality, it had the opposite, unintended effect.  Today, 1 in 5 immigrants is Mexican, fulfilling a critical need to perform a whole host of new occupations in the proliferating service industries, while 1 in 4 immigrants is Asian.  The law is consequently understood to be one of the high water marks of late 20th-century American liberalism, although not perhaps what the liberals had intended.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2009 the total fertility rate in the US was estimated to be 2.01 children per woman, which is statistically below the sub-replacement fertility threshold of 2.1.  However, the US population growth rate is among the highest in the industrialized countries, since the US has higher levels of immigration.

On the other hand, European countries such as France and Germany have population rates which are relatively stagnant, since both have below-replacement fertility rates in combination with highly restrictive immigration policies.  As a result, they are struggling to retain their cultures, developed over the centuries, as a matter of survival in the face of changing demographics.

Latin Americans, or Latinos as they are sometimes called, are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US today.  Some look to be white, others black.  And they are also all shades of color in between.  Defying simple generalization, they are mainly identified as, first, Spanish-speaking and, second, Roman Catholic.  Latinos make up about 13% of the US population.  It is estimated to be fully 50% by the year 2050.  Most recently, US immigration numbers have finally surpassed those from the Industrial Revolution era.  This places today’s era at the apex in terms of immigrants as a percentage of the total US population.

As a result, the US is becoming the first advanced, industrial nation, in which every resident will be a member of a minority group.  Although the number one ethnicity in the US remains white (German American) according to the most recent census, each demographic statistic today portends the changing face of America.  Immigration, and specifically Latino immigration, is transforming American society for the better, since we are shifting from a bi-racial (i.e.: black and white) to a multi-racial society.

-Michael D’Angelo


  1. This is informative, of course one can only view it through ones own eyes, whatever the colour of your skin is. Personally cruelty, enforced views and the mis-use of power, not coming from the 'power of love' but the 'love of power' is an imbalance no matter what the colour of the skin is, religious beliefs are or where in the world you are. Good to be out spoken though, like Michael.
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  2. From the plaque on the Statue of Liberty:
    New Colossus

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
    With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    It's strange how we have forgotten or perhaps never really believed the symbolism of this grand momument.

    We need more like you to hold our feet to the fire to realize the dream.

    1. The "Statue of Liberty" [not its real title] has nothing to do with immigration.

      The (endlessly and tiresomely quoted) Emma Lazarus sonnet was added to the pedestal years later with the permission of precisely NOBODY, certainly not that of the average American citizens whom Lazarus evidently expected to make room for those incoming "huddled masses."

      So what **is** the statue about? Its actual title is "Liberty Enlightening the World." It was a gift from French citizens to the American republic at its centenary in recognition of what ordered liberty had accomplished in America, offering it as an example to the rest of the world -- NOT an invitation to the world to move to America!

    2. [Emma Lazarus] is best known for "The New Colossus", a sonnet written in 1883; its lines appear on a bronze plaque in the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty[1] placed in 1903.[2] The sonnet was written for and donated to an auction, conducted by the "Art Loan Fund Exhibition in Aid of the Bartholdi Pedestal Fund for the Statue of Liberty" to raise funds to build the pedestal.[5][6] (See footnotes for citation at original. Emphasis added.)

      And if the statue is of the figure 'Liberty' then then saying 'The Statue of Liberty' is grammatically and technically correct - it being the largest and most well known depiction thereof.

      Someone was wrong on the internet, and could quickly be corrected.