It is fairly common for commentators from De Tocqueville to George Friedman to characterize America as a "young nation." As such, common with youth, America tends to have fairly short collective memory. Thus we end up finding ourselves beset with the same problems, but each time we are convinced they must be new. Case in point is immigration, America's oldest moral panic. Every so often we find ourselves collectively panicking over some mythic threat to all that is good and wholesome in America; be it New England witches or rock music. Immigration is the "threat" that pops up every thirty to fifty years, threatening to break apart the fabric of American economic, social and cultural life. Problem? Immigration is at the heart of the American identity and has been going on for nearly 400 years. Obviously America's past can put restrictionists in a tough bind. This history makes it difficult for anyone to castigate immigration or immigrants in general. Thus a mythology has to be built up. If we are going to oppose immigrants - the for stock reasons they have always been opposed - then we must convince ourselves that today's immigrants and today's immigration represent totally new problems that are just so unlike the problems of yesteryear. This time, we are told, the panic is real. Once this myth takes hold, an American citizen of Irish, Sicilian and Polish background can repeat the old canards without a hint of irony as he opposes Hispanic and Asian immigration to the United States. For instance the recently disgraced Jason Richwine once wrote;
They're not just like the Irish--or the Italians or the Poles, for that matter. The large influx of Hispanic immigrants after 1965 represents a unique assimilation challenge for the United States.Is that true? In reality when we examine the history of immigration to the United States, we find that the common concerns are repeated over and over again, and each time they found to be demonstrably false. "Cheap Labor!" Becomes "They take our jobs!" The claim that immigrants take jobs is not new. In fact its been said since the first major wave of immigration starting in the mid-nineteenth century. The Philadelphia Sun in 1854 warned us,
The enormous influx of alien foreigners will in the end prove ruinous to American workingmen, by REDUCING THE WAGES OF LABOR to a standard that will drive them from the farms and workshops altogether.Just as it was obviously untrue then, it is certainly untrue now. The fact that low skill immigrants are coming to this country means that, in sectors that immigrants trend towards, there is a dearth of available and willing labor. Thus as Americans move on to other, usually higher skilled work, immigrants take their place. The notion that Americans will find themselves outcompeted by those with limited English skills, limited skills and no contacts is and has always been, utterly laughable. "They'll Take Our Stuff!" There is this historical fear that as new groups move in, they will leach resources away from Americans. The fear of "immigrants on welfare" is not something born out of the modern welfare state. It has been the broken record of American immigration history, playing the same tune.
What means the paying of the passage and emptying out upon our shores such floods of pauper emigrants — the contents of the poor house and the sweepings of the streets? — multiplying tumults and violence, filling our prisons, and crowding our poor-houses, and quadrupling our taxation, and sending annually accumulating thousands to the poll to lay their inexperienced hand upon the helm of our power?That was Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, warning us of the perils of English immigration in 1834. As we all know, America became plagued with English invaders, depleting government resources, depressing wages and eventually reverting America back to the British crown due to their powerful ethnic bloc vote. In reality this fear was just as absurd then as it is now. Poor non-citizen immigrants use less government assistance than their comparable American counterparts. For instance, when it comes to Medicaid, they use it as much as 42% less. "Crime!" Another consistent theme in restrictionist and nativist literature is the concept that immigrants are more likely to be violent criminals. This is one of the most potent myths because it relies on the old fear of the unfamiliar and the foreign. The Chicago Tribune once warned us in 1868,
The Irish fill our prisons, our poor houses. … Scratch a convict or a pauper, and the chances are that you tickle the skin of an Irish Catholic. Putting them on a boat and sending them home would end crime in this country.And as we all know, America descended into an inferno of vice once criminal kingpins John F. Kennedy (County Wexford) and Ronald Reagan (County Tipperary) took control. As usual, the myth of immigrant criminality is invoked and as usual is quietly demolished. Even in California, the state that receives the most immigrants (both legal and illegal), native born citizens are 10 times as likely to commit a crime than immigrants of any status. "They Won't Speak English!" This is quite possibly the oldest myth. Even before America legally existed, men as esteemed as Benjamin Franklin warned us to the dangers of non-English speakers (this time, the Germans),
Few of their children in the country learn English ... The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages ... Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.This trend continued into the early twentieth century, this time fearing southern and Eastern Europeans. Congressman Grant Hudson wrote in 1924;
Now, what do we find in all our large cities? Entire sections containing a population incapable of understanding our institutions, with no comprehension of our national ideals, and for the most part incapable of speaking the English language. Foreign language information service gives evidence that many southern Europeans resent as an unjust discrimination the quota laws and represent America as showing race hatred and unmindful of its mission to the world. The reverse is true. America’s first duty is to those already within her own shores.And the trend continues. Today voices like Pat Buchanan take up the old song of,
Where the Italians wanted to be part of our family, millions of Mexicans are determined to retain their language and loyalty to Mexico. They prefer to remain outsiders. They do not wish to assimilate and the nation no longer demands that they do soIn reality, the slow work of assimilation continues as steadily as once did before. This is not to say that there are no temporal difficulties that occur within immigrant communities. There are always obstacles to be overcome in immigration. There are valid concerns about how to best boost graduation rates, decrease inner city crime that preys on immigrant communities and how to help achieve wage parity between recent immigrants and older Americans. However, again, history is our guide as even groups that are labeled as "trouble" follow the same pattern of previously castigated groups. From jobs, to crime, to language, immigration has been America's perennial moral panic. While some may despair at the policy implications of this panic, considering its lasting power, we must remember that every wave of negativity regarding immigration was overcome by a wave of reason, calm and good old fashioned American hospitality.
####Joseph Laughon is a lifelong Republican and a proud descendant of Mexican, Irish and German immigrants. He was a campaign consultant to Martha Flores-Gibson in 2012 and was both the Vice Chairman of the College Republicans at Concordia University and the President of Nuestra Voz. He lives and writes in Buena Park, California.
NOTE: Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the League of Faithful Masks. In this case, this blog post coincides with a Feb 19 Virtue in the Wasteland podcast with Joseph Laughon on the same topic. This originally appeared on the site of cafeconlecherepublicans.com, on Feb. 1. We thank the author for permission to repost here.