All Americans are immigrants or descended from immigrants. The original North Americans came across ice bridges that connected Eurasia with the North American continent during the Ice Age, right after the Great Flood. These formerly Asian tribal peoples lived here in relative obscurity for the next 3,500 years, formed dominant cultures, warred with each other and enslaved one another.
Those who would make up the backbone of what would become the United States didn’t emigrate here until the 1600s. They came for a variety of reasons, some seeking religious freedom and liberty of conscience, others seeking economic opportunity, others looking for colonial opportunities for their home country. There were Irish and English indentured servants, followed by unwilling African slaves, first sold into bondage by more dominant African tribes before they made the painful and often-fatal trans-Atlantic voyage. French Huguenot, German, Norwegian, Polish, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Chinese and Japanese immigration all followed.
In the midst of all this movement of people groups came our U.S. Constitution. While not initially recognizing black slaves as full persons, and not considering indigenous Native Americans as counting toward voting representation, it delineated important human rights that had heretofore not existed in any other country. The Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1790 provided citizenship to any “white person of good character” who had lived in the U.S. for two years. Importantly, the prospective citizen was to take an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and was to forswear any other foreign allegiances. The Naturalization Act of 1870 extended citizenship to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” It took a civil war and Reconstruction to bring this about.
American history, indeed all nations’ histories, is full of ambivalent attitudes toward immigration. After we granted citizenship to African Americans, our forefathers often viewed Chinese, Japanese and even later European immigrants with suspicion, citing threats to national sovereignty, economic threats, etc. But assimilation of these same groups generally removed prejudicial views within the course of a single generation. When immigrant groups work hard, pay taxes, learn English, uphold American laws and institutions, and generally respect the American way of life, they earn respect. When they don’t act as good citizens, we have more difficulty accepting them. It has nothing to do with what shade of tan you are, although I will admit that there is a small percentage of Americans who still really care about skin color and cling to non-biblical ideas of so-called “race.”
Recent Latin American immigration is not necessarily any different, in terms of motivation, than prior waves of immigration. People seek asylum from gangs, abuse from despotic governments, increased economic opportunities, etc. There are also those with more nefarious intent, such as drug smuggling and human trafficking. We have a crisis at the border because of the many years of toleration of illegal border crossings. Immigration has been and always will be part of the American fabric, but it must be legal, measured and have requirements.
Failed nations come to ours because the American experiment, while not in any sense perfect, has been an overwhelming success.
With the above musings in mind, I humbly propose the following:
1) Continue to build a physical barrier to reduce illegal crossings that are dangerous for the people doing them.
2) Require asylum seekers to apply from home or to stay in their “pass-through” country (Mexico, for example) until their claim is processed.
3) Test potential immigrants for drugs and communicable diseases. (This would not be unprecedented. At Ellis Island, many were sent back home on the next ship due to disease.)
4) Require potential immigrants to state clearly their job skills and education level.
5) Require courses in American civics to be taught to all incoming legal immigrants, with special emphasis on the U.S. Constitution as framed by our founders, with an understanding of original intent.
6) Require an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and forswear prior country allegiances.
7) Require a path to citizenship within a certain probationary period of time, making sure that there can be no voting or congressional representation without citizenship.