Immigration to The United States: Past. Present. Future?

Prologue:  “A Nation of Immigrants” by President John F. Kennedy describes the history and ethos of our country.  We have been called “the last best hope” for people across the globe who have sought a better life for themselves and their families.  For centuries,  men and women left their ancestral homes and traveled thousands of miles across oceans to reach our shores.  Many families came in shifts, since the money for passage was not easy to accumulate.   They often walked miles to reach the nearest port of embarkation.

Oscar Handlin in his Pulitzer prize winning book “The Uprooted”   describes the greatest migration in history. From Europe , 1815 to 1915 the people came for multiple reasons.  Some sought political freedom or to escape religious persecution.  Many hoped to own a piece of land some day.  Ellis Island in New York Harbor was the largest port of entry.  The Statue of Liberty became the symbol  of welcome with the Torch she held aloft.

Immigration from Asia was restricted first by The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.   Japanese men had been allowed to enter when the railroads were being built in mid century.   1869 , post Civil War was the date the gold spike joined the east and west tracks that had been laid to provide rail travel coast to coast.

Men and women from Africa had been ruthlessly brought to America since the 1600’s on slave ships.  The infamous Middle Passage where as many died on board as lasted to reach shore.  Their African American descendants today are 14th Generation Americans , while most of us in the  current population are second, third and fourth generation.

20th Century:  In 1924,  Quotas were established for countries in different regions of Europe.  Larger quotas for Northern:. England, Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark ; Smaller for Southern and Eastern:. Italy , Spain,Greece, Poland , Russia. People waited for years in many countries to come

After World War II,  President Harry Truman signed The Displaced Persons Act in 1948 .  This welcomed the thousands  of people in Europe who no longer lived in their cities and towns that  had been destroyed during the fighting.  In the years that followed,  forty thousand  Hungarians fleeing Russian tanks were admitted.  After 1958,  hundreds of thousands fled Cuba under Castro to the United states.  The Refugee Act of 1980  brought Vietnamese,  Cambodians and Laotioans after the Viet Nam War. Three million people were welcomed from Asia.

It was not until 1965 that the  Quota system  had been repealed and people from Southern and Eastern Europe had better opportunity to emigrate to The United States.

Present:  Trump Administration policies.

When Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower to enter the Presidential race, he called Mexicans crossing the Southern border, “rapists and murderers”.  His rhetoric has not changed and his policies as president have   included three travel bans on Muslims coming to the United States.   He has called Hispanic people fleeing gang violence in Central American countries “caravans coming as an invasion with some very bad people.”  The facts are that most of the people are women and children who walk thousands of miles from Guatemala, Honduras and San Salvador to find a better life for their families.

Trump has been fixated on building his WALL to keep them out.  He originally proclaimed that “Mexico will pay pay for the wall”, leading chants in each of his myriad rallies before and after he won election.   His latest ploy is to take funding from the Pentagon budget for the military to build The Wall.

On August 11 – 12,  2017, a Unite The Right rally of white supremacists was held in Charlottesville, Virginia.  On Friday  night ,August 11,  men  marched through the University of Virginia campus holding torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us!”.   Neo Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members were included.   Saturday morning, violence broke out between the Rally members and protestors who had gathered in the city.   Television cameras carried the full day of events, culminating in a car driven deliberately into a group of protestors.  A young woman protestor was killed in the attack.

The president’s response to the event was to say that “there were fine people on many sides.”   Within two days, it was clear that he needed to speak again.  This time he modified slightly, saying “Very fine people on both sides.”    Meanwhile David Duke, spokesman for the Ku Klux Klan praised him for his responses.

Before the 2018 Midterm Election, Trump led his rallies with condemnation of the “Invasion by caravans coming  in the thousands to the Southern Border”.   Reality checks revealed after the Blue Wave swept Democrats into control of The House of Representatives that there had been no caravans of thousands at the border.  Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, has said that” Donald Trump wants to make America White again” after his  twitter attacks on the  four young women of color elected in 2018.

Now, Trump is aiming at the 2020 election with rallies across the country.  His administration has created new policies   aimed at limiting immigration to the United States. His latest policy rejects the poor for green cards, the official sign of legal status. If they will need government benefit programs like food stamps or subsidized housing, they cannot receive a green card. Newspapers  call it a Wealth Test.

Marielena  Hincapie, the executive director of The National Immigration Law Center said, “This is a cruel new step toward weaponizing  programs intended to help people that are making them instead,  a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: “You are not wanted here.”   She added “It will have a dire added impact,  forcing some families to forgo critical health care and nutrition.  The damage will be felt for decades to come.”

The Trump administration has also declined to grant temporary protected status to Bahamains devastated by Hurricane Dorian.

Epilogue:  Donald Trump learned the real estate business working with his successful father, Fred Trump. One particular thing he learned was that his father, on receiving   an application for rental or buying a property,  might circle the name clearly with a LARGE LETTER  C .  This was his code for “Colored”.  And they very rarely rented to those people.

That fact has always brought a famous song from “South Pacific” to my mind.  Lieutenant Joe Cable delivers it with passion and power, “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught”.   It explains how prejudice and discrimination are developed in the minds of children.

“You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught “

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught to be afraid,

Of people whose eyes are oddly made.

And people whose skin is a different shade.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.

You’ve got to be taught from year to year.

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear.

You’ve got to be carefully taught.


…………………………………………………… Joyce S. Anderson

2 thoughts on “Immigration to The United States: Past. Present. Future?

  1. I love this post about immigration. It seems as if history does repeat itself. I listened to today’s coverage of a US Congressional Hearing about immigrant children to the USA and the trauma they face in government custody. The federal policies are indeed making things more difficult for immigrant families and children, some of which have legal paths towards citizenship.

  2. Wonderful summary, Joyce. So glad you closed this blog with the words of the song from South Pacific — one of my favorites! This is one of the topics I always choose to use when working with little children in our public school class once each week. There have been times when I meet a child who has “been carefully taught to hate all the people —“. And I use all the other children in the group to help that child “see” the sadness of his thinking. We then talk about the cultural differences among each of us in the group — all the while celebrating these differences. Perhaps it helps that child to start to question the hate he has been taught . I’d like to think so. My groups consist of very young children — and my belief is that change will start with them

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