The delightful picture above (by Thomas Nast – titled “The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things”)is a pretty accurate description of 19th century views on the value Irish Americans had for the country as a whole, and implies pretty strongly what ought to be done about them. While I’d like to say that the way we portray ‘foreigners’ in this country has advanced dramatically, that’d be far too optimistic. Depicting them with bombs and drugs and weapons is still within the norm, and not merely for known bigots like Donald Trump.
For example, a plurality of Americans think that 10,000 (less than one percent of the displaced people in Syria) is too many refugees for the United
StatesTed Cruz and others. Many seem fearful that Syrian refugees could include or hide terrorists. It’s the sort of argument that seems like common sense, but falters on closer examination, suffering from what in the debate world we call non-uniqueness: while it’s possible a refugee could be a terrorist, the same could be said about any number of people already living in America. The 80,000 Iraqi refugees in the US have yet to cause a spike in terrorism, while on the other hand we already experience violence from terrorists like Dylann Roof. Politicians using terrorism fears to stop taking refugees from Syria are either pandering or incompetent (it should also be remembered that when Irish immigrants came to the US, they formed actual armies and occasionally invaded Canada, while actively stirring up opposition to other immigrant groups – the threat of ‘Sharia law courts’ from Muslim refugees seems dramatically lower).
More broadly, the United States should be embracing immigrants as a whole – and gutting our constitution to deny citizenship to Americans is a step, nay, a leap in the wrong direction. Despite what you may have heard about drug traffickers and rapists, immigrants, especially immigrant adolescents, are less likely to commit crimes than their native-born peers. And this is not just the case for ‘model minorities’ like South and East Asian immigrants; indeed, much like the the Irish a century ago, Hispanic immigrants, while starting with far less actual and ‘cultural capital’, have managed to achieve remarkable intergenerational-education mobility. Mutating our constitution with the explicitly stated purpose of stripping such children of their rights as a way to punish their parents’ alleged sins is as irrational as it is unethical. More than that, nixing or eliminating one of the most important amendments in the constitution means reviving an abhorrent governing philosophy, one that holds that it is the purview of government, not the facts of a person’s birth, to determine who is entitled to the rights of a citizen. It’s been tried before, and will be tried again – but it needs to be continually resisted.
For those who’ve studied history, the takeaway is simple: both refugees in the short run and economic migrants in the long run present an opportunity, not a danger, and one which powerful elements of the American political system are trying to squander. Doing so, either by politically excluding immigration or creating a social atmosphere hostile to their presence, threatens to cut off one constant resource America has consistently drawn on for strength.