By Hannah Yazdani '18
“I will build a great wall- and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me,” said Donald Trump on his 2016 presidential campaign trail (CBSNews). Although issues surrounding immigration have become popular in today’s political discourse due to Trump’s rhetoric, this controversial topic has been present since the founding of our country. Many Americans want to enforce anti-immigration policies with the fear that an influx of immigrants, with different ethnicities and identities, will take away from a unique American culture.
This country was founded on the ideal that all men have the unalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Throughout the course of America’s history, various groups have claimed these rights, moving the country towards a society that provides opportunity for all people, not just white, property-owning men. To be an American, one does not need to be a part of a certain identity, but must take pride in these values that make America unique to any other country.
Since the early 19th century, immigrants have become examples of the uniqueness of American freedom, specifically through pursuing economic opportunity. Between 1820 and 1870 millions of Irish immigrants settled on the east coast due to persecution and a potato famine in Ireland. This migration gave rise to a political party known as the Know Nothings, whose political platform represented Americans who feared that the diverse identity of immigrants would change America’s way of life. Shortly after the rise and fall of the Know-Nothings, American freedom was redefined to protect the natural rights of all citizens, including black men. During the civil war in the 1860s the North fought for the emancipation of slavery. In his Gettysburg Address in 1863, Lincoln stated, “Dedicated [America] to the proposition that all men are created equal… this nation shall have a new birth of freedom.” Lincoln’s redefinition of freedom did not change the American values created by our founding fathers, but allowed the country to fully express them.
In 1924, however, an Immigration Act purposely excluded all Asians from US immigration, while favoring white immigrants from Northern and Western Europe (Immigration Act of 1924). Protests later emphasized American values of civil equality and freedom, thus leading to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, which took away racial and ethnic based immigration, accepting people into the country based on reuniting immigrant families and attracting skilled labor (Scribner).
Despite America’s progress in protecting and respecting the rights of all people, regardless of race or ethnicity, political stances similar to that of the Know Nothings are still present today, as citizens continue to fear their distinct way of American life will change through an influx of immigrants.
The great virtue of our country is defined by the opportunity and freedom we provide for all people, including immigrants from all over the world. In order to uphold the ideals created by our founding fathers, we should not deny entry to certain groups of people, but open our borders to everyone. American politicians should not move forward with anti-immigration policies, but continue the progression of this country by promoting American ideals, thus creating a country that values diversity and providing opportunity to all people.