Immigration has been a contentious topic in the United States, especially during election season, for many years. Many argue that immigrants don’t care about this country and, as a result, are ushering in crime and poverty wherever they settle. Others say that immigrants are the ones that have helped this country to become great and they continue to make vital contributions. In this essay, I will chronicle the history of immigration of several ethnicities to the United States. In doing this, I will show that objections to immigration reform stem from a subconscious desire of many to feel superior to others.
Forced African Immigration
Not all immigrants came to the United States freely. Beginning in the late 1600’s, Africans were brought in as slaves to perform manual labor. Africans slaves worked on the plantations and did much of the manual construction work in our historical cities. Many have argued that America could not have progressed without the free labor of slaves. Legal discrimination against African Americans has been well documented throughout the years.
Poor European Immigration
In the early 1800’s, the Irish began arriving in America. They came to escape the Great Potato Famine. Those that arrived to the East Coast – predominantly Boston – were poor and unskilled. As a result, they became the servant class of the city. Irish Americans have long been negatively portrayed in the print and film media as drunkards and violent people. In the meantime, European immigrants from affluent nations such as England have been put on a pedestal in comparison.
There have been waves of Asian immigration throughout history. In the late 1800’s, Chinese immigrants came primarily to California seeking to improve their lives. Many of them worked in mining and on the transportation system. They did the back-breaking and dangerous work of digging tunnels, building bridges, and laying the railroad that connected the west coast to cities in the east. However, the Chinese were seen as inferior racially and culturally.
Japanese also came to the United States in droves. They worked on the sugarcane plantations in Hawaii then later some of them many moved to the west coast states. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War 2, over 110,000 Japanese immigrants living in Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona were forcibly removed from their homes and businesses, rounded up like cattle, and sent to concentration camps in desolate areas of the country. Interestingly, German immigrants were never mistreated in this manner. We can only speculate as to the reason.
Ironically, it was not the immigrants who were discriminated against in this case, it were the Natives. However, the attitude towards them were the same or even worse than the discrimination towards immigrants. In 1838, President Andrew Jackson authorized the forced removal of Native Americans, Cherokee, from their home east of the Mississippi River and transported to reservations in desolate Oklahoma. This shameful relocation is known as the Trail of Tears. Many white Americans at the time viewed them with disdain.
Today, many Mexican and Central American immigrants take the jobs that Americans do not want. The vast majority of agricultural seasonal workers who pick our fruits and vegetables are immigrants. Donald Trump, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, has infamously proposed building a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. Doing this will presumable keep all the undesirables out. Mr. Trump has said that Mexico only sends over their murderers and rapists. To an extent, the media seem to agree. Latinos are often portrayed as prostitutes and gang bangers on film.
I live on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands have been a melting pot for the Caribbean since the 1960’s. Nationals from all over the Eastern Caribbean, including my great- grandmother, have immigrated here in search of work and better pay. Ironically, the Eastern Caribbean nationals and Virgin Islands natives are all black people. This discrimination was based on class. These immigrants have been called derogatory terms and looked down upon. In the early 60’s, employers routinely confiscated their employers’ passports. They then threatened deportation if they workers did not comply exactly with their wishes. Eastern Caribbean immigrants have made great strides since then. They have raised families here and their descendants are thoroughly integrated into society.
However, since the earthquake of January 2010, there has been an influx of Haitian immigrants. They have taken many of the jobs that the locals do not want. Every day they can be found at certain locations waiting for a day’s work. When someone wants their property cleared or need day laborers for a construction site, you know where to go to get “a couple of Haitians”. Similar to the previous immigrants, Haitians are oftentimes treated as lower class residents by many – even by those from the Eastern Caribbean.
Benefits of Immigration Reform
President Obama’s immigration reform executive action seeks to give parents of legal resident children who have lived in the United States relief from deportation if they register with the government. Illegal immigrants take jobs the “native” populous doesn’t want. However, the fulfillment of these tasks is vital to the economy of the United States. Many employers pay less than legal minimum wage because they know their employees have no redress. In turn, the immigrants take the job since they have no other choice for employment. The immigrants in turn do not contribute taxes since they are not working legally. The President’s immigrant reform bill would give immigrants a path to earn citizenship. In turn, it will give the now legal immigrants opportunities for employment with higher salaries. Taxes will be paid by them and the local economies will grow. The only ones that will not benefit are employers who desire to exploit others and maintain slavery conditions.
As we have seen, white and well to do immigrants to this country have been welcomed with open arms and thoroughly integrated in the American society. Immigrants of other ethnicities and of a lower social class have not fared so well. They have been discriminated against, looked down upon, and made the culprits of everything that have gone wrong in this country. In my opinion, discrimination is more about class than race. Unfortunately, it is human nature to want to feel superior to someone else. The government has a moral obligation to create laws that benefit all of its residents. Immigration reform laws will assist newcomers to help themselves out of poverty. Immigrants will be able to overcome society’s inherent desire to look down upon them as people in a lower economic status.