America is a land of immigrants. The United States has been called a “melting pot” where emigrants from countries all over the world blend into a unified society. The ancestors of all of us who are not native American Indians emigrated from some place to America. Immigration is not a bad thing.
Inductions of three million men for military service during World War One caused a labor shortage. Mexicans were recruited to harvest crops in California starting a trend that lasted for the remainder of the twentieth century. Some Hispanics came to the U.S., illegally, because businesses wanted them. Cheap labor generated high profits. Illegal immigrants were, in a sense, invited to come.
About 80 percent of America’s Hispanic citizens hold legal U.S. citizenship. An estimated 11 million Hispanics are not legal citizens, but many of their children were born in the U.S. and are U.S. citizens. Approximately 1.2 million Hispanics are veterans of U.S. military service.
We are challenged to resolve the legal status of the 11 million Hispanics who do not hold U.S. citizenship. One proposed solution is to grant citizenship. Another proposal is to authorize a legal right to live and work in America but without citizenship. The significant political difference is that citizens can vote — noncitizens cannot. Politicians are lined up on one side or the other depending on whether they believe that they would capture or lose those new Hispanic votes.
Immigrants to America often arrived in waves generating hostility for a while. That was true of the Irish who fled the “potato famine” in Ireland, circa 1845-52, and settled in America. After the Wilson Administration decided to enter World War One on the side of England and France and against Germany, Americans of German descent were demonized. During World War Two, 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were confined to internment camps for three years. None was ever convicted of an offense.
Observers anticipate that, during the 21st century, because of war, tyranny, and famine, large numbers of people will be crossing borders — any way they can — to find a better life. America needs a humane immigration policy, but, in a world of seven billion people, the uncontrolled immigration that occurred in the past is no longer acceptable.
(Stevenson is a writer from Houston, Texas. He served two years in Vietnam as an infantry officer, retired from military service, and worked three years as a U.S. Civil Service employee, as well as working in Egypt as an employee of the former Radio Corporation of America. As a retiree, he reads history, follows issues important to Americans, and writes commentary.)