Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What happens when there is no more opportunity in the land of opportunity?

For much of its history, the U.S. did not have much of an immigration policy. None at first, a bit lax after that, to say the least. And why not? - there was more land than anyone then could even dream of ever overcrowding.

The people that were already here when the Europeans showed up certainly began to get pushed around before too long, and I don't want to make that sound unimportant; but the issue wasn't not having enough land for both the Indians and the Europeans, but rather who got what. As usual, the strong took what they wanted and the weak moved to other land.

Along with those white Europeans, of course, came people that didn't want to come; people who, even now, are still trying to make this a place that feels like home to them.

The real immigrations to America began in the 19th century. The railroads need for cheap labor brought Asians and Irish. Troubles in Ireland brought more Irish. Then came Italians and Germans and Scandinavians and Eastern Europeans, not to mention a steady trickle of English and Scots. By the turn of the 20th century, some people (who were already here, of course) got to thinking that maybe someone ought to stem the tide a bit.

Ellis Island finally was closed in 1954 and by then the population of the USA was over 150,000,000. Suddenly the vast amount of land didn't seem so inexhaustible anymore.

Today, the population is a bit more than twice that many, and God still isn't making any more land. What to do?

Proponents of open borders will quickly point out that early white settlers didn't have to worry about quotas and application forms. I agree. Life is unfair. First come, first served, so to speak. The reality is, the world and the USA simply aren't like they were back in the old days. The USA - and the world, for that matter - are getting filled up. If the people who are supposedly in power don't find a way to control the situation any better than the Indians did at first, then they will go down the same path as the Indians and lose the power.

There is a bigger problem, though. America's "secret" of how it rose to be a great world power is no secret at all: the driving force for making America great was its hungry immigrants looking for a better life, and willing to do whatever it took to advance from one generation to the next. What now? Immigration and diversity has always been the lifeblood of America's continual renewal. The people who advocate open borders have a point.

And yet...


  1. And yet, no easy answers. Completely open door policy: untenable. Too closed: untenable (as Canada is discovering).

    I find it interesting that the Chinese and Japanese immigrants brought to Hawaii and thence to the rest of the nation weren't mentioned. They were part of the settling in the west and used as expendable labor on the railroads as well (Hence the term, "not a Chinaman's chance"). They make up a notable portion of the populace and have certainly done much in the tradition of coming here and working hard.

  2. As you say, the world and the USA aren't the same as they used to be. Do you think immigrants are still looking for the same things? Are they still looking for opportunity to work hard and succeed? I know it's something of a sweeping generalisation but I think people expect more to be handed to them on a plate these days.

  3. The latter are certainly the ones getting the press. But I've only ever met the first kind.

  4. This is better answered by better minds than mine.



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