The early 1900s saw a wave of immigration to America from Europe, particularly Italy, Poland, the Balkans and Ireland. The majority of these immigrants passed through Ellis Island and then set about to carve out a small piece of the American dream for themselves and their families. Most of these new immigrants repaid their adoptive country with hard work and an enthusiastic desire to become part of the society which had offered them a chance for a better life.
Unfortunately, not all Americans welcomed these new arrivals with open arms; they looked upon the new immigrants as an invading force that would corrupt traditional American values, and spread criminality, superstition and vice. In one book entitled THE OLD WORLD IN THE NEW THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PAST AND PRESENT IMMIGRATION TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE (available online at Gutenberg.org), the author Edward Alsworth Ross, Ph.D., LL.D. — a Professor of Sociology in the University of Wisconsin — states categorically that immigrants are more likely to end up in insane asylums, that they commit more crimes, that they are a drain on the public purse because they require more social assistance, that they abused their children, and were prone to vices such as gambling, drinking and prostitution.
Ross also describes an achievement gap between immigrant children and “true Americans”. Immigrant children were said to be dull behaviour problems, trailing behind genuine “Americans”, defined by the Mr. Ross as people of German or British descent. Immigrant children were supposedly less intelligent and fit mainly to go into simple menial work.
This same book, which is a cornucopia of jaw dropping racism and invective against new Americans, spends a lot of time worrying about the danger of the higher birth rate among immigrants, and the danger that they will squeeze out the old population, turning huge sections of the nation into copies of their old countries.
The author goes on to state:
“Our descendants,” a social worker remarked to me, “will look back on the nineteenth century as our Golden Age, just as we look back on Greece.” Thoughtful people whose work takes them into the slime at the bottom of our foreignized cities and industrial centers find decline actually upon us.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
It is interesting to read some of the anti-immigrant publications that were published during the early 1900s; a lot of the things that you hear today said against new immigrants and the need for a rational immigration policy are not new at all, and the same dire warnings about immigration were uttered over a century ago about different ethnic groups. Ironically some of the same people who now want to limit immigration to America because of its supposed ill effects and costs, are the descendents of the same immigrants who were vilified when their grand parents and great parents came to America.
Perhaps the next time we hear someone railing against immigration and the supposed ill effects of new comers on American society, we should reflect that there is nothing new about this kind of scare mongering.