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While it is impossible to predict the role immigration in the future of America, it is enlightening to study how it has shaped the past. The present hostility and debates involving immigration have their roots throughout the American history. However, the most surprising thing is that common fears about the negative impact of immigration have been confirmed untrue by history. Not only have immigrants incorporated the American culture over time, but they have widened the American society in several positive ways as well. In this research, I will discuss how immigration has shaped our national identity, politics, and society since the beginnings of the American Nation.
Immigration is described as the movement and relocation of individuals or groups of people from one country to another. In the United States, immigration began way back in the sixteenth century with the Spanish colonists that migrated to North America. By the time American Revolution was taking place; several people had immigrated to the area with the most remarkable figure resulting from the main wave of indentured and free labor from most parts of England and Europe and the importation of slaves from the Caribbean and Africa in large scale. Although the levels of immigration to the United States have to some extent been continuous throughout history, there were recorded two periods that marked mass immigration (Davis). The first period is took place between 1880 and 1924 and most of the immigrants were from eastern and southern Europe. The second immigration wave involved immigrants from Asia and Latin America. These two eras added over twenty-five millions immigrants each.
The history of America therefore can not be separated from the immigration history since it is through immigration that the identity, politics, and society of America have been shaped to what they are today. In the middle of the 19th century, migrants from Scandinavia and Germany played a key role in resolving the frontier. Immigrants from Irish on the other hand worked as manual workers in the construction of canals, roads and railways among other transportation networks. It has also been estimated that immigrants contributed greatly to manpower during the civil war. Immigrants have played a key role in the evolution of America to an industrial economy during the 19th and 20th century since they worked in the mining companies, in businesses as merchants and as laborers in most of the urban areas (Kiriya, 2007). Together with their children, immigrants would work in the garment shops in New York, in coal mining industries in Pennsylvania and in the stockyards in Chicago. During the industrialization era, most American cities were filled with immigrants a situation that led to rapid expansion of the industrial economy (Davis).
Immigrants and their descendants have also been very vital in the development of the modern politics in America. Immigrants have helped in the formation of the Roosevelt coalition which was active during the 1930s and was followed by the appointment of John Kennedy. Roosevelt coalition was established 1928, a time when Al Smith attracted immigrants into the Democratic Party (Storrs, 2000). Although Al Smith was defeated by Herbert Hoover in the 1928’s election, some scholars have accredited this move from republican dominance to new deal coalition in 1920s and 1930s respectively to the rapidly increased turnout, partisanship and share of the immigrants votes as a result of the past mass migration periods.
Despite the fact that mass immigration into America had been banned since the 1920s, immigrants and their descendants accounted for 20 percent of the prospective voters by 1960. The political propensities on the second generation could be incidental on the connection between political and religious preferences. Several decades after the Second World War, white protestants particularly whose who were socially well off formed the foundation of the Republican Party, whereas the Jewish and catholic voters disproportionately constituted the Democratic Party. Thus majority of the immigrants from eastern and southern Europe were Jewish and Catholics. In addition to this, the reform eras of the New Deal and the New Frontier respectively were accomplished by the 19th and 20th centuries’ mass immigration (Storrs, 2000).
Immigrants and their families have also been of great importance in shaping of the American society by developing the America’s popular culture as well as in the creation of a new and positive image of migration in the minds of most Americans. They have also contributed in creative arts among them directing, writing, and performing in American plays and films (Nagai, 2010). For instance, most of the Hollywood film producers are immigrants and their children. Even though the next generations of immigrants have been apprehensive in assimilating to the American customs as well as to adapt to the Anglo- singing style, they have greatly expanded the American culture and made it more interested and open to many outsiders.
The identity of America can also be attributed to the mass immigration that occurred several decades ago. America is now a multicultural country that comprises of people from all parts of the world. People from different ethnic groups, social back grounds and cultures come together and freely share their beliefs and values (Nagai, 2010). This has made the country have a positive image through the eyes of many. The fact that America has given immigrants a chance to learn and get employment in America is also another step to prove that racism is finding its way out of the Americans conscience.
The impacts of immigration are perceived differently today compared to the period when the earliest immigrants settled in America. Earliest settlers were received with lots of fear and uncertainty as the residents did not no how to interact with them and the fact that they shared different cultural backgrounds. Much of the debate over the experiences of the earliest immigrants focuses on their country of origin (Stefoff, 2006). Each group of immigrants was received with some sense of hostility and fear that it would bring harm to the society or the new comers would not conform to the customary American way of life.
All through the 19th century, German and Irish American were not considered as fully Americans since their culture was somehow different from the habitant Americans. Hostility towards foreigners boiled up in late 19th century and some of the early years of the 20th century as ethnic ideology became a common practice among the old Americans. As a result, new policies on immigration were established so as to restrict the number of people entering the United States. The Immigration Restriction League introduced a literacy check for all immigrants so as to slow down the entrance of people particularly those from eastern and southern Europe since most of the criminals, illiterates and paupers had their origin from these areas (Marshall,1997, p. 64).
Cities that were occupied by foreigners were abandoned and feared as they were perceived to be overflowing with dangerous individuals whose ideas were radical. They lived in rural areas and slums where living conditions were worse and they had limited access to social amenities such as schools and hospitals. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act was a move towards a closed society. From this time up to early 1920s, a set of varied groups were established so as to lead a campaign against the admission of undesirable immigrants, particularly those from Europe into the country (Stefoff, 2006, p. 24). Immigrants were separated from their families since they did not get a chance to see them. This policy was active until 1960 when the immigrants and their descendants felt that this discriminatory was becoming arming. As a result, new reforms were made so as to allow those families that had been separated to reunite. Following this, a new policy was enacted and it only allowed immigrants on family reunification basis and those who qualified for occupations with scarce experts. This system of admission on the long run allowed the admission of qualified doctors, teachers, engineers and nurses from Asia to reunite and sponsor their relatives living in the United States (Marshall,1997).
Institution of slavery in the United States began long in the 17th century when slaves were imported from most parts of the world particularly from the Caribbean and Africa. From this time up to 1865 when it was abolished, slavery was one of the longest established systems where free labor was exploited. Most of them lived in the southern part where they worked in the plantation to produce sugar, cotton, tobacco, rice and cotton (Davis). This generated lots of income for the Americans and as a result, a firm economic foundation was laid. The trade of capturing and selling of slaves was also a basic part of the American society throughout history.
Slavery continued to thrive in the United States due to the internal trade. By late 1860s, over six hundred thousand slaves had been moved to the south where they worked in cotton plantations (Jonathan, 2009). The society and politics of the United States were also shaped by the slaves and their descendants as well. As more and more generations were raised, ways of living started to change as the slaves assimilated with the Whites. Several movements and political parties that exclusively comprised of immigrants and slaves were formed most of which for the purposed of stopping slavery (Davis).
The current immigration policies in the United States are focused on how immigration can be controlled. There has been a tight agreement that illegal immigration should completely be stopped whereas lawful immigration should be controlled. Current policies also reflect on the type and number of migrants to be allowed into the country. However, the fact that the sovereign states are responsible in controlling the movement of people across boundaries remains unchanged. On the other hand, research reveals that there are enormous motivations such as employment and technology that have made immigrants to leave their homeland into the United States. This therefore in a way suggests that public policies in an effort to control immigration may not be sufficient in the future.
My research on the history and the current trends of immigration suggest that most of the policies on immigration focus on how opportunities for social integration and socioeconomic improvement for the immigrants together with their descendants can be created. Following this, there is a high likelihood that immigrants will move in great numbers in future. Even when the boundaries are closed, immigrants will still find means and ways of getting into the country since the economic inducement of both the receiving and sending societies is overwhelming. My personal ideas on the current migration policies are that the governments be strict on controlling the number of people coming into the country and give fully citizenships to the eligible individuals. I believe as a society, in spite of its countless failings, America can still offer some models on how immigrants and their descendants can prosper and how they can become resourceful to the society.
Another idea that I think the American government should consider in some of the immigration policies is on the admission of immigrants in relation to their places of origin. Numbers admitted should comprise some percentage of the total population of the sending society. In other words, societies with high human population should be expected to send more immigrants into the United States as compared to low populated society. This is following the fact that highly populated societies have scarcity of resources thus the number of unemployed is high. Thus admitting them into the United States would be away of creating more job opportunities.