Immigration history by Missouri Rep. Ed Emery
(R-126 including the counties of Barton, Dade, Jasper and Polk). Emery is chairman of the Special Committee on Immigration Reform.
The safety of the Republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment...--Alexander Hamilton
The House Special Committee on Immigration Reform will soon be submitting a final report to Speaker of the House, Rod Jetton. Before reasonable conclusions and recommendations can be made about immigration reform, it is important to have some historical perspective. Voluntary migration (immigration) always moves from a place of less freedom to one of more freedom. The original migration of Europeans onto this continent was by those seeking to move from religious oppression to religious freedom. Immigrants were predominantly characterized by a Biblical and Christian worldview, which resulted in other freedoms, such as the right to own property, the right of economic pursuit, freedom of speech, and the establishment governments that are subject to the will of the people. Subsequent immigration was not necessarily for religious freedom, but because of the other freedoms that grew out of the Biblical culture of that first movement.
America's culture of liberty is reflected in the United States Constitution, and it is there we first see a provision for immigration. In section eight, Congress is authorized "to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization...throughout the United States." Beyond that, the founding fathers left it to the states to regulate and control immigration according to their needs. However, contrary to common thought, immigration did not play much of a part in population growth in America until the nineteenth century. Prior to that, growth was from "native fertility."
According to their writings, America's founding fathers were skeptical of massive immigration. Thomas Jefferson was concerned that, "they will bring with them the principles of government they leave." Alexander Hamilton speculated that, "The safety of the Republic depends essentially on the energy of a common national sentiment:...The influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to...corrupt the national spirit....." Those of us concerned about America's slide toward socialism and "big brother" government can identify with Thomas Jefferson's prophetic quote.
One thing became eminently clear during the course of our committee's immigration forums across this great state: the issue of illegal immigration does not lend itself to compromise. In fact, compromise is nearly impossible because the two sides in this issue derive from two distinctly different worldviews. Interestingly, the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor depicts the contrast between these two worldviews. The statue was given to us by France as a symbol of the hope that America offers to the world. America could shine the light of liberty to other nations. However, when private citizens added the words of Emma Lazarus (huddled masses) to the base of the statue, that reference changed the symbolism of the statue from one of influencing the world to one of assimilating the world. America's success and influence grew out of her unique identity. The modern misconception is that America can continue to have such a positive influence by abandoning this identity. That is a complete misunderstanding of history and of nationhood.
Testimony taken over the course of three months clearly defined these differences. One perspective maintains the importance of preserving America's culture and identity in order to model and promote liberty in a world too often characterized by oppression. The other view is to elevate the immediate good that can be done in the short term above the long-term maintenance of spiritual, economic, and political strength that has produced and protected America's liberties. It was William Jennings Bryan who in 1906, commented, "Our power to help the world by the absorption of surplus population has certain natural and necessary limitations. We have a mission to fulfill, and we cannot excuse ourselves if we cripple our energies in a mistaken effort to carry a burden heavier than our strength can support."
A quote from the Washington Post is particularly reflective of today's immigration concerns, "In earlier years of the Republic immigration was not at a rate that negated absorption, and most of those who entered did so with the intent and purpose to make themselves Americans...[But for] decades now immigrants...have obviously been bent on seizing the opportunities offered by America but without disposition to adapt themselves to ...American ideals and concepts of government and citizenship in return. The record is crowded with instances in which groups of immigrants have stoutly resisted Americanism, have resented the suggestion that they learn the language of the land, and have maintained their foreignisms...at the present time, in certain areas, immigrants constitute a substantial percentage of the population, and drifting together and holding aloof from Americanization, hold themselves as foreigners in America." The most profound thing about this quote is that it is from a 1924 Washington Post edition.