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The Border war: U.S. immigration policy has meant a 'whiter' America until now

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. ---
Statue of Liberty motto

Legal immigration is the excepted way to come to America.
Photo by Jeff Topping/Getty Images

Like it or not, America is a nation that attracts immigrants. We have something that the world wants ---freedom and opportunity. It's estimated that about 40 per cent of Americans today are descendants of immigrants who migrated here to escape religious persecution and economic hardship. About 12 million Central and Western European immigrants were welcomed to these shores between 1892 and 1954, and processed at the Immigration facility on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Although not without its critics, Ellis Island was the model for the orderly and humane integration of foreign nationals into this country. If anything can be learned from Ellis Island, over its 122 year history, that might help solve the immigration crisis at our southern border, perhaps it's worth our attention.

Ellis Island was established to provide the United States with a standardized procedure to regulate and control immigration into this country with the federal government having direct control over the process. Prior to a federal immigration policy, the states set their own:

Before federal processing was institutionalized at Ellis Island, states had the right to set the criteria for the suitability of immigrants, with an interest in recruiting labor and excluding potential wards of the state. Two-thirds of the migrants to the United States between 1786 and 1892 came through New York City, and after 1855 immigration processing, including medical exams, customs inspection, and name registration, took place at Castle Garden in lower Manhattan, where social reformers set up voluntary services to help immigrants find work and housing. Similar immigration stations were located in Boston, Baltimore, and Galveston. ---excerpt from a history of Ellis Island

Back then, immigration policy toward some European countries was open without restriction on the number allowed into the U.S. White Europeans were highly prized because of the skilled labor and intellectual property they represented to a then fledgling American economy. It's worthwhile to note that for a short period of time, African natives, who were involuntarily brought to these shores as slave laborers, outnumbered white immigrants by more than a million. Because of this undesirable consequence, the African Slave Trade in America was halted in favor of stepped-up immigration of more whites to correct the racial imbalance. Most African-Americans in the U.S. today are descendants of those black Africans who came to America in Slave ships.

The facts are clear that U.S. immigration policy has always favored a 'white' America. Immigration laws passed prior to 1965 restricted the immigration of less desirable groups, and placed strict quotas on certain racial and religious groups in order to keep America "Anglo and Protestant." Those most offended by these policies included Asians, Indians, Southern and Eastern Europeans and Jews. Africans and other non-whites would not be granted immigration status until 1965.

The 1965 [Immigration and Nationality] act marked a radical break from the immigration policies of the past. The law as it stood then excluded Asians and Africans and preferred northern and western Europeans over southern and eastern ones. At the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960's the law was seen as an embarrassment by, among others, President John F. Kennedy, who called the then-quota-system "nearly intolerable." After Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill at the foot of the Statue of Liberty as a symbolic gesture.

Fast forward to the immigration crisis facing the U.S. today. The shared border between the U.S. and Mexico has always been problematic for immigration officials. Estimates are that 11 million undocumented persons now reside in the U.S. Illegal immigrants literally walk across the border on any given day and join the ranks of the undocumented. Some do become citizens, but most don't. But they are not the cause of the current border crisis that has seen some 52,000 unaccompanied illegal immigrant children, as well as women travelling with minor children, simply cross over the border expecting to stay.

The fault lies in a series of anti-human trafficking and child protection legislation, passed by Congress from 2000 to 2014, and signed into law by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, that unknowingly created the immigration crisis now taking place at our border. Who knew a law designed to protect minors against human trafficking and punish human traffickers could wind up throwing mud in the face of U.S. immigration policy? Perhaps if the Democrats and Republicans had not been so busy slinging mud at each other, someone may have foreseen the potential loophole in the law and closed it. The failure belongs to Congress and those Presidents who were in office when the original bill and the re-authorizations were signed into law.

The American people have a right to be concerned about how the unexpected influx of children coming from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador will impact the quality of life in American cities and towns that are forced to absorb these children at a time when America is struggling to care for its own. To say nothing of the danger these children face. Some see race and ethnicity as a factor behind current citizen protests, but it could also be that Americans are scared of losing what we've fought so long and hard to achieve, namely, the American Dream. Hopefully, when President Obama meets with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras at the White House (why wasn't Mexico's president invited?), he won't sell our dream for America down the Rio Grande by promising to pay a ransom of billions in increased foreign aid to get our border back.

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