By Lindy Daniel
I’m sick of hearing it. “America is a nation of immigrants,” they say. Well, they’re wrong. You can’t immigrate to something that isn’t there.
America is not a nation of immigrants. America is a nation of pioneers and builders. They didn’t come to America. They came to a New World. They cleared the forests. They tamed the earth. They built their homes with their bare hands, crafted their government out of their own hearts, and carried law and justice on their backs. They built communities worth crossing the world for – young havens of civilization – but they didn’t stop there. They formed those communities into 13 states, connected them together and built a nation.
The overwhelming majority of the growth of Colonial America leading up to the Revolution and beyond was due to high birth rates, not new arrivals. Higher immigration barely picked up at all until around 1830 and did not truly commence until the latter half of that century. But neither in that time did the new Americans settle as “immigrants.” They arrived in New York, in Philadelphia, in Baltimore, but they didn’t stay. “Go west,” they said, and go west they did. They packed up their wagons with meager supplies and plentiful guts, and they pioneered Nebraska. They pioneered Colorado. They pioneered Wyoming Territory, and they pioneered all the way out the Oregon Trail. They braved the mountains, the deserts, the outlaws of the Wild West, the winters, the wilderness and the hostile Indians. They were frontiersmen and frontier women, and they turned a wild and dangerous land into a home for America’s children.
Not until about the turn of the 20th century did newly steam-powered ships bring what became known as the Great Wave of immigration to this thriving America that had been created. With the Second Industrial Revolution, the great many of these immigrants stayed in the cities to work in the factories. Overcrowding and terrible working conditions meant that they didn’t have it easy. In those decades, American immigration peaked in 1907 with over 1.2 million immigrants; it was one of six years in the Great Wave that topped 1 million.
Shortly after World War I, changes were made to limit immigration, and not until 1989 did we again see more than 1 million immigrants in a year. Numbers had remained much lower until after the Immigration Act of 1965, which flipped our immigration policy head over heels and brought on a new Great Wave, one that is not subsiding. Today, we have received over 1 million legal immigrants nearly every year for 16 years. In 2015, the foreign-born population of the United States surpassed 13.5 percent, approaching the 1890 census peak of 14.8 percent in the Great Wave that so influenced the America of the 20th century, and that percentage continues to grow. The America of the 21st century will likewise reflect this immigration.
Our founders did not “secure the blessings of liberty” for immigrants the world over. They did it for themselves and their posterity. There seems a concerted effort today to convince Americans that we have no right to control our borders, no right to decide who comes to our country and how many come. They say that “we are all immigrants,” so we must therefore be unendingly welcoming of all “other” immigrants. They are wrong. This country was not built by immigrants. Immigrants don’t build countries. They immigrate to them. And when they come in large enough numbers, they change them. America was built by pioneers and frontiersmen. They crafted our society and our nation with their bare hands, and they bled and died to call it the United States of America. From the ground up, they fashioned our future to shadow their past.
Some immigrants have contributed to America and have become American, and some have not. Every people has the right to self-determination, and every nation has the right to control its borders to the best of its ability. It is up to us to decide what kind of America will shadow our present and what kind of Americans will fashion that future, be they many immigrants, few immigrants, these immigrants, those immigrants, immigrants from here, immigrants from there, or no immigrants at all. Our immigration policies will reflect our hopes for our children, whatever hopes those are. But history is no slave to politics, and I am sick and tired of hearing the courageous pioneers, the builders and founders of this great nation, called “immigrants.”
Lindy Daniel is a freelance writer from Southern California.