Those who come hither are generally of the most ignorant stupid sort of their own nation. … Not being used to Liberty, they know not how to make a modest use of it … that they are not esteemed men till they have shewn their manhood by beating their mothers, so these seem to think themselves not free, till they can feel their liberty in abusing and insulting their teachers. … Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets [now] have inscriptions in both languages … they will soon so outnumber us, that all the advantages we have will not in my opinion be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious.”
If not for the use of the old English form of certain words one would think this quote was from someone living in our day. Who spoke these words and of whom did they speak? The author of the quote is one of our venerable and beloved founding fathers — Benjamin Franklin. The group of people he critiqued and criticized in such a sharp and harsh way — German immigrants to America.
Nativism, favoring the interests of established inhabitants over those of immigrants, and xenophobia, intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries, is nothing new. Just like it exists now, it’s also permeated our past. When Franklin spoke the above words in 1753, he was expressing a deep frustration with the numbers of Germans pouring into the colony of Pennsylvania. For a country that lauds itself as a melting pot, we’ve unfortunately always shown particular reluctance to add new groups to our societal stew.
During the 1800s it became the Irish who were rebuffed and unwelcome on these shores. In fact, there was a time when it was common to pick up a newspaper and see in the want ads: “No Irish need apply.” After the Irish it was the Asians, and the latter’s growing presence led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
After them it was the Italians and other Southern Europeans. Sounding disturbingly similar to what you might hear today, Southern Italians were seen as “rapists and savages.” Indeed, the 1911 Dillingham Report, compiled by the United States Immigration Commission, observed: “Certain kinds of criminality are inherent in the Italian race. In the popular mind, crimes of personal violence, robbery, blackmail and extortion are peculiar to the people of Italy.”
The result of this kind of thinking? The Immigration Act of 1924, which became law and threw up an effective barrier to the majority of Italians, Southern Europeans and others who wanted to immigrate to this country. Indeed, when we survey U.S. history it seems the “others” among us have always had a difficult time being accepted. The American Dream often came with ethnic limitations.
This history came to mind as I was sitting and listening to the fears and anxieties of two local young people who are beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA.
Since 2001, the bipartisan Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act — crafted to give those who came to the U.S. illegally as children permanent legal resident status — was introduced and has failed to make its way through Congress. In light of this repeated failure, in 2012 President Obama created the DACA program, allowing children brought to the U.S. illegally to temporarily live, study and work in America.
DACA applicants are vetted criminally and for any national security risks. If they pass and are accepted, they become protected from deportation and are eligible for privileges such as a work permit, college enrollment and obtaining a driver’s license. There are almost 800,000 individuals in the DACA program. Beneficiaries are also referred to as “Dreamers” (after the never-passed DREAM Act).
Around 4,800 Dreamers reside in Alabama — not nearly as many as in states such as Florida and Texas, but the smaller numbers don’t make it less of a problem for those in our community who are affected.
The two young people I referred to above were among the top graduates in their local high schools, and as a result of the DACA program were able to enroll in and currently attend college.
Now much of that, along with their future in this country, is in doubt. President Trump has decided to rescind the DACA program, but has allowed for a six-month delay, giving Congress time to put together comprehensive legislation to address and remedy the issue. However, with basically no serious legislative action or accomplishment so far this year, it’s doubtful immigration will become one of them.
As DACA students, these two local young people are not able to receive federal financial aid assistance, but they say that’s totally OK — they are more than happy to work and pay their way through school to try and obtain that dream, which has drawn so many from the world over to this nation’s shores.
It’s young people such as these that led a consortium of evangelical groups and leaders to issue a letter to President Trump, stating: “While working with leadership on Capitol Hill on a permanent legislative solution, we also ask that you ensure that these young immigrants are protected. We have seen immigrants strengthen our great nation throughout its history. … One group of immigrants who exemplify these benefits are young people brought to our country by their parents as children. We carry particular concern for the future of these Dreamers because they have so much to offer America. … As a country, we need to focus on real solutions for our broken immigration system … Deporting these young people runs counter to these priorities.”
Let’s allow these young immigrant dreams to be kept alive. It goes to the core of who we are, or at least who we proclaim to be.