The Coming Brown Hordes
The vilification of immigration by some is not new. This is far from the first time that some Americans have sought to portray those seeking to call the United States home unworthy to do so. Today’s xenophobic fear is settled on the imaginary brown menace crossing our southern border.
This is a short-term phenomenon that will recede with time. The current U.S. population is comprised of 58 million Hispanics as of 2016 which is 18% of the U.S. population according to Pew Research. Sixty percent of U.S. Hispanics are of Mexican origin. More than 40% of Americans of Hispanic origin have attended college. Forty-seven million Hispanics are citizens. They are far from a small minority in the United States.
It is apparent that to try to portray Americans of Hispanic origin as outsiders defies statistical analysis. Italian-Americans are 6% of the U.S. population with 15.5 million people, Irish-Americans 34.5 million and Americans of English ancestry at over 50 million. As generations pass, the chance of a U.S. citizen being from just one ethnic group decidedly decreases.
Most Americans are a hybrid of many nationalities. Because of the high degree of intermarriage after several generations in America, a “pure-blooded” Italian or Irish person is harder and harder to find. The same will hold true for Hispanics as intermarriage occurs. The hatred and prejudice that some Americans felt for my grandparents and, to a lesser extent my father, due to their Italian origin has all but disappeared for my generation. The hostility that is felt for those from Latin America will be less and less in our children’s and grandchildren’s generations.
Throughout its history, America has had calls for stopping the flow of newcomers to our shores. As early as the 1750s, Benjamin Franklin was speaking despairingly of the German settlers in Pennsylvania. An anti-nativist sentiment gave rise to the Know Nothing Party which was against the Irish Catholics immigration of the mid-19th century. The same thing occurred regarding Chinese immigrants, and southern and eastern Europeans at the peak of their immigration to America.
Anti-immigrant fervor lessened after the 1920s as the percentage of the foreign-born population decreased. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, fewer than a million people immigrated in each of those decades and most were relatives of those already in the country. The number of Immigrants did begin to increase in subsequent decades, but it wasn’t until the 1990s and beginning of the 21st century when immigrants again reached numbers not seen for a hundred years.
For many native-born Americans, these new residents represented threats to “our” way of life. No different than the fear felt by my grandparent’s generation…both maternal (native born) against my paternal (foreign born). Religion, different types of food, family interaction, language and supposed job displacement all were aspects of that fear. It is no different today, but it is equally unacceptable.
We constantly hear, “My ancestors came here legally.” That is a misnomer if those ancestors came before the 1880s. Until that time, the United States had the dreaded “open borders.” The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first, but sadly not the last, time the United States tried to exclude members of a race or ethnic group. While the late 19th and early 20th century focused on containing the “Yellow Peril,” immigration from Europe (especially from eastern and southern Europe) continued unabashed without any quota system. If you could pay for passage, you could be an American.
Today’s politically inspired southern border hysteria is nothing more than a continuation of a xenophobic pattern. There is this belief of peril among a subset of Americans which buys into the falsehoods propagated by the current administration of the brown hoards taking over from a “White America.” In truth, the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico has for several decades been declining.
Most of those trying to enter the United States at southern Ports of Entry are considered refugees as recognized by a 1951 U.N. Convention and modified by a 1967 Protocol of which the United States is a signatory. We have a treaty obligation to process and determine whether refugee status should be granted to everyone that applies.
Contrary to the sophistic arguments of the President, they are not sneaking across the border. Nor are refugees or immigrants who are documented or undocumented more prone to commit criminal acts as has been intimated.
Immigration is a necessary and vital part of keeping the United States economically prosperous. Any growth in our labor force will come from immigrants, without which our labor force would shrink. This would have many different ramifications from social security and taxes to the ability to compete in world markets.
I do see an end to this current form of xenophobia as the population continues to absorb not only Hispanics but those from south Asia. Will the United States be less homogeneous? The answer is yes, but as I have demonstrated above, the country was never that homogeneous. The United States’ strength has been our ability to take a diverse and changing population and make it distinctly American.