Immigration has been part and parcel of American history and society from the origins of our country. But the nature of immigration has changed dramatically in recent years, and with it entirely new challenges and dangers that the United States has not confronted before. As it has been getting easier and easier to come to our shores, more and more new arrivals have brought with them venomous political and religious doctrines with them that pose grave dangers for our nation.
The United States was founded by Englishmen of the Christian faith. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, there were six Williams, six Thomases, and four Georges. There were no Running Bears, no Alfredos, no Kareems, and no Abduls among them. This basic fact of our history is important to bear in mind when we consider who we fundamentally are as Americans.
Yes, the American native peoples had once occupied the territory upon which this country eventually came to be. And to settle this vast land, the original English founders of America welcomed immigrants from other European lands. The Dutch, Germans and Scotch-Irish have been here almost as long as their English brethren. And yes, Africans have also been here from the beginning, but brought here involuntarily in chains.
The Englishmen who established our country were a unique breed of people. They came from England, which in those days had the most developed true constitutional form of government devoted to the protection of individual rights. But these were no ordinary Englishmen. The colonists believed in even more radical (for the time) notions of liberty and freedom.
Immigrants have always been an important source of strength, and a source of concern for America. As the American Industrial Revolution got under way, more and more immigrants came to the Land of Opportunity. These immigrants seemed to be increasingly alien in philosophy and religious belief, Catholics coming from Ireland, Italy, and the Hapsburg Empire and Jews from Germany and the Russian Empire.
Assimilating these disparate peoples into the American melting pot was not always easy. It is not merely a stereotype that they were usually poorly educated, and often prone to clannish group loyalties and corruption, and even criminality. After the Russian Revolution a very few were even committed to a Bolshevik coup in America. But they were also very often the people from their relatively backward and poor countries who had the ambition to leave behind their old village and its settled traditions and cross the Atlantic in search of a dream. And they were part of a larger European and Judeo-Christian civilization.
The next wave of immigrants have come from Mexico and further south. For the most part these new arrivals have also brought both ambition and a desire for a better life. But modern day Mexico and Central America are also failing states, engulfed by uncontrolled violence and criminal gangs that dwarf earlier undesirable immigrant elements. The task of distinguishing between modern model citizens and vicious thugs has gotten harder. (That said, my own personal impressions of Hispanic immigrants has been exceptionally positive: hard working people grateful for the chance to live in this great country.)
The even more recent wave of immigrants from the former Soviet Union has been yet even more problematic. Russia is a hopelessly corrupt society and some Russians have brought that mindset with them. Social Security and Medicare fraud are rampant among the Russian immigrant community, and among my numerous contacts in the Russian-American community, a disturbingly large percentage seethe with contempt for the United States.
But the most problematic group of immigrants, by far, are Muslims from Africa and the Middle East. Senior al-Qaeda recruiter Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen of Yemeni descent. Nidal Hassan, who killed 13 people at Ft. Hood, is an American of Palestinian descent. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who murdered five people in Chattanooga, was a naturalized American citizen of Jordanian descent. The list goes on and on, and will get longer with time.
In the 19th century, an immigrant from southern or eastern Europe would have spent a month or more to get to Ellis Island, and would have been gladdened by the sight of the Statue of Liberty. They brought no particular ideology with them, other than a devotion to the social traditions of the old country. And once they arrived, they were by and large transplanted in a new land.
Today’s immigrants from the Middle East and Africa are only a ten-hour flight from what many may naturally consider their true homeland. If Italian Catholic peasants came from a very different culture from America, these immigrants come from very nearly a different world. I have spent a lot of time in the Middle East and can have some respect for its cultural traditions, but far too many in this benighted corner of the planet have no respect for the United States, but rather bitter hatred.
This most recent wave of immigrants are often more resistant to easy assimilation and more reluctant to accept this country as truly their own. It is a ridiculous and dangerous myth that possession of American citizenship automatically means loyalty to America. And in our modern internet connected world, not only is communication a hundred fold easier, so is command, control and even more dangerous, exhortation to jihadist terrorism.
I do not mean to suggest that a majority of Muslim immigrants are disloyal to America or a threat to our national security. I do wish to suggest that the nature of immigration today is very different from past times, and that we carefully consider those differences as we debate who should be allowed to come to our country and to whom we should confer the benefit of American citizenship.