Monday, May 08, 2006

Immigration Debate: Same As Before?

Michael Powell argues in "U.S. Immigration Debate Is a Road Well Traveled" that, well, history is repeating itself.

The bitter arguments of the past echo loudly these days as Congress debates toughening the nation's immigration laws and immigrants from Latin America and Asia swell the streets of U.S. cities in protest. Most of the concerns voiced today -- that too many immigrants seek economic advantage and fail to understand democracy, that they refuse to learn English, overcrowd homes and overwhelm public services -- were heard a century ago. And there was a nub of truth to some complaints, not least that the vast influx of immigrants drove down working-class wages.

...Advocates of stricter enforcement argue that those who came a century ago were different because they arrived legally...Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, wrote about her Irish forebears in a Wall Street Journal column: "They waited in line. They passed the tests. They had to get permission to come. . . . They had to get through Ellis Island . . . get questioned and eyeballed by a bureaucrat with a badge."

But these accounts are flawed, historians say. Until 1918, the United States did not require passports; the term "illegal immigrant" had no meaning. New arrivals were required only to prove their identity and find a relative or friend who could vouch for them.

Jonah Goldberg disagrees and believes that some important differences between then and now is being left out:
But there are real differences... The first difference is that we never shared a 2,000 mile long border with Germany, Italy or Ireland. A second is that we did not have a generous welfare state when those immigrants came here. A third is that Germans, Italian and Irish ideologues never dreamed of claiming that American soil rightly belonged to their nation. I can think of others, but I think those will do for now. I'm not arguing for a specific policy by mentioning these facts, but I think it's silly for people to pretend the issue with Mexican Americans is perfectly analogous to previous eras. There are important similarities and there are important differences.

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