In response to William Bugg’s letter to the editor “‘Immigration built this nation,’ but that was done legally,” I would point out that the immigration system that many of our ancestors endured in the past was markedly different from the process in place today.
In fact, much of the legislation surrounding immigration was not about how to process immigrants who arrived “legally,” but rather about which groups to exclude from coming here. Our history is littered with discriminatory practices regarding immigration. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 explicitly forbade the immigration of Chinese laborers, many of whom built our nation’s early rail networks, among other things. The Immigration Act of 1924 set explicit quotas for immigration based on race and nationality, effectively curtailing most migrants from Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe. In the present day, the current administration has made it clear that immigrants from certain faiths and ethnic backgrounds are not welcome in the United States.
Put simply, for most of U.S. history up until the 1920s, the vast majority of immigrants coming to our nation’s shores were admitted without much “process” at all. If an immigrant arrived at a port of entry and passed a basic medical inspection, then they were (almost always) allowed to permanently settle in the U.S. The idea that past immigration was done “legally” fails to recognize the profound changes in immigration law that the 20th century brought.
I recognize that there is a debate about how to deal with current immigration issues, but let’s not inform our current debate by citing fictitious history with no basis in fact.