We're a nation of immigrants, but we endlessly argue about who to welcome to our shores. Why are we so divided?
Who gets to be an American?
That's the question at the heart of the immigration debates that have consumed Washington during President Trump's first year in office. In that time, Trump has moved to reshape American immigration policy in a profound way.
He's stepped up arrests and deportations of undocumented immigrants, including high-profile raids on 7-Eleven stores last month. He's announced the end of DACA--a program that has protected young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children--unless Congress agrees on a deal to save it. He's reduced the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to the lowest number in decades. And he's started talking about new restrictions on legal immigration.
"I don't think we've seen a president focus on immigration quite like this one has," says Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration think tank in Washington, D.C.
America is a nation of immigrants, but Americans remain divided about what kind of immigration to allow and from where--and whether to allow those who come here illegally to stay.
President Trump's intense focus on immigration issues and his provocative statements have raised the temperature of the debate. His pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has been cheered by his supporters but derided by many other Americans. His travel bans on people from six majority-Muslim countries, announced as part of tighter security measures, prompted outrage and lawsuits. * And recently, Trump's reported use of derogatory words to describe Haiti and some African countries that send immigrants to the U.S. sparked an uproar.
But even though immigration seems to be generating a lot of anger and headlines today, historians say the debates about who to let in and who to keep out are nothing new.
"Throughout American history, there has always been a tussle over immigration," says Alan Kraut, a history professor at American University, in Washington, D.C. "We have admitted millions of people because we needed their labor, their talents, their bodies to settle our vast territories and work in our factories. At the same time, we've resisted their presence."
The First Immigrants
That ambivalence goes back to the nation's founding (see Timeline, p. 12). In 1776, most Americans were immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, from the British Isles. The majority were white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who came in search of economic opportunity or to escape religious or political...