From its beginning, the immigrants have come to America in cycles. The Irish, the Chinese, and now Hispanic peoples have all moved to America in large numbers at specific times causing widespread responses from the "natives". Yet Americans cannot seem to tolerate immigrants. My question is why?

Why does a nation
Mother of Exiles
Mother of Exiles

  • filled with immigrants

  • built by immigrants and

  • dependent on immigrants

hate immigrants?

By Amy Snyder
APUSH '08-'09

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First, my defense of the statement that we are a nation filled by immigrants, built by them and dependent upon them:

Filled With Immigrants:

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Many today call themselves native Americans because their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers lived here. But today less than two percent of the population are actually descendants of the original inhabitants of the land [1]. The majority of people are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.

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Built by Immigrants:

Because the culture and actives of the large number of Europeans that came over to America (along with the subsequent death of most of the Native Americans), our nation largely reflects their values and has been shaped by them.

Culturally, America follows the strong European trend of the controlling white male, something that has only begun to change in recent years. The religious system is almost entirely European, from our Protestant nation to Jewish practices (the reason we get Saturdays and Sundays off). Even architecturally, our standards follow European ones. Meanwhile, politically our system was designed by immigrants, and has only had the descendants of immigrants elected as leaders.

As new groups of immigrants come across our borders, they have typically been relegated to jobs that are more physical and pay less. This can occur even when the immigrants are more qualified than the Americans around them, such as Korean immigrants with college degrees in engineering who sell produce [2].

Dependent on Immigrants:

The labor of immigrants is essential to our nation. Because they do the dirty jobs that "Americans" do not wish to do, they have become the foundation of the way we live.


While many think that immigrants just clean houses or grow food in California, they stabilize many industries that Americans around the country depend upon. Even in Vermont, when it comes to hard jobs such as milking cows, 40% of hired help are immigrants. Because of the necessity of the immigrants, many of whom are illegal, even the police look away when it comes to immigration law enforcement [3].

Immigrant labor has always been cheap, from the Irish to the Chinese to the Hispanic people now coming to the USA. The cost of labor has been even further decreased by the fact that those who hire illegal immigrants often do not pay overtime, give required benefits, or even pay minimum wage. Businesses then come to rely on cheaper labor.

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Immigrants? What? Where?

The Cycles of Immigration:

While many more people than just those who were Irish, Chinese and Hispanic came to America, the immigration of these groups created the largest response (and blacklash) among the population.

Periodically, a large group of people will come from another nation to the USA. This occurs in waves. While most of the nation was in fact born on US soil, a significant portion do immigrate, bringing new cultural values and new skills.external image ba_immigration.jpg


Many Irish came to Eastern America because of the Potato Famine in Ireland that occurred between 1845 and 1852. Because the poor there relied heavily on potatoes in their diet, as the potatoes died they were evicted by their British landowners and came to America. The lasting famine caused mass emigration from Ireland, and over 2 million came to the USA during the 1840s, a number that increased during the 1850s [4].

These people were isolated by the "Americans" on the East coast, and so formed their own communities and churches. This lack of integration kept them external image kenny_fig04a.gifisolated from the others peoples around them. The fact that many Irish were rural Catholic also did not help, as they and the Protestant descendants of Englishmen had feuded for many years [5]. The Irish were portrayed as savages, unsophisticated country bumpkins, little better than the freedmen of the South; " 'Let Negroes be servants, and if not Negroes, let Irishmen fill their place...' The Blacks hated the Irish and it appeared to be a mutual feeling. They were the first to call the Irish 'white nigger' " [6].external image Image7.gif They were also blamed for much, if not all, of the crime in the cities.

Because of their desperation, they were driven to the hardest jobs, building bridges and railroads. Even the women and children worked in desolate conditions in textile factories, trying to earn money for their families however they could.

Today those of Irish decent are the second most represented among Americans, following only Germans [7].


While the majority of Chinese (and other Asians) came to America after 1945, some came during the mid 1800s. This caused problems not because of the external image 39046_large.jpgimmigrants themselves, but because of the concentration of such culturally and physically different people in one area at a time when there was already too much cheap labor. They further depressed the pay for laborers, causing "Americans" to dislike them.

The Chinese stood out even more than the Irish because they were of a difference race. They were an easier target for those who blamed them for their problems, and stereotyped early on by newspapers and movies. ~There is a new American Experience out, about Chinese in Hollywood, but it's too new to get a link up (it was on my TiVO)~ Isolated in Chinatowns, all that ever came to the media's attention were the Tong Wars [8] between Chinese gangs. This caused people to see them as dangerous Orientals.

Many came to the West Coast seeking gold, and planned to return home after striking it rich. Over half of the Chinese in the country during the 1850s were in the area around San Fransisco. Yet others came there too. Racists, including southern antebellum whites, were not adverse to physically driving away Chinese from mining areas.The Chinese also took the other jobs in the areas that no one wanted, becoming shopkeepers and cooks, while the white men searched for gold. Yet at the end of the gold rush, the Chinese had jobs and white men did not. The Chinese also worked on the Central Pacific Railroad in the West (the Irish worked on the other side in the East). While ten thousand Chinese worked on the railroad (9/10 of the workers were Chinese), and over a thousand died, few "Americans" cared [9]. Though economic times only further hardened the hearts of Americans towards the Chinese.

Because of the resentment, the first immigration laws that were passed regulated the Chinese. These include the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882), the Immigration Act of 1917, and the quota of 1924.


Often labeled as "Mexicans," the recent influx of Hispanics has proven to be the latest wave in the periodic cycles of immigration. While the Immigration and Nationality Act (1977) abolished discriminating quotas, and mass grants of amnesty for those who have been in the USA since a certain date have allowed for more legal immigrants, many of those coming across the border today are viewed as illegal [10]. From "Operation Wetback" to the idea of building a wall between Mexico and the US, tensions have been building between the two nations over the issue of immigration. However, the source of the problem goes further back, to the mid 18th century (time period sound familiar?). On the West Coast, "Americans" were originally the immigrants, and as said in Bobby by one Mexican man, "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!"
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Owning large ranches and with a thriving culture, these (more) original occupants of North America were driven off their land after the Mexican-American War. Once driven off their rich land, they were relegated to picking the crops owned by white men. As the prosperity of the USA increased and the many Hispanic countries remained poor, immigrants went to America to earn money to send home to their families. Indeed, today the single second largest part of the Mexican economy is remittances from those working in the USA sent back home to their families. However, with the slowing US economy, many are considering returning home.

Not all of those seeking work in the USA are Mexicans. The Mexican people themselves must deal with those such as Guatemalans who cross from their country to the Mexico hoping to make it to the US [11]. Further controversies arise because of US legal law. If a Hispanic woman crosses the border and gives birth to her son in the US, he is a US citizen. However, if the mother is caught, she can be deported. This causes splits in families as the son would be kept, in many cases, in the US while his family is sent home.

Responses to Immigration:

There are those who are for immigration, and those who are against it. Those against it often say immigrants lower wages, don't pay taxes, cost the country more then they give back. Those for it say many illegal immigrants actually do pay taxes, thus supporting the country, while they do jobs that "Americans" will not do. They also say that it is the employers who knowingly higher illegal immigrants, paying them far below minimum wage, that cause the real problems.

Despite the fact that America is today an immigrant nation, we as a people have still not come to terms with the idea of immigration and accepting "the other."

Are we the invaders?
"As you know, today was Don't Take Your Illegal Immigrant To Work Day here in Los Angeles. No, all across the nation they had a Day Without Immigrants, is what they call it. Or, as Native Americans call it, the good ol' days." --Jay Leno

Or were we just the beginning?
"Mexican President Vicente Fox arrived in the U.S. today. So, it's official. He's the last one. Turn out the lights. They are all here now." --Jay Leno

Should we reject others who try to follow in our footsteps?
"The Senate voted to make English the national language of the United States. The vote drew protests from several immigrant groups and one governor of California." --Conan O'Brien

Should we be responding so harshly?
"President Bush called for the National Guard to patrol the U.S./Mexican border. The guards will track down and find illegals. That's not their job. They're trained to defend our country -- not track down and find people. Let's be honest, the Guard couldn't even track down and find President Bush when he was in the National Guard." --Jay Leno

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The particular area's response to illegal immigrants depends upon their necessity:

Do we have so many in some areas of California that we do not need more?

Does it depend upon the values of the voter? Are conservatives more likely to vote to arrest illegal immigrants?

None of these are simple questions, but they are interesting. And it is certain that those areas with the most Hispanic peoples do not have the toughest enforcement laws, so that cannot be the only factor.

This is about current day immigration- the "Mexicans."


Those against illegal immigrants say they do not come here legally, do not pay taxes yet use tax-payer dollars, steal jobs, depress wages, and more. They are a threat to nation security, causing crime, supporting the drug trade [12], and abducting babies (not true, FYI [13]. We cannot allow all immigrants who want to to enter the USA because of how it would affect the job market (even in good times). And if we offer blanket amnesty for all the illegal immigrants, if we speed Mexican immigrants through the line to receive American visas faster, how will immigrants from other countries feel?
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Those "protecting" our border, the Minutemen, try to catch illegal immigrants after they cross the border. Currently this is being done with technology, as those sitting at home can use wireless cameras to spot people then report them to the proper authorities.

However, those shipping drugs across the border are using the cameras to tell when no officials are in site.

The white American male protecting his territory. Click if you want to see his shirt
The white American male protecting his territory. Click if you want to see his shirt

"The Minutemen, the vigilante group that's on the border, they gave Bush an ultimatum. They said, 'Either you build a wall along the border, Mr. President, or we will.' I say let them try, because if there's one thing that will change your mind about immigration, it's trying to build a 2,000-mile fence without the help of Mexicans." --Bill Maher


Many agree that immigrants do help the economy. Some actually do pay taxes (and are willing to, in order to support the country that pays them - how many "Americans" can say that?). They do the dirty jobs that "natives" won't. And, they provide increased markets for US products. New immigrants need new homes, which causes building, which needs supplies, which...
The money they send home allows the "Mexicans" to afford higher priced goods (sometimes American). And those in the USA buy food here, clothes, etc.

Other arguments include the fact that if legalized, the immigrants would pay even more taxes because they would owe them to the IRS. In addition, tax-payer dollars would not be spent on illegal immigrant raids, but would instead target real problems such as drug sales.

One problem with comparing things such as taxes is that illegal immigrants are kind of hard to keep track off, which means that everyone's reports of costs are kind of...made up [14].external image cycle-diagram1.jpg

"The liberals are saying that this guest worker program ... is really just a way to depress wages and create a permanent underclass of exploited labor. To which the president said, 'And the problem is?'" --Bill Maher

~under George W. Bush~


"It looks like the Senate and the president have finally agreed on an immigration bill. ... This one looks like it could become law and, of course, nobody likes it. The conservatives say the bill gives amnesty to the illegals. The liberals say it doesn't go far enough to protect the hardworking immigrants here in America. And the L.A.P.D. doesn't know who to beat up." --Bill Maher

There are problems with the system, and these must be addressed. We cannot ignore the problem. But we also cannot build a wall between the USA and Mexico - especially without the help of those Mexicans.

But some of the most pressing problems are caused by the citizens of the United States of America. Despite laws forbidding it, they are the ones who knowingly hire illegal immigrants. They cut costs illegally, paying less then minimum wage, not paying overtime, not giving them basic benefits that the workers earn. And the immigrants, even legal ones, are afraid to complain. They believe that they were given jobs, and should be grateful, and do not realize that they are being taken advantage of [15]. And even if they wished to complain, who can they complain too? Anonymous tips from one restaurant often lead to whole staffs being fired - because more illegal immigrants can easily be hired, and those who were fired cannot complain.


The major part of American hatred towards immigrants seems to be our hatred of "The Other." We believe that we are special - so they cannot be. We were hear first - even if we actually weren't. So we say they steal our jobs, even if they were only taking jobs that we refused to do, and create more jobs by their presence. And so we create excuses, we respond with inordinate force, we focus our attention on the unimportant things. Meanwhile, we abuse them and use the illegal immigrants to fuel our own greed.

We just cannot accept that one day, maybe those immigrants will actually be accepted and valued by us as they should be. The stereotypes will be understood to be stereotypes, and people will be accepted for who they are. Hopefully.


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