Letter: A nation of immigrants … when it’s convenient

From: Bob Pitman


Americans seem to be of two distinctly different minds about immigration. On one hand, we claim to be proud that we’re “a nation of immigrants.” On the other, we periodically close the gates entirely or take up the welcome mat selectively for those whose nationalities or hues of skin don’t meet our changing standards.

We have welcomed immigrants when we need them. For example:

  • To support the Industrial Revolution by filling our sweatshops and slaughterhouses.
  • Those risking their lives to extend our railroads through treacherous mountainous regions.
  • By recruiting 5 million Mexican “braceros” during World War II to replace American men and women serving overseas.

But once we reaped the benefits, we have passed legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Or we have saluted the 33,000 Japanese Americans serving during World War II in our armed forces by forcibly relocating 127,000 American citizens of Japanese descent (including families and children) in internment camps.

Perhaps the most important fact to remember is that all of us, except for the Native Americans we found here (and nearly exterminated entirely) are descendants of immigrants. Or that the single-largest group of immigrants, the estimated 12.5 million Africans inhumanely chained in the holds of ships, had no say whatsoever about their destiny.

To add insult to injury, our U.S. Constitution counted slaves as three-fifths of a person in order to inflate the political representation of southern states, even though slaves were neither free, nor would they win any voting rights for another 180 years.

Once we can honestly deal with and learn from our past, Americans have much to be proud of and celebrate. But to earn the right to do so, let’s all pledge to:

  • Acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of all of us.
  • Outlaw hatred and discrimination of all kinds (starting with finally enacting hate crimes legislation in Indiana).
  • Support political leaders who commit to bringing us together, rather than those cynically exploiting every wedge to drive us apart.