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A Nation of Immigrants,
by John F. Kennedy
(Click for Amazon book review)
OnTheIssues.org BOOK REVIEW:
This book should be read by every politician involved in the immigration debate, and by every citizen interested in the current immigration debate -- which means it should be read by every American.
It is shocking how little has changed in the 50 years since President Kennedy wrote this book. He wrote it to push for pro-immigration reforms in 1963 -- but the same arguments apply today as applied then. Kennedy cites detailed historical evidence to back his case -- the sort of evidence that immigration opponents routinely ignore. Kennedy's key lesson for today -- which was the same lesson he offered in 1963 -- is the old adage, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it."
Kennedy's core argument is that Americans are all immigrants -- and therefore excluding certain immigrants from certain nations is nothing more than racism. Kennedy explicitly cites Mexicans as targets of such racial preferences -- it's hard to believe that the same issue is still here 50 years later. Some things have improved -- Eastern Europeans are no longer limited as they were until the 1960s; and Asians are no longer entirely excluded as they were until 1952 (p. 45). But for Mexicans, evidently opponents demonized them as much in the 1960 election as in the 2012 election.
Kennedy addresses just about all of the arguments that opponents today still cite. For decades following the 1880s, Kennedy cites, Italians immigrated to America by the millions for purely economic reasons -- which today is the key factor cited in why we should limit Mexican immigration.
Irish immigrants were bashed as mercilessly in the 1920s as Hispanics are bashed today. Kennedy cites the "Know-Nothing Party," which was formed to fight Irish immigration, as evidence of unique hatred of the Irish, since they are the only group to have inspired a political party against them. Kennedy might cite today's Tea Party as the second instance, formed in large part to fight Mexican immigration. Members of the Tea Party with Irish and Italian backgrounds might read those chapters on how their ancestors were discriminated against, before they bash Mexican immigration as harmful to America.
Kennedy cites (pp. 37-40) the first argument made in Congress to stop immigration -- in 1797 (no, that's not a typographical error; that would be on the floor of the United States House of Representatives during the 4th Congress; but the same argument is made in the 112th Congress today). The white male property-owning Anglo Saxon Protestant members of the 4th Congress lost their argument to exclude non-white, non-property-owning, non-Anglo Saxon, non-Protestants in 1797. Because they lost that argument in 1797 and in the two centuries since, we've come a long way -- but we all need to read about our own history to see why they SHOULD have lost then, and why the same arguments SHOULD lose again today, and tomorrow, and for the next two centuries.
-- Jesse Gordon, editor-in-chief, OnTheIssues.org, July 2012
by John F. Kennedy.
Page last edited: Mar 03, 2013