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The Unwanted: Immigration and Nativism in America

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From the Immigration Policy Center

September 13, 2010

Washington, D.C. – As another 9/11 anniversary passes, marked by heated controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic Cultural Center in New York City and a Florida preacher’s threats to burn a copy of the Quran, writer Peter Schrag draws parallels between present-day fear-mongering by the restrictionist and nativist movements in America and similar movements throughout U.S. history.

In a new Perspectives piece, entitled “The Unwanted: Immigration and Nativism in America,” Schrag writes: “In another few years the nation may look back on the first decade of the twenty-first century, and especially the years after 9/11, as another of those xenophobic eras, like the Red Scare of the twenties or the McCarthy years of the fifties, when the nation became unhinged, politicians panicked, and scattershot federal, state, and local assaults led to unfocused, albeit often cruel, harassment of non-Anglo foreigners.”

Envisioning a way forward, Schrag points out: “America…is famously a nation of immigrants. What’s Anglo-European about it are the institutions and ideals of equal rights, constitutionally guaranteed due process, and democratic government. But now all of us are also immigrants to the new cosmopolitan multi-ethnic, perhaps post-ethnic, society that’s grown around us, whether we’re Mayflower descendants, Sons of the Golden West, or the most recent arrival from Kenya or El Salvador. The diverse nation that those immigrants and their children and grandchildren made, contra all the warnings from the Know Nothings, the eugenicists, the Klan, the Pioneer Fund, and our latter-day radio and TV talkers, refutes not only their dire predictions but the very premises on which they were based. The society whose immigration policy now begs to be reformed, and the history that made it, are not the society and history that most of us, much less our parents, imagined a generation or two ago. The more the nation and its policymakers excavate that history out of the myths of their imagination, the more rational, humane, and productive the debate will be, and the better the uniquely American future that grows from it.”

To read this Perspectives piece it its entirety, see:

Peter Schrag, for many years the editorial page editor and later a weekly columnist for the Sacramento Bee, currently contributes to The Nation, Harper’s, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications. This article is drawn from his book Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America, University of California Press, 2010.

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