Immigration is very controversial, especially of late, but concerns about immigrants isn’t a new phenomenon. Ben Franklin feared that German immigrants would cause the colonies to forget their English heritage. At the turn of the 20th century, a wave of Irish and Italian immigrants stirred fear that the country would become Roman Catholic and the pope would determine our laws and policies.
My grandparents were a part of that Italian immigration. If fearmongering had been the final word, I would not be here today, nor would many of you if your forebears had been deported or banned.
The authors of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 cruelly and inaccurately described those who had been brought to California to build the railroads as “sub-humans favoring filthy squalor in opium dens in San Francisco, men and women who would freely offer their children into slavery.” An editorial at that time in the Butte, Montana newspaper said, without irony, “The Chinaman’s life is not our life, his religion is not our religion, he belongs not in Butte.” When Great Falls made a bid to become the capitol of Montana, its slogan was “Great Falls for the Capitol. No Chinese.”
Many Jews seeking to flee the holocaust were turned away by the United States. Many whom we refused sanctuary died at the hands of the Nazis or had to wait years to be liberated from the camps.
Also during the 1940s, U.S citizens of Japanese descent lost the privileges of citizenship during a time of racist fear. They were herded into detention centers and then internment camps, which must have looked to them frighteningly like concentration camps.
Today, along our southern border, we seek to wall out the poor who are willing to risk everything to do almost any work simply to help their family have a future. Once here, they face incarceration in for-profit detention centers whose corporate owners make huge campaign donations to ensure that the arrests continue. Did you know that there is a law that requires 34,000 immigrants to be under arrest every night?
We are righteous about the German genocide of Jews, but largely silent about the millions of indigenous people we slaughtered so we could have their land. Disease killed many Native Americans, and, according to journals, military leaders soon learned to take blankets from their own smallpox hospitals and gift them to native Americans as a peace prize, thus killing every man, woman, and child in the infected tribe. (Miss Smith never taught me that in American History.)
Maybe Americans fear immigrants because of how we behaved when our ancestors immigrated to this country …
Rev. Michael Piazza