Nativism, or anti-immigrationism, isn't a new social phenomenon. Instead, the history of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries is repeating itself; the same themes (discrimination, fear of job loss, and the importation of radical ideas) that colored the immigration debates a century ago are reappearing again as a neo-Nativist movement in the United States. Now, as then, the arguments against immigration to America are fundamentally flawed and based on illogical assumptions rather than hard facts.
Discrimination or Diversity?
Underpinning the Nativists' arguments-then and now- is discrimination. In the previous immigration wave, WASPish members of organizations such as the American Protective Association (APA) heeded their ethnocentric impulses and sought to stop the immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans, whose cultures and religions radically differed from traditional American Anglo-Saxon customs. Though racist motivations are less-trumpeted today, they still exist and remain basically flawed. Fear of Indians for wearing traditional garments such as the sari and for subscribing to religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism is unfounded. Instead, it is the United States' cultural diversity that is the key to its greatness. The mixing and blending of different cultures and ethnic groups provides a fertile ground for scientific and cultural advancement. Scientists and artists drawing on different backgrounds drive in the United States' culturally diverse cities and produce an aesthetically pleasing blend of ideas. Only in America is it possible to find a synthesis pop with African rhythms.
Job Stealing or a Vital Resource?
Nativists have consistently lambasted immigrants as "job stealers," taking work away from Americans. In the past, immigrants supposedly robbed the American factory worker from work, causing Congress to go so far as to ban certain groups (most notably the Japanese and Chinese) from entrance into the country. Though the technology industry is currently lobbying for allowing 250,000 (mostly Indian) software engineers to receive entry into the United States on H-1B work visas, immigrants by and large don't pose a serious threat to American breadwinners. While it's true that these 250,000 foreigners would deprive thousands of unemployed Silicon Valley tech stars a chance at a job, most immigrants take blue-collar positions, ending up doing the dirty work that most Americans refuse to do. Emigrés to America therefore keep the fundamentals of the economy strong rather than ruining Americans' prospects for success.
Anarchism Then and Islamism Now
The xenophobia of Nativists also manifests itself in fear of foreign ideas. A century ago, immigration policy was supposedly designed to screen out anarchists, Communists, and Socialists with the use of literacy tests. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the American public now fears the importation of Islamic fundamentalism into the United States. In the wake of the attacks, male emigrés from certain Muslim countries were ordered to register their presence to the government while the Department of Homeland Security deported thousands of immigrants from "at-risk" countries for (mostly petty) immigration violations. Though such actions may be necessary to protect the United States from radicals serving terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden, over reactive xenophobia advocated by neo-Nativists isn't the answer. In fact, a survey released by The Economist estimates that less than two percent of the ummah, or Muslim population, subscribes to the Islamic radicalism purported by Mr. bin Laden and his cohorts. That figure, exceedingly small that it is, shows the dangers of passing the blanket judgment against Islam favored by some. Instead, the federal government root out the small cadre of terrorists without alienating the large majority of peaceful Muslims into Mr. bin Laden's camp.
Nativism, not a new idea by any means, has only changed its face as the year progress, not been destroyed. The same arguments propping up this close-minded approach to the world have persisted for over a century with only superficial alterations. Furthermore, they are as invalid now as they were then; isolationism and xenophobia, if carried out to its logical extension will irreparably harm a culture based on the principles of openness, inclusion, and pluralism. It is our diversity that is our greatest strength.