May 8, 2006


U.S. Immigration Debate Is a Road Well Traveled: Early-20th-Century Concerns Resurface (Michael Powell, 5/08/06, Washington Post )

They were portrayed as a disreputable lot, the immigrant hordes of this great city.

The Germans refused for decades to give up their native tongue and raucous beer gardens. The Irish of Hell's Kitchen brawled and clung to political sinecures. The Jews crowded into the Lower East Side, speaking Yiddish, fomenting socialism and resisting forced assimilation. And by their sheer numbers, the immigrants depressed wages in the city.

As for the multitudes of Italians, who settled Mulberry Street, East Harlem and Canarsie? In 1970, seven decades after their arrival, Italians lagged behind every immigrant group in educational achievement.

The bitter arguments of the past echo loudly these days as Congress debates toughening the nation's immigration laws and immigrants from Latin America and Asia swell the streets of U.S. cities in protest. Most of the concerns voiced today -- that too many immigrants seek economic advantage and fail to understand democracy, that they refuse to learn English, overcrowd homes and overwhelm public services -- were heard a century ago. And there was a nub of truth to some complaints, not least that the vast influx of immigrants drove down working-class wages.

Yet historians and demographers are clear about the bottom line: In the long run, New York City -- and the United States -- owes much of its economic resilience to replenishing waves of immigrants. The descendants of those Italians, Jews, Irish and Germans have assimilated. Manhattan's Little Italy is vestigial, no more than a shrinking collection of restaurants.

Now another wave washes over.

Never should have let the Scots and Welsh in, they're gutter peoples...

Ireland may close doors to Bulgarian and Romanian workers (Helena Spongenberg, 08.05.2006, EU OBSERVER)

The Irish government is expected to deny Bulgarian and Romanian workers free access to its labour market if the countries join the European Union next year, a move in stark contrast to its current approach to workers from central and eastern Europe. [...]

Ireland was one of only three member states – plus Sweden and the UK – which never imposed any restrictions on workers coming from ex-Soviet bloc countries.

Good wayt to turn the Celtic Tiger into a Gallic slug.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 8, 2006 12:02 PM

Victor Davis Hanson makes the point that an easilty crossed border impedes assimilation, thus making Hispanics distinguishable.

I'd be interested in looking at raw numbers relative to US population in the early 1900s as well.

Regardless, I'm fine with a vastly expanded citizenship/guest worker track, provided we get wall that allows for the same "control" that two oceans gave us re: other examples of immigration.

And boy do I feel lucky that Mom & Dad made over here from postwar Germany.

Posted by: Bruno at May 8, 2006 12:12 PM

Of course all agree that the Columbian exchange was the second-best thing that ever happened in human history.

At each act of the great trek, another man or woman partictipates in its benefits.

The difficulty arises when immigrants are not immigrants but reconquista fifth-columnists.

The history of Ammerican immigration has been the history of whiteness, of becoming white, as the contemporay sociologists say. We read of how each ethnic wave following the British--Germans, Irish, Poles, Italians, Jews, everyone--"became white," that is to say, assimilated.

The problem is that multiculturalism stands this process on its head. Now minorities are encouraged to strive to transform the host culture, to perpetuate and to impose the very defects which led them to attempt the trek in the first place.

Posted by: Lou Gots at May 8, 2006 1:39 PM

It very certainly better be "just like" the immigrants from before -- we won't get a do-over on this. If it doesn't work, the country will end up divided.

Posted by: Twn at May 8, 2006 2:46 PM

When isn't a country divided?

Posted by: oj at May 8, 2006 2:52 PM

When, by and large, you can expect to bicker about your divided opinions in the same language. Like on this blog.

Posted by: Twn at May 8, 2006 2:56 PM


According to this source, immigration peaked out at around 1.6% / year during the first decade of the 20th century. Today's equivalent would be about 4.5 million / year.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at May 8, 2006 3:04 PM


Please--this is the narrowest demographic you'll find.

Posted by: oj at May 8, 2006 3:08 PM

That's nonresponsive, OJ, & though this may be a narrow demo, it's a just an example writ small. As if, say, the immigration debate wasn't larger than this blog.

I do think it's dangerous to presume things will be just swell, just like before. Inertia is strong, and immigrants won't assimilate if they don't have to. And sometimes I really wonder if this country believes in itself enough to make our new immigrants assimilate. That was something you didn't have to worry about before.

They have to become us, and there can't be any question about it.

Posted by: Twn at May 8, 2006 3:49 PM

Hmm, Born Fighting, How the Scots-irish shaped America

would have been slightly different if we didn't let them - me in.

Posted by: Sandy P at May 8, 2006 3:58 PM


Of course, everyone thinks admitting their own cohort was wise.

Posted by: oj at May 8, 2006 4:09 PM

Non-responsive how? The blogosphere is the preserve of the middle/upper-middle class white male. It has nothing to do with America in general.

Tghe nativist always insists that this time is different and is always wrong.

If we won't make folks assimilate to Americanism then we're the problem, not immigrants. Our kids won't be American, nevermind theirs.

Posted by: oj at May 8, 2006 4:18 PM

As the article points out, we've never made immigrants speak the language and it's worked out fine. I agree that it's silly for us to try to accomodate non-English speakers, but that's our own fault, not the immigrants' fault.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 8, 2006 4:49 PM

David is right that we didn't make immigrants speak English, but it was their responsibility to find someone to translate for them, now it's our responsibility to find someone to translate for those who speak any of the hundreds of languages on earth.

I bristle when I have to press 1 (one) to continue in English and I feel like pressing 2 (two) para espanol and then demand they produce someone who speaks English. It's childish so I don't it, but sometimes I feel like the fight's going out of me and I'm conforming way too much.

Posted by: erp at May 8, 2006 5:01 PM

Mrs. Erp, I would just point out that it's 'Our responsibility' to translate all these languages because goverment is so involved with our lives now. If the state were the size it was the last big wave, it wouldn't be coming up.

Posted by: Robert Mitchell Jr. at May 8, 2006 10:47 PM

Robert, right you are, but we let the left take over for almost a hundred years and they did what they do best, grab control. It'll probably take the next hundred to shake them loose.

Posted by: erp at May 9, 2006 8:07 AM