August 9, 2019


Open Borders Made America Great: For most of U.S. history, all immigrants were undocumented. It's a fact Democrats should embrace. (AARON FREEDMAN, August 9, 2019, New Republic)

For the first century of its existence, the United States had completely open borders. Though it is now derided as a far-left fantasy, in the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century, the idea of someone simply coming into a new country and starting a life there, without any papers whatsoever, was eminently normal.

In fact, it was desirable. While early American politicians hotly debated how and when immigrants could become U.S. citizens, there were no serious attempts to limit migration itself for decades. Even George Mason, a supporter of greater restrictions on naturalization, declared that he was "for opening a wide door for emigrants." 

And wide that door was. In 1850, the first year that information on native birth was collected by the U.S. Census, America had 2.2 million immigrants--roughly 10 percent of the overall population. These undocumented immigrants, taking advantage of an open border, became essential to the fabric of American society, and even the presidency--among them was the English, immigrant mother of Woodrow Wilson.

Open borders for people of color came to an end in 1875, with the passage of the Page Act, effectively prohibiting the entry of Chinese women, followed by 1882's Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned men as well. Passed amid racist fearmongering, the limits on Chinese immigration set the precedent for the restrictive, abusive, and dehumanizing way all nonwhite immigrants have be treated by the U.S. ever since.

But for white men, open borders remained very much real. While the U.S. did pass laws affecting white immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, they were fairly limited: Collecting a small tax from migrants upon arrival, banning "lunatics" and carriers of infectious disease, and stopping anyone "unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge." Even when a literacy test was introduced in 1917, it could be administered in the migrant's native language.

Effectively, U.S. immigration policy into the 1920s said that if you were a white, able-bodied man, the border was open.

And through that border came record numbers of migrants. In 1890, immigrants as a share of the population peaked at 14.8 percent. And this era--from the 1870s to the 1920s--was not just one of rising undocumented immigration, but of a skyrocketing standard of living, as well. Life expectancy shot up, infant mortality declined, cities got electricity and plumbing, and workers began to win 40-hour hour work weeks and weekends off.

Posted by at August 9, 2019 6:42 PM