…which is real easy to do since there were no immigration laws in those days. Unless you happened to be Chinese.
Brian Donohue of the Newark Star Ledger lays out everything that’s wrong with the “my ancestors did it the legal way” talking point in an op-ed that was prominent in Sunday’s Patriot News.
There’s one problem with the argument. It’s utter hogwash.
First of all, for hundreds of years, as immigrants poured in by the hundreds of thousands from the 1600s to the early 1900s, there were simply no federal immigration laws to break.
Unless you were a criminal or insane (or after 1882, Chinese), once you landed here, you were legal.
Crediting yesteryear’s immigrants with following the laws is like calling someone a good driver because they never got caught speeding on the Autobahn.
“Only 1 percent of people who showed up at Ellis Island were turned away,” said Mae Ngai, author of “Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America.”
“What that statement is ignorant of is that we didn’t always have restrictions. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon.”
Level the playing field hypothetically, and the argument becomes even more preposterous.
Imagine today’s immigration laws, which make it impossible for most poor foreign farmers to immigrate legally, in effect in, say, 1849.
Somewhere in Ireland, a starving farmer turns to his family, their mouths green from eating grass in the midst of the potato famine.
“We could escape to America and have food to eat,” the farmer says. “But I’d never do that without a visa. That would be a violation of U.S. immigration law.”
Ridiculous, of course. That farmer would have done exactly what today’s Mexicans, Chinese and Guatemalans are doing by the millions — get to the United States so they can feed their families, and worry about getting papers later.
I love it when others say these things so that we don’t have to.
Andy in Harrisburg