Immigration is not a new concept. This nation was built on immigrants seeking a new and better life. How we’ve managed migrants throughout history has had significant changes, but nearly from the time we became the United States, one thing has been clear: We need legal, structured immigration to protect our citizens and our rule of law. No wonder this is such a big topic during presidential campaigns. However, political talk is cheap, and sometimes it seems that immigration reform is a talking point used to rake in the campaign dollars.
President James Madison (1751–1836) said:
“Born in other countries, yet believing you could be happy in this, our laws acknowledge, as they should do, your right to join us in society, conforming, as I doubt not you will do, to our established rules. That these rules shall be as equal as prudential considerations will admit, will certainly be the aim of our legislatures, general and particular.”
America won its independence from Mother England in 1776, and 14 years later, in 1790, Congress passed the Naturalization Act, which allowed free white persons “of good character” to apply for citizenship as long as they had been living in the United States for two or more years. In 1891, the Immigration Act was passed, and it barred people who had been convicted of certain crimes, polygamists, and the sick or diseased. At that time, a federal office of immigration was created. In 1893, Congress passed its first law, designed to detain immigrants who were not entitled to admission. And in 1904, guards began patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border. (Click here for a timeline of immigration acts and policies.)
The first federal immigration station opened in 1892 on Ellis Island in New York. Between then and 1954, about 12 million immigrants were processed. It was clear, even to our earliest presidents, that migrants were welcome to come to the United States, but they needed to do so legally and not be an economic burden on the American people.
The left made former President Donald Trump out to be a devil not in disguise, calling him everything from Bad Man Orange to Hitler. In his first address to Congress in 2017, Trump said, “We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders. For that reason, we will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border.”
Anti-Trumpers tripped over themselves in their affront, claiming the administration put children in cages and separated families. However, it was a Democratic president who first vilified immigrants. Bill Clinton, during his 1995 State of the Union Speech, said:
“All Americans, not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country, are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers.”
George W. Bush was not a fan of the “catch and release” policy, and in his 2006 address to the nation, he said:
“For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders, as a result many in our economy have been able to sneak across our border and millions have stayed. Once here illegal immigrants live in the shadows of our society. Illegal immigration strains state and local budgets and brings crimes to our communities.”
“The steps I’m taking will improve our ability to catch those entering our country illegally. We must ensure that every illegal immigrant we catch is returned to their home. The process of Catch and Release is unacceptable and we will end it.”
President Barack Obama, who has the distinction of deporting more illegal immigrants than any other commander in chief, was outspoken in his objection to migrants crossing into the country illegally. In a SOTU address, he explained:
“Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we’re also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, I believe that they must be held accountable, especially those who may be dangerous.”
Immigration reform was popular: Making sure people entered the United States legally was largely favored by most Americans. Between 1892 and 2018, Democratic presidents were in power for 60 years, and during that time they removed about 4.6 million people, around 76,635 per year. During the same time frame, Republicans were in office for 67 years and removed approximately 3.7 million illegals, for a yearly average of 54,670.
If we dial into more recent numbers and take the averages from 1990 to 2018, we see Democrats were in power about 55% of the time and removed more than 3.9 million illegal migrants while Republicans had political control about 45% of that time and removed about 2.7 million.
After nearly two centuries of our nation’s leaders working toward a secure border and fair immigration reform, enter President Joe Biden and his mighty eraser. The outcry during Trump’s tenure against inhumane immigration practices became Biden’s call to arms during his campaign-in-hiding. Even though he was VP under the Obama administration, which was adamant about restricting illegal immigration, as president, Biden has flip-flopped into practically open borders. What had changed so much in four years to make the president switch gears once he sat in the Oval Office? Could it be as simple as greed?
Is immigration the perfect campaign fundraising scheme?
Read more from Kelli Ballard.