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The rise of nativism


09/06/18



 At many of his rallies, Donald Trump reads the lyrics to a song about a snake. He tells the audience, “Think of it in terms of immigration.” The story is about a woman who finds a snake, takes it in and then the snake bites her. When she asks why it bit her, it says it’s because it’s a snake. This bit of theater and the election of Trump has laid bare a concern many Americans have that immigration levels are too high and that immigration is not benefiting Americans or is harming the country.

While this view is still in the minority, according to a recent Gallup poll, with 75 percent of Americans saying immigration is good for America and even more saying that legal immigration is good, this anti-immigration theme continues at Trump’s rallies and, as Trump takes over the Republican party, becomes a partisan issue. 
This is unfortunate, though not without precedent. In the 1920s after World War I America saw an influx of European refugees escaping poverty and repression, groups opposing immigration started to gain popularity and Congress passed laws limiting immigration. Just as now, the fear was that these immigrants were going to change America. And to some extent they did. Immigrants from Eastern Europe and Italy brought with them different languages, foods and religions. They didn’t fit with the main Anglo immigration of the earlier century. In those days the perceived threat wasn’t Islamic terrorism, it was communism. 
These restrictive immigration laws stayed in effect until after World War II. In 1965 Congress changed immigration laws again and opened the door to more immigration from more places around the world. Over the next 45 years the number of foreign-born Americans went from 5 percent in 1965 to almost 14 percent today. Immigration is more broadly shared among the states now too. In 1965 most immigrants settled in just a few cities in a few states. Today, immigrants settle all over the country and increasingly in the Midwest and Northeast. In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that immigration would again become a touchstone issue. 
Just as in the 1920s, however, immigration ended up being a great strength of America. It gave us the population to win a second world war and the economic strength to dominate trade in the world for the next century. 
We don’t know what challenges lie ahead, but we do know that immigration has been a substantial net plus to our country. Immigrants contribute far more than they take in taxes and government services. According to various studies immigrants are more likely to own a home and own a business, and less likely to use poverty programs. Immigrants aren’t the snake that bites us, they are the brother standing shoulder to shoulder making America great.
 
- Jody Reese





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