There is a temptation, when looking back through the lens of history, to assume that what is was always going to be. The United States is a wealthy, powerful country. Titans of commerce and industry flock to New York, the American heartland is the breadbasket of the world, and technology and innovation thrive in the cosmopolitan cities of the West Coast.
But America was not always this way.
The United States was once a strange and frightening place to its European colonizers. It was hostile, unforgiving, and untold thousands of miles from “civilization.” People — and sometimes entire towns — up and vanished, never to be seen or heard from again.
American cities were small, squalid, rustic affairs when compared to the soaring stone edifices of London, Paris, and Berlin. Her people were unpolished, uneducated, and unruly. As the roads petered out and the coastal cities shrank into towns, and then villages, and then camps, the rule of law fell away to be replaced by the “rugged individualism” that was romanticized by later Americans like Teddy Roosevelt.
America was a shithole.
This country’s journey from “frontier backwater” to “colossus bestriding the world” is one of immigration. The slaves that built the American South including the White House in which Mr Trump now lives were immigrants and the children of immigrants — unwilling immigrants at that — taken at gunpoint from their homes across the Atlantic.
The people that built the railroads linking the coasts were immigrants. They were Chinese and Irish and a host of others besides. They fled what were often horrible conditions, oppression, and poverty to come to the United States and build a future for themselves. Along the way they built a nation — knitting together the coasts and the heartland.
The people that built the engines of American industry and business were immigrants. Men like Andrew Carnegie, Levi Strauss, & Joseph Pulitzer built empires that catapulted the United States into the modern age and laid the foundation for the emergence of America as a world power.
Two weeks ago a 26-year old soldier raced repeatedly into a burning Bronx apartment building, saving four people before he died in the flames. His name was Pvt. Emmanuel Mensah and he immigrated from Ghana, a country Donald Trump apparently thinks produces very subpar immigrants.— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) January 12, 2018
The people that built the technology upon which the United States rose to dominate the globe were immigrants too. The architects of the Manhattan project were European immigrants — many jews — fleeing persecution at the hands of the Nazis. Immigrants from a war-torn hellhole put the United States on the moon. Immigrants from a socialist dystopia are now the captains of America’s digital revolution.
It is, perhaps, fitting that Mr. Trump disparaged Haiti and Africa on the birthday of Alexander Hamilton, a man who rose from abject poverty in the “shithole” of Nevis to build the political institutions which Mr. Trump now commands.
Immigrants are welcome in this country, Mr. President. They always have been and they always will be.