Immigration and American Power

CAMBRIDGE – The United States is a nation of immigrants. Except for a small number of Native Americans, everyone is originally from somewhere else, and even recent immigrants can rise to top economic and political roles. President Franklin Roosevelt once famously addressed the Daughters of the American Revolution – a group that prided itself on the early arrival of its ancestors – as “fellow immigrants.”

In recent years, however, US politics has had a strong anti-immigration slant, and the issue played an important role in the Republican Party’s presidential nomination battle in 2012. But Barack Obama’s re-election demonstrated the electoral power of Latino voters, who rejected Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by a 3-1 majority, as did Asian-Americans.

As a result, several prominent Republican politicians are now urging their party to reconsider its anti-immigration policies, and plans for immigration reform will be on the agenda at the beginning of Obama’s second term. Successful reform will be an important step in preventing the decline of American power.

Fears about the impact of immigration on national values and on a coherent sense of American identity are not new. The nineteenth-century “Know Nothing” movement was built on opposition to immigrants, particularly the Irish. Chinese were singled out for exclusion from 1882 onward, and, with the more restrictive Immigration Act of 1924, immigration in general slowed for the next four decades.