When you watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July, what are you celebrating? Most of us would say that we are celebrating our nation’s independence. But have you ever thought much about our founding fathers and their vision of this country? As it turns out, things were much different back then.
Our founding fathers, in fact, created this country for immigrants. In contrast, many of us today are trying to close the doors of this country to immigrants. Those who want to deny entry to whole groups of immigrants aim to reverse the vision of our great leaders like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. While the Fourth of July honors the creation of a land where the oppressed could be free, modern anti-immigration movements unravel the purpose underlying this holiday.
In fact, as noted in this Huffington Post article, naturalization is among the Constitution’s greatest contributions to the idea of “America.” The Constitution put forth a simple clause which upheld a radical new understanding of citizenship, one that was not to be based on race or birth-it was something you could become. By guaranteeing a “uniform rule of naturalization,” the Constitution presupposes an immigrant nation. In the original conception, the Constitution protected a society of immigrants and citizens living side-by-side.
In Common Sense, Thomas Paine upheld “this new world” as “the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty.” Jefferson argued for “a right which nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance, not choice, has placed them.” Madison defended immigration on the grounds that it is “always from places where living is more difficult to places where it is less difficult,” so “the happiness of the emigrant is promoted by the change.” In other words, these men believed the United States should serve as a place where immigrants and refugees could come to escape oppression and build better lives for themselves. Such a view includes today’s immigrants who make the sometimes dangerous journey to our country in order to benefit from safer conditions, education, training and job opportunities.
Sharing another perspective, the Constitution’s principal framer, James Madison, argued that the freedoms the Constitution guaranteed actually depended upon pluralism. “This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects which pervades America,” he said at the Virginia ratifying convention, “for where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest.” Madison repeated this point in Federalist #10: in America, diversity would defend freedom.
The Constitution’s 20-year prohibition on any Congressional limitation on immigration also reflects the importance they placed on immigrants. The Declaration of Independence had denounced the king for “prevent[ing] the population of these states” by “obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners” and “refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither.” In this spirit, states after independence sold land at discounts to those who emigrated from abroad and granted citizenship in as little as two years.
Thomas Jefferson , reflecting the general sentiment, said, “The present desire of America is to produce rapid population by as great importations of foreigners as possible.” On this point, Jefferson’s archrival, Alexander Hamilton, agreed. “Immigrants exhibit a large proportion of ingenious and valuable workmen,” he wrote, “who by expatriating… improved their own condition, and added to the industry and wealth of the United States.”
This Fourth of July, let us return to the founding fathers’ original vision of our nation. Let us remember that this country was created as a haven for the suffering, where people who had little could create abundant lives. Let us put aside our fears – there have always been reasons to fear those who are different – and embrace the legacy of our country as a place that welcomes all. Happy Fourth of July to a wonderful nation, past and present!
If you or someone you know needs the advice of an immigration attorney, please contact us today. Our highly experienced team is here to answer your questions and help you with your transition to the United States.