July 4th is when we, in the US, celebrate our independence. More accurately, we are celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In addition to fireworks, I like to celebrate by listening to a reading of this hallowed document.
As the debate on immigration and how we treat immigrants rages on, one passage stands out to me. It was something I had heard many times, but its relevance just hit me. You see, the founders of our great nation had immigration in mind when they proclaimed independence.
Included in the list of grievances with the King is this:
“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”Declaration of Independence of the United States of America
In other words, part of the reason for breaking away from England was that the King was trying to prevent immigration while the founders wanted to encourage new people to come. The founders were building a country, and they knew they needed people, and they embraced opening to people from around the world.
As we fought to form a new nation, some challenged the idea that we should be open to all. John Adams proposed setting up a Language Academy as early as 1780 to create and enforce English as the official language of the United States. This would have severely limited who could become citizens. The Continental Congress rejected this proposal because we were already multilingual and many languages were spoken throughout the states. They also said that setting an official language was beyond the scope of a free and democratic government. To be free means people could speak their mother language if they so choose.
In short, the congress was stating all would be welcome and thus set the stage to become the world’s “melting pot.” Not only was this country founded and built by immigrants, it was designed to a bastion, a haven, for all.
While we certainly need immigration laws, they must be designed with compassion and understanding that we, as a nation, are open to all. We must be a beacon of light and hope in this world instead of a closed society that demonizes those who seem different. If we don’t embrace the refugees, the poor, and the oppressed from all over the world, we are the ones who are “destroying America.”
Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.