America's Fear of Outsiders

The U.S. has always been a nation of immigrants. It's always been a nation ambivalent about them too

Bettmann / Corbis

1927, Warsaw, Poland - Polish immigrants in line at the immigration office waiting to have their passports checked and their luggage examined before leaving.

As Congress takes another pass at immigration, its supporters hail it as an all-American phenomenon. President George W. Bush calls it therapeutic: "Immigration helps renew our soul. It helps redefine our spirit in a positive way." From Emma Lazarus' poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty, welcoming "huddled masses," to yesterday's naturalization ceremonies, immigration is as American as apple pie. But so, historically, is opposition to immigration. And while that opposition has often been infused with bigotry, it has also reflected reasonable concerns.

The bigotry of immigration opponents is a familiar shadow in our civic myth, like the devils...

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