National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1907-1930: We are a diverse nation, confronting our differences

1919
Should America restrict immigration?

At the turn of the 20th century millions of immigrants from Europe arrived on American shores, many with exotic customs and religions. Their presence fueled nativist reaction and a contentious debate that led to immigration restriction.

Transcript

JOHN: Why is America the greatest and most free country in the world? Because of the character of the people who live here. If we don’t slow down immigration, our national character will be destroyed before we know it. Controlling the number of immigrants, and where they come from, well that’s the only way we can protect America in this modern world.

LINDA: One way or another, we’re all descendents of these immigrants you’re so worried about...

JOHN: Immigrants that fit in, like the British and the Germans and the Swedes, they’re fine. But people from places like Italy and Poland and Russia - how can they suddenly learn to behave like us when they’ve lived for centuries under Czars and Popes?

LINDA:What ever happened to the poem at the Statue of Liberty - Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

JOHN: That’s very romantic, but if the Founders really wanted every unfortunate soul in the world to come here, why does the Constitution give Congress the power to control immigration?

LINDA: They just gave Congress the power to decide how immigrants become citizens, they never would have dreamed of closing the gates.

JOHN: They also never would have imagined that nearly a million of them would come every year, living six to a room, turning cities into jungles of thieves and pickpockets and worse. Bolsheviks preaching revolution in the factories, Anarchist bombers and assassins plotting against the government. Don’t forget that the man who killed President McKinley was the son of Polish immigrants.

LINDA: There are already laws on the books that keep out known “anarchists” and “violent revolutionaries,” and don’t forget - in the Great War, there were over 300,000 Italian-speaking soldiers in the American army. Now you would tell their brothers and sisters they’re not welcome?

JOHN: Look, the Constitution is supposed to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Not to slums of Italians and Slavs and Jews. Certain “races” just aren’t meant to live like us.

LINDA: Us? “We the People of the United States” should include anyone who comes to America and respects the rule of law. Don’t we still believe that all people are created equal? If we say that it doesn’t apply to people “created” in other countries, then what do we really stand for?

JOHN: We stand for 100 percent American values. And if we don’t stand together, there won’t even be an America left to stand for.

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