The changing face of America doesn’t resemble the version sold by President Trump and the right-wing fear mongers who view most forms of immigration as cultural and economic dangers to the nation’s future.
America’s look is changing, yes. We’re becoming more racially diverse, more ethnically diverse and more religiously diverse — a melting-pot throwback to more than a century ago when differing groups of Europeans fled poverty and oppression and came to our shores.
At the beginning of the Civil War, for example, the nation’s white population was 60 percent British and 35 percent German, author Geoffrey Wawro wrote last week in The New York Times. But the years between 1861 and 1918 ushered in landmark alterations to America’s white population, which was 11 percent British, 20 percent German, 30 percent Italian and Hispanic and 34 percent Slavic when World War I began.
Gen. John J. Pershing’s American Expeditionary Forces were astonishingly diverse, Wawro writes. U.S. soldiers in the Great War spoke 49 different languages. Nearly a quarter of World War I draftees were foreign-born. And, this: “Germans deployed against the United States 77th Division in the Argonne Forest, hearing the mix of voices from the other trench, assumed that they were fighting Italian troops who had been sent north to reinforce the French. They weren’t Italians; they were Americans, from Little Italy in Manhattan.”
That is America. Diversity strengthens us. Inclusion empowers us, cultures and ethnicities and races under a joined national flag.
Granted, Americans’ stances on immigration have ebbed and flowed through time. Sweeping limitations on immigration after World War I reduced the number of foreign-born people in the United States to record lows. The Johnson administration’s loosening of those limitations in 1965 reversed that trend, and fast. It also reignited old concerns about America’s changing look — less white, more black, more brown, more of everything.
That’s what Trump and Steven Miller, his anti-immigration policy advisor, pushes to the public. Their version is steeped in myth, falsehoods and xenophobia — that immigrants are largely poor, unemployed and unworthy, that immigrants are prone to criminal activity, that immigrants do not advance our society at large.
It’s simply not true.
In fact, data released last week from the U.S. Census Bureau show two remarkable details: first, that the foreign-born population in the United States has reached its highest point since 1910, and second, that 41 percent of people who have moved to America since 2010 came from Asia, 2 percent more than the new arrivals from Latin American countries such as Mexico.
Additionally, 45 percent of those new arrivals were college educated — a 15 percent increase from the decade prior. The number of Latin American immigrants still dominates the nation’s overall foreign-born population, but that disparity, like our nation at large, is changing.
Nativism is a troubled topic in America because of who we are: a nation of immigrants, started by immigrants, fueled by immigrants and built with the aid of chattel slavery from other continents. Nevertheless, if Trump and those who adhere to his xenophobic beliefs are going to discuss immigration — all sides of it, not just the dark side that powers their rage — they at least should acknowledge the indisputable facts.