Institutions, Immigration and Identity
NYU Journal of Law and Liberty, Vol. 1, No. 3, pp. 1-18, 2005
26 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2010
Date Written: 2005
The debate over immigration has been a central part of America’s political, social, and economic history. Concerns over the impact of immigration on American identity can be traced back to the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson worried that immigrants from monarchies would fail to support a republican system of government. George Washington was concerned that immigrants would engage in activities that would challenge a federal government. Benjamin Franklin, questioning the costs imposed by immigration from Germany, called the German immigrants “the most stupid of their own nation,” and raised concerns that “through their indiscretion, or ours, or both, great disorders may one day arise among us.” Franklin, however, also realized the benefits of immigration when he noted that German immigrants were, “excellent husbandmen, and contribute greatly to the improvement of a country.” At the heart of Franklin’s concern was the fear that open immigration would erode the unique identity that made America what it was.
Over two hundred and fifty years later, Franklin’s concern remains a central issue in American society. When one considers the magnitude of immigration in the United States, it becomes clear why the issue is so controversial. There are more immigrants living in the U.S. today – 31 million – than ever before. Approximately 1.2 million immigrants arrive in the United States each year. One out of every nine U.S. citizens is an immigrant. About half of the workers entering the U.S. labor force in the 1990s were born in foreign countries.
JEL Classification: B53, D02
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation