Debates about who ought to be admitted into the United States have occurred periodically throughout the nation’s history. Looking back, it is common to attribute opposition to immigration to xenophobia or prejudice. Today, proponents of expanding the number of immigrants to the United States accuse their political opponents of prejudice and even racism while maintaining the position that the United States is a nation of immigrants. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that most of the opposition centers on the idea of people illegally coming into the country and not criticizing those who properly go through the process. But the larger issue, I think, is the perception that people want to come to the United States for the economic benefits of citizenship rather than work to pursue the traditional conception of the American Dream.
This is not an issue limited to immigration. It is about a crisis of mindset in the United States between a culture of expectation and a culture that values the pursuit of the traditional American Dream.
This is not an issue limited to immigration. It is the crisis of mindset between a culture of expectation and a culture that values hard work and innovation.
The source of this mindset can likely be traced to the the expansion of government programs at various points between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. The 1930’s were a time of economic turmoil as the nation experienced the Great Depression, and many fell into poverty. President Herbert Hoover attempted to retain free market principles and let the economy recover naturally, refusing to run a budget deficit in order to fund welfare programs. The election of Franklin D. Roosevelt brought about the New Deal, which prompted a massive social spending increase and the introduction of a comprehensive American welfare state. However, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, the New Deal was about amelioration rather than promoting a culture of expecting government assistance. The New Deal was about providing relief when all else failed. Its successor movement “The Great Society,” which was championed by President Lyndon Johnson enumerated programs of aid that citizens came to take for granted. Federal programs were then no longer about providing a safety net. They began to guarantee some level of income.
I contend that a shift in mindset has occurred in both immigrants and native-born Americans alike. Prior to the Great Society era, immigration meant coming to America to try to realize the American Dream and going back to one’s home country if it didn’t work out. Today, though most immigrants come to work hard for themselves and their children, there is a perception that some immigrants may be coming primarily to reap the Great Society-type benefits of being an American citizen.
Coming to America is about achieving difficult objectives like Kalpana Chawla, a native of Punjab, India, did when she became the first Indian-American woman to go into space.
Donald Trump has made reference to a “wall” between the United States and Mexico where much of the illegal immigration activity from across the globe flows from. Given that the wall might seem impractical or unnecessarily hostile, the other candidates offer their own takes on immigration policy. Hillary Clinton has become the self-proclaimed champion of immigration in this election season and has proposed amnesty for undocumented workers (despite having voted in 2006 in favor of the Secure Fence Act, which contained provisions for 700 miles of barriers to be placed along the Mexican-American border).
A more practical approach is likely a middle ground that involves simplifying the process for immigrants to legally enter the country. Immigrants provide invaluable contributions to the labor market and bring worthwhile and compelling perspectives to our country. But we must always keep in mind that our culture must be one where all Americans come to succeed, contribute economically to our country, and understand that to be an American means to work in hard in pursuit of a dream and not expect that the government owes one anything.
Coming to America is about achieving difficult objectives like Kalpana Chawla, a native of Punjab, India, did when she became the first Indian-American woman to go into space. A culture of innovation and ambition is the lifeblood of any functioning society, and it not only bring successes to those who seek opportunities but also brings about new technologies and economic opportunities to all of those living in a society.
Miles Williams is an undergraduate studying government at Cornell University.